Book Review: Electricity For The Farm

Electricity For The Farm, by Frederick Irving Anderson

From time to time I write about farming [1], although admittedly not many books are released about the subject to wide audiences these days given the small number of American farmers.  This is a book that few people would likely want to read today, discussing as it does the ways in which farmers can take advantage of the properties of running water and fairly simple electric dynamos in order to provide their own power for their own farms and homes, but this is a book that I can imagine my family reading or being interested in about a century or so ago.  As a child I was fascinated by the use of water in the farm, and pondered the question of dams and weirs.  This book was right up my alley as a reader.  The book is surprisingly technical in nature, and leads a reader like me to wonder what happened that people are so stupid nowadays.  It would take a fairly well educated person nowadays to read and be interested in this book from a technical standpoint, and this book was aimed at farmers who lived a hundred years ago, farmers who were expected to have enough skills in mathematics to work out calculations of horsepower and Ohm’s law.

The slightly more than 300 pages of this book are divided into three parts and twelve chapters.  The first part looks at water power, introducing with a story about a working plant, the sort of prospecting for water sources that has to be done to determine how much power one can get from one’s available running water, how to measure water power, and the water wheel and how it can be installed.  The second part of the book looks like electricity, with chapters on the dynamo, the plant size one should install, transmission lines, wiring one’s house, and the electric plant at work.  The third and last part of the book looks at gasoline engine plants, the storage battery, and battery charging devices.  The book is written in a practical sense and is written to people who are intensely pragmatic and not inclined to waste money.  Of course, the book is written in part to sell electrical plants, but the data itself is pretty worthwhile, and any writer willing to discuss riparian rights in order to engage a skeptical reading audience is clearly deserving any goodwill he receives from his intended audience.

So, what is the value of such a book nowadays?  Well, the desire on the part of independent-minded farmers to generate their own power is no less nowadays than it was a century ago in light of mistrust of the existing corporate and political order.  Nowadays there would be more discussion about windmills and some discussion of passive and active solar heating.  Even so, although the contents of a book like this one would be different if it was being published for a modern audience, the general tone and focus on data and numbers and the assumption that farmers were bright enough to run the numbers and see that they could live far better than they were, and that they would in cities, with a smart stewardship over their own resources is certainly heartening.  This book, as practical and hardheaded as it was, was a joy to read from the perspective of this farmer’s son.  A bit of that do-it-yourself aesthetic when it comes to creating one’s own local electric grid is certainly welcome, and something I would like to read more of in the future.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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