Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer

Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer

Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer

Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer

Synopsis

Frank Julian Sprague invented a system for distributing electricity to streetcars from overhead wires. Within a year, electric streetcars had begun to replace horsecars, sparking a revolution in urban transportation. Sprague (1857-1934) was an American naval officer turned inventor who worked briefly for Thomas Edison before striking out on his own. Sprague contributed to the development of the electric motor, electric railways, and electric elevators. His innovations would help transform the urban space of the 20th century, enabling cities to grow larger and skyscrapers taller. The Middletons' generously illustrated biography is an engrossing study of the life and times of a maverick innovator.

Excerpt

A 1932 photograph shows a trim elderly man holding a chubby two-year-old child. the man is well dressed and has a slightly quizzical expression as he regards his armful. His face is narrow and seems constructed of sharp angles and lines. He has a full head of hair, a prominent nose, and a full but welltrimmed mustache. But it is his eyes that grip you. Even in the slightly faded image, behind his metal-rimmed glasses they seem to glitter with intelligence. On the other hand, the child is clearly oblivious to the fact that the arms holding him belong to the man who, at the time, was renowned as “the Father of Electric Traction.” This photograph is the only recorded proof I have that my grandfather and I ever met. He died only two years later and unfortunately I have no recollection of either the event or of him.

This is not trueh her often as I was growing up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and she was a warm and loving companion. However, this sweet little old lady was full of surprises. She was a renowned Walt Whitman collector, and also showed a steely ferocity when defending the legacy of her beloved Frank. Her 1947 24-page monograph, Frank J. Sprague and the Edison Myth, was, I believe, the first serious attack on the legacy of “the Wizard of Menlo Park.” in the book that follows, the Middletons spend a full chapter on the initially cordial and then increasingly contentious relationship between these two men.

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