Energy & Power
The Museum's collections on energy and power illuminate the role of fire, steam, wind, water, electricity, and the atom in the nation's history. The artifacts include wood-burning stoves, water turbines, and windmills, as well as steam, gas, and diesel engines. Oil-exploration and coal-mining equipment form part of these collections, along with a computer that controlled a power plant and even bubble chambers—a tool of physicists to study protons, electrons, and other charged particles.
A special strength of the collections lies in objects related to the history of electrical power, including generators, batteries, cables, transformers, and early photovoltaic cells. A group of Thomas Edison's earliest light bulbs are a precious treasure. Hundreds of other objects represent the innumerable uses of electricity, from streetlights and railway signals to microwave ovens and satellite equipment.
- The Mississippi River sidewheel steamboat J.M. White was built at Jeffersonville, Ind., in 1878 for the Greenville and New Orleans Packet Company. Measuring 321’ long and 91’ in beam across the paddlebox guards, the White only sat 10’-6” deep in the water when fully laden. The steamboat was designed for Mississippi River packet service between New Orleans, La., and Greenville, Miss.
- The White was one of the largest, most expensive, luxurious, and most powerful river steamers ever built, with 2,800 horsepower and a capacity of 250 first-class passengers and 10,000 bales of cotton. Named after famous riverboat captain J. M. White (1823–1880), the “supreme triumph in cotton boat architecture” was a masterpiece of the gaudy, glamorous style known as “steamboat Gothic.” It had multiple bridal chambers; stained glass skylights and windows; rare wood veneers and gilded finishes; seven gilded “Egyptian-style” chandeliers; a sterling silver Tiffany water cooler in the 250’-long main cabin; monogrammed flatware and china; and a full concert grand piano.
- The White spent most of its eight-year career in service on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Vicksburg, Miss. Despite its economy of size, the White’s high initial $220,000 cost, a spotty economy, and the rapidly expanding railroad network made the steamboat unprofitable. It caught fire, blew up, and burned to the waterline at a Louisiana landing in December 1886, killing several aboard.
- Date made
- used date
- late 19th century
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History