• Pawtucket canal with boat tour full of visitors with trolley in the background.

    Lowell

    National Historical Park Massachusetts

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  • Credit Card payments for interpretive fees.

    Beginning September 9, due to the federal government's fiscal year close out, only cash or check payments can be accepted for fees at the Boott Mills, canal boat tours, and for Interagency Passes. Credit cards will be accepted again on October 1, 2014. More »

  • Lowell NHP Superintendents Compendium update.

    The Superintendents Compendium has been updated in regard to the use of unmanned aircraft in national park areas. More »

Water Power

 
Graphic showing differences between waterwheels, wooden gearing, turbines and bevel gears

National Park Service

The use of water as a source of motive power dates at least to Greek and Roman civilizations. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, waterpower seems to have been limited largely to irrigation and the grinding of grains for bread. In colonial America, waterwheels commonly provided power for sawing timber, fulling cloth, grinding grains, and making iron products. Until the second half of the 19th century, waterpower was the major mechanical power source in the United States.

The principles behind waterpower are simple. Basically, a waterpower system taps the potential energy stored in water and turns it into kinetic energy by controlling its natural fall. Water is channeled out of a river at a certain height in a power canal and brought to a point where it is permitted to fall to a lower level. During its fall, it fills the buckets in a waterwheel, its weight driving the wheel around.

Falling water also powers the more efficient turbine, driving it by pressure as well as weight. In the first turbines designed by Uriah Boyden and adapted by James B. Francis to power Lowell's mills, the water entered the wheel at its center and was directed outward by stationary vanes to turn another set of moving vanes. By 1858, 56 Boyden turbines (drawing at right), rated at 35 to 650 horsepower, helped drive Lowell's mills. In both the waterwheel and turbine, the power was transferred by gears to the mill's main power shaft or drive pulley.

Source: Lowell National Historical Park Handbook 140

 

Did You Know?

Mile of Mills, Lowell National Historical Park

The Boyden Observatory of Bloemfontein, South Africa owes its existence to Uriah Boyden who left over $200,000 at his death in 1879. Mr. Boyden, an inventor, patented an outward flow turbine. He sold it to the Appleton Mills in Lowell, MA where he worked, home of Lowell National Historical Park.