MU power plant celebrates 75 years of history, progress
by Jon Stemmle
history of the power plant at the University of Missouri-Columbia
is intertwined with the history of America. The first land-grant
university west of the Mississippi River, MU early on drew on the
imagination of the frontier and the technological advances of the
east to become an institution on the cutting edge of both worlds.
|EM works in all types of conditions, such as the tunnel above,
to keep the power flowing to the MU campus.
Four years after Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light
bulb, MU's Professor Benjamin Franklin Thomas used an Edison Dynamo
to provide at the university the first demonstration of incandescent
light west of the Mississippi River.
The light shone by Thomas that fateful night 115 years ago blazed
the trail of innovation MU's power plant has followed ever since.
From the 1885 establishment of the second department of electrical
engineering in the United States to the use, in 1997, of tire-derived
fuel to fire its boilers, the MU power plant has led the way in
engineering techniques and energy conservation.
Following Edison's 1879 invention of the incandescent light bulb,
the world's first electric power plant was established in 1882
in New York City. In the spring of that year, Edison, himself a
Midwesterner, donated a 20,000-watt dynamo to MU.
Still in working order in MU's Electrical Engineering department,
the dynamo in 1888 allowed the university's Academic Hall to be "lighted
by electric light, and warmed by steam with the Heine boilers and
An early mishap
Ironically, new electric power led 10 years later to the most
famous incident in MU history — the fire of 1893.
On a Web page entitled "How the EE Department Burned Down MU," the
department of electrical engineering describes how an accidental
electrical short or overload likely led to the infamous fire.
What appeared to be a tragedy, however, turned out to have a bright
side. The fire generated tremendous interest in MU. Money collected
from insurance, from state funds, and from Boone County residents
allowed for the construction of six new buildings, including Engineering
East, which were built around the Columns forming Francis Quadrangle.
Years of growth
By 1893 the university had contracted with Edison's General Electric
Company in Chicago and had a "new power house." With a power house
in place, MU entered the nascent period of today's power plant.
The early 1900s witnessed the construction of the Dairy Power
House in 1901, the 1902 complete electric wiring of five campus
buildings — Dairy Building, Medical Building, Horticultural
Building, Engineering Laboratory, and Read Hall, and the 1903 water
plant. The university in 1904 named Arthur M. Green, Jr., a professor
in the mechanical engineering department, as the director the new
Light & Heat Station (power plant).
Under Green's guidance the university slowly brought electricity
to the entire campus, corresponding with an increase in the size
of the power plant.
|MU power plant workers in the 1920s didn't have the luxury
of computers or high-tech equipment to supply the university's
As the 1920s began, MU's power plant entered a new era. The Board
of Curators in 1921 approved a budget of $150,000 for a larger
and up-to-date power plant to be built on Maple Street, now known
as Stewart Road. This new power plant on Jan. 4, 1923 began producing
steam and electricity, starting a 75-year period of service to
the MU campus.
The power plant today serves over 35,000 students, faculty, and
staff with steam, electricity and water, along with burning a variety
of fuels including coal, tire-derived fuel, natural gas, and fuel