ASME-Landmark:Pelton Waterwheel Collection


In 1880—when water was an under-used resource, and before electricity was economically practical as a motive power—Lester A. Pelton (1831-1908) patented the "splitter principle" that made the Pelton water wheel so historic. He built the first Pelton turbine in Camptonville in 1878 and, shortly thereafter, perfected the wheel at the foundry in nearby Nevada City. In San Francisco, he founded the Pelton Water Wheel Company in 1888.

The Pelton wheel uses the momentum of a water jet impinging on buckets attached to the periphery of a wheel to produce power. It is a development of the primitive "hurdy gurdy" wheel used in the California gold fields in the 19th century. Subsequent important contributions to Pelton-wheel technology were made by William A. Doble, a San Francisco engineer who patented improvements in bucket forms and nozzle designs beginning February 7, 1899. Doble became chief engineer of Pelton's company in 1912, and his patents represent a second stage in the development of Pelton turbines.

The North Star Mine Powerhouse and Pelton Wheel Museum now boasts a large collection of many wheels, buckets, and items built by Pelton or the company he founded, including artifacts that date from 1878. Most notable is the 2-foot demonstration wheel. The museum is at the site of the Old North Star Power Plant, where Pelton wheels supplied compressed air to pumps and hoisting engines at mine shafts. The last of the Pelton-type wheels in Grass Valley were retired shortly after the 1930s, since they were no longer economically practical compared to diesel power in the 1950s. See ASME website for more information