The Pelton Wheel…Tanya Hanson

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With Pelton being a family name, I’m always intrigued to see the giant “Pelton Wheel” on display at California Adventure/Disneyland whenever I go.USE

I thought it might be an intriguing subject for a post here, but the whole engineering mechanism has defeated my feeble brain. So here’s a link if you absolutely need more explanation on how the wheel works.

But the history behind it…that I can do. Inventor Lester Allan (Allen?) Pelton, (1829-1908) significantly changed hydro-power in the Old West by inventing the Pelton Water Wheel in the late 1870’s. His mechanism proved to be the most efficient design of the “impulse water turbine” so critical to mining.

Lester was born on September 5, 1829, in rural Ohio to a local pioneer family. His grandfather, a sea captain, had lost most of the family’s fortune in the War of 1812. After family-farming it for a while, Lester and a bunch of pals hurried to California in 1850 for the Gold Rush. LesterAllanPelton

He never struck gold, but made it as a fisherman on the Sacramento River, then worked as a millwright and carpenter in the Mother Lode country, observing everything he could about mining technology.

He saw that steam-powered heat was required for most mining activities, but the process required tons of wood for fuel, thereby decimating nearby forests. “Turbine wheels” were starting to come into the picture, particularly from the Knight Foundry of Sutter Creek, California, but Lester noticed that most wheels did not efficiently convert to horse-power the kinetic energy of  water rushing in mountain streams.

Lester experimented upon the designs of existing wheels and came up with  the “Pelton Runner” (the term later came to be used just for the “double-cup” blades of the wheel) and installed his first operational wheel in 1878 at the Mayflower Mine in Nevada City.

In an intense competition in 1883 with wheels from the the industry favorite Knight Foundry,  the Pelton Wheel was declared to perform with 90% efficiency in converting stream-flow kinetic energy to horsepower; the nearest competitor at 77%. (Most existing water wheels at that time rated less than 40%) In 1888, Lester Pelton founded a company in San Francisco to satisfy the growing need for hydro-electric power in the West.

He died on March 14, 1908, and his designs are still used today around the world.  In 2006, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

For more info:

How about you? Any inventors in your circle of friends and kinfolk?


A beautiful city slicker and a rugged cowboy…The perfect Wild West adventure.

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On the Colorado wagon train adventure planned by her late father, landscape designer Christy Forrest seeks to find peace in the nature she loves. However, she can’t let go of her anger at the drunk driver who killed her dad—or the woman who did nothing to stop the man from driving.  Falling for Kenn Martin begins to lighten her heart…until she realizes the handsome cowboy carries heavy a burden all his own—a burden she’s not sure she can share.


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13 thoughts on “The Pelton Wheel…Tanya Hanson”

  1. This is an interesting post. My husband’s grandfather invented some kind of coil spring that was (and still is) used in a lot of machinery.

    • Awesome, Janine! I so admire anyone who can deal with mechanics. I can barely tie a shoe. Glad we are all blessed with different gifts. Did grampa patent his invention? I ask because Eli Ehitney never did, and everybody “stole” his cotton gin idea! Yikes. Thanks so much for commenting today.

  2. No inventions in the family but my daughter is an art director for a company that takes peoples ideas and makes them into inventions and my goodness what some people come up with is usually pretty crazy lol. If they get one or two decent ideas in a year, they’re lucky. The man that started the company did so by inventing some kind of dog toy that was a big hit.

    • Hi Catslady, it is so interesting how different minds work, isn’t it? I watched an invention reality show and one co tests t spent most of his time and money on the BOX for the pretty neat snow shovel he designed…the judges really ripped him for it. I bet your daughter does get some laughs! Thanks for posting today.

    • Hi Nancy, I know! I love learning something new. The wheel itself attracted me just by the name, so I had to look into it. I was pleased that Lester was concerned about the decimation of firsthand. No such luck with the Comstock lode that destroyed the east side of Lake Tahoe. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Hi Kim, hubs’ grandpa had a few small patents but nothing the family can explain. Interesting how people’s minds think up things. Thanks for commenting today.

  3. Awesome, I did not know that history. You are so knowledgeable. I know you love to read, I wish I did. When I go to the dentist the light they use says Pelton /Crane. I should research that Pelton. Lol
    Great story Thanks Tanya. Love you??

    • Melanie, it’s always a pleasure to see you here! Thanks for commenting. It was great fun to find out about the wheel, and I have a friend who, I just learned, saw a Pelton wheel in Sacramento.

  4. No real inventor, but our son can fix or make just about anything. If he needs something for a project he is working on, he will design it and make it. He does great wood working and is a blacksmith.

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