THE KEOKUK DAM

THE WORLD'S GREATEST POWER PLANT

Mention should here be made of the Mississippi River dam at the foot of the Des Moines Rapids, near Keokuk, which was completed in the year 1913. This dam is conceded by engineers to be one of the world's greatest engineering triumphs. Its story in all its details would fill volumes. It would include chapters bearing new testimony to the potency and grandeur of the mind of man, and would add the name of Hugh L. Cooper to the long list of world famous engineers, extending back to Archimedes.

The construction of, "a wing dam in the Mississippi at the mouth of the ravine at or near the head of Main Street [Nauvoo, Illinois] and the excavation of a 'ship canal,' .... affording ample water power for propelling any amount of machinery for mill and manufacturing purposes," the work to be financed by eastern capitalists, was urged as far back as February 3, 1841, in the inaugural address of Mayor John C. Bennett, of Nauvoo. In its issue of January 1, 1844, The Times and Seasons, of Nauvoo, stated that a charter had been granted "for the erection of a dam, upward of a mile long, across the Mississippi, to commence some distance below the Nauvoo House, and intersect with an island above; so as not to interfere with the main channel of the river," the dam to "afford the best mill privileges in the western country."

The after-persecution of the "Latter-day Saints" at Nauvoo prevented any recognizable attempt to make the dream a reality.

But the reality would have fallen far short of the Keokuk Dam of the twentieth century; for in the early forties electricity had been but loosely harnessed to machinery; and water-power, instead of being relegated to its present position of servitude as a generator of greater power, was then the "be all and end all" of the engineer.

In due time, early in the succeeding century, the vagrant giant, electricity was tamed and harnessed and made to do man's bidding. And in due time, also, came the man with the training, the world-including experience, the power to convince hesitant Capital, the Job-like patience—and, withal, the vision essential to the performance of any herculean task.

Hugh Lincoln Cooper, a Minnesotan by birth, a cosmopolitan in experience, was born in 1865, and was not yet fifty years old when his victory over the elements became assured. He brought to his life-work no diploma from the schools; but—better yet—a fund of practical experience in the application of water-power to the creation of electric currents. As an expert hydraulic engineer he had built water plants in Brazil, Mexico and Jamaica and on the Susquehanna River. He had also driven a tunnel under Horseshoe Falls, Niagara. He spent years perfecting his plans for the Keokuk enterprise.

As illustrating the man's fitness for the task, let a single instance suffice. Certain consulting engineers were of the opinion that conditions at Keokuk were peculiar, to the extent that no turbine wheel ever built would meet them. "That's all right," was Cooper's response. "Then, we'll design one ourselves. ''

And he did. Thirty immense turbine wheels of his devising are in their places capable of developing the maximum power designed.

With the completion of his plans, his battle was not half won. The plans involved an estimated expenditure of at least $20,000,000—in actual fact $27,000,000. He spent much valuable time promoting his enterprise. A man of extreme modesty, he found this the most trying experience of his career. In an illustrated lecture given in Des Moines years afterward, he smilingly remarked that fifty-eight capitalists had separately bowed him out of their offices before a man could be found willing to invest. He finally succeeded in organizing the Mississippi River Power Company with twenty million capital. Sixty-five per cent of the capital invested came from England, France, Belgium and Canada. The rest was subscribed at home.

Mr. Cooper alone designed and supervised the building of the hydro-electric plant at Keokuk, conceded to be "the world's greatest power plant." After years of slow but sure progress, and many serious back-sets caused by ice, floods and labor difficulties, the completion of the dam and power house was proclaimed July 1, 1913.

A convincing proof of the great engineer's modesty is the fact that when Keokuk and neighboring cities celebrated the event, the hero of the hour was not to be found.

Without going far into details, a few figures will here suffice to convey a general impression of the magnitude of the undertaking.

The engineer was fortunate in being able to utilize the Des Moines Rapids with its fall of twenty-three feet in twelve miles; also the bluffs which there extended closer to the water's edge than elsewhere; and, too, a rock-bottom of hard limestone affording an unsurpassed foundation for the concrete monolith he purposed to construct. He had not fully anticipated the possibility of extraordinary floods and ice-formations; but, by almost superhuman exertion, and at enormous expense, these emergencies were satisfactorily met.

The great dam at Keokuk is 4,649 feet in length, including the abutments; 42 ˝ feet in width at the base, tapering to 29 feet at the top; and stands 53 feet in height above the foundation. It is composed of 119 arched spans, measuring 30 feet in the clear, the piers being 6 feet thick. The height of the water above the dam is regulated by steel gates. The spillway sections are formed of arches 30 feet long and 32 feet high. The steel gates are mounted on top of the spillway and are 11 feet high and 32 feet wide.

The "world's greatest power house" is on the Iowa side of the river extending from the west end of the dam, down the river 1,718 feet; its width, 132 feet 10 inches; its height, 177 ˝ feet. On its first floor are the thirty 10,000 horse-power generators and on the three floors above are the oil switches and electrical accessories. The sub-structure, one vast monolith, extends 70 feet from the limestone bed of the river to the generator floor. This vast enginery generates sufficient power to transmit 110,000 volts to St. Louis, 144 miles away!

Says the Scientific American of September 13, 1913: '' The Keokuk enterprise is the only [water-power] development on a large scale in the heart of the United States. Its size and importance may be judged from the fact that its output will equal about half the total of all the five Niagara River companies. Practically all the power will be available for manufacturing. By means of long-distance transmission lines it will be available for light, power, traction purposes in the cities of the middle-west over a radius of more than 100 miles."

Iowa, Its History & Its Citizens, Volume 2, 1918
Submitted by Cathy Danielson


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