Lester Allen Pelton
Born September 5 1829 Ė Died March 14 1908
Patent No. 233,692
One of the fathers of hydroelectric power, Lester Pelton invented the first
water wheel to take advantage of the kinetic energy of water rather than the
weight or pressure of a stream. The speed and efficiency of Peltonís wheel
made it ideal for generating electricity.
Pelton designed a wheel with split buckets that harnessed the kinetic
energy of a small volume of water flowing at high speed. Properly
adjusted, Peltonís wheel could be over 90 percent efficient; other
wheels were at best 40 percent efficient. With Peltonís wheel, low-cost
hydroelectric power could replace expensive steam engines in mining
operations in the western states, where streams rarely flowed at high
enough volumes to turn traditional water wheels.
To keep up with tremendous demand, Pelton and a San Francisco machine
shop owner organized the Pelton Water Wheel Company. Today, Peltonís
wheel still generates electricity in small hydroelectric power plants in
the western United States.
Pelton was born in Vermillion, Ohio. He migrated to California in
1850, in the midst of the Gold Rush. Failing to strike it rich, he
worked as a carpenter and millwright. He began developing his water
wheel in the late 1870s, as the power demands of mining operations and
related industries grew ever greater.