Dec 11, 2015

Wind Power History: Marcellus Jacobs Interview

Marcellus Jacobs posing with a model of one of his durable, fault-tolerant wind power generators. 


On June 2nd and 3rd, 1973 a Wind Energy Conversion Workshop was held in Washington, D.C. The gathering was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and implemented by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  

Well sir...conferences and symposiums and workshops and all the other fancy meetings held to "study" a problem are all right, I suppose. But a fellow sometimes wonders if they're worth the trouble it takes to organize them.  

This particular assembly was no exception. For, we're told, after nearly two days of absorbing reports and addresses from people who've experimented with and used wind power...many of the "experts" and "engineers" there still didn't have what you could call a grasp of the energy source's potential. "You mean you really run all your lights and appliances and a typewriter and stereo and TV on electricity produced by a wind plant? You mean you're doing that right now?" one incredulous engineer asked Henry Clews.

"I mean, if this thing actually works we should find out if it's practical enough to put into production."  

It was then that an authoritative-looking 70-year-old gentleman rose to his feet and educated the audience about wind power history. He said, in effect: "Why, you young whippersnapper. You're trying to reinvent the wheel. Not only will wind plants work...not only can they be put into production...and not only can they be manufactured and sold profitably...but I personally built and marketed approximately 50 million dollars worth of the units from the early 30's to the mid-50's. We were already in full swing before you were born."  

Now I hasten to add that genial, polite Marcellus Jacobs didn't address the young and well-meaning (but somewhat ignorant) engineer quite so abruptly. Mr. Jacobs did, however, leave no doubt that wind plants could be made to work. And he should know: Marcellus Jacobs is the man who almost single-handedly invented the first practical wind-powered electrical generating system. He's the man who originated nearly all the noteworthy advances in the field from 1930 to 1956. And he's the man who dominated this specialized mini-industry until the day he decided to move on to other interests.  

Marcellus Jacobs hasn't manufactured a wind plant since 1956...but people who know still fight to find one of his old second or third hand units. Why? Well, Admiral Byrd set up one of the Jacobs systems at the South Pole in 1933. On June 17, 1955, Richard E. Byrd, Jr., wrote a letter to Mr. Jacobs in which he said:  

I thought it might interest you to know that the wind generator installed (by my father) the original Little America, was still intact this year after almost a quarter of a century...The blades were still turning in the breeze (and) show little signs of weathering. Much of the paint is intact.

Marcellus Jacobs, in short, designed good wind plants. He built 'em good too...and he built 'em to last.  

Mr. Jacobs now lives and works on other environmentally oriented projects in Florida and Steve Weichelt recently visited him there. During the course of their conversation, Steve asked Jacobs to describe the development of his plants and to comment on the future he sees for wind power.  

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