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Power House by the Main Bridge
Pipes carry power from one of the
power houses to various mining operations.

Laying the Pipes
Mine workers lay the pipes that carry
power from the plants to the mines.

Plans for Retero Power Plant
Plans of one of the power plants
constructed during the 1890s.

Powering the Mines

click any of the photos for more detail.

The appointment of George Chalmers as Superintendent of Morro Velho proved to be an astute one, as the mining operations reached their heyday under his watch in the 1890s. One of the main reasons for the increase in production during that decade was the decision of Chalmers to greatly increase the amount of electric power provided to the mines. He achieved the power increase by constructing no fewer than three new power plants in the vicinity of Morro Velho. logo

The power plants constructed and operated by the Saint John d'El Rey company produced the electricity that powered much of the mining equipment. Everything from the power drills to the automated mining carts relied on electricity generated by the company plants. The electricity traveled from the plants to its various mechanical destinations along lines protected by pipes. The end result of fully powered mining operations was greatly increased mining efficiency.

Prior to the 1890s neither electricity nor electric-powered machines were commonplace at mines, even in more economically developed areas such as western Europe. Although some steam equipment would have been available, many mining operations would have needed to be conducted by hand. The ability to power multiple machines from one source afforded by the construction of power plants offered numerous advantages, not only in terms of increased efficiency but also in terms of lower fuel consumption.

Minecar System Motor
Electricity arriving at the motor that
powered the cable cars used in the mines.

Power House Interior
Producing electricity required many
different pieces of equipment.

Installing a Dynamo
Mine workers install a dynamo for power production.

Last updated: May 2nd, 2010.
Created by: Beau Steenken - Graduate Research Assistant
Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Please send comments to: schroer@mail.utexas.edu

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