ASME-Landmark:Morris Canal (Reaction) Turbine


The Morris Canal was designed to link the coal-rich Pennsylvania Lehigh Valley with the manufacturing towns of eastern New Jersey and New York, linking the Passaic and the Delaware rivers—but the 109.26 miles of canal through the Highlands, the Appalachian range, and the Kittatiny mountains required extensive locks and incline planes.

The inclined planes of the Morris Canal were powered by large reaction turbines geared to the winding drums that hauled the canal boats between levels. Plane 9 West was the highest and longest plane of the canal. English engineer James Renwick developed the gearing for the original planes, which he powered by a 30-foot overshot waterwheel in 1831. The turbine was installed during the winter of 1851-52 after the canal was enlarged and was housed in a vaulted underground stone chamber.

The predecessor of the reaction or "Scotch" turbine was the steam reaction wheel invented in Greek Alexandra by Hero around 100 B.C. It found widespread hydraulic application in the United States from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, when French-inspired hydraulic turbine design pushed reaction wheels into obsolescence.

Railroads eventually forced the Morris Canal out of business. When the Morris Canal was razed in the 1920s, the turbine was burned. James Lee began restoration of Morris Cananl relics on his property in the 1950s and was able to unearth the turbine on August 6, 1972. See ASME website for more information