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 capstan, most commonly found on the decks of early steamboats, was used as a vertical winch for raising or lowering anchors, hoisting sails and cargo, hauling heavy lines, or other jobs where individual manpower was not enough.
- It was operated manually, by putting timbers into the holes and using the resulting leverage to wind a line wrapped around the center of the device more easily. Sea chanties, or rhythmic songs, were often employed by ship crews to ensure that everyone hauled at the same time. Later in the 19th century, steam capstans and donkey engines replaced human muscle on the larger vessels.
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- National Museum of American History