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Palmer C Putnam (1900-1984)

Palmer C Putnam was an American engineer and a pioneer of wind power. He was born in 1900 to American writer George Haven Putnam and his wife, Emily Putnam. Putnam served in the RAF during the First World War, likely because his dad was born in London, before graduating from MIT in 1924 as a geologist. In 1934, Putnam built himself a house at Cape Cod in Massachusetts where he found that both the wind and electrical rates were surprisingly high. This led him to contemplate the idea that a windmill producing an alternating current may reduce the electric bill. After obtaining financial and technical support from the S. Morgan Smith Company, who were based in York, Pennsylvania, Putnam set about identifying a site for his turbine. In June of 1940, a test site on ‘Grandpa’s Knob’ in Castleton Vermont was selected by Putnam. Whilst designing the turbine, Putnam was able to assemble a team of engineers, using his links with MIT, and local electric boards, General Electric, and the Central Vermont Public Service, who assisted with the construction. The 1.25 MW ‘Smith-Putnam’ turbine, the first MW turbine in the world, was finished in August 1941 and connected to the local electrical grid in October. Between October 1941 and February 1943, the turbine operated for a total of 1000 hours until a shaft bearing failed.

Due to wartime shortages, Putnam was unable to replace the bearing and repair the turbine until March 1945. After the bearing was replaced, the unit achieved another three weeks of operation. On the 25th of March 1945 one of the turbine’s blades broke off whilst it was in operation. The blade fell 750 feet to the ground after it shattered at a previously repaired weak point. Although the turbine successfully produced electricity it was not deemed economically viable to continue and the prototype turbine was dismantled in 1946. In 1948 Palmer C Putnam published his book ‘Power from the Wind’ which gave an insight into the project and his thoughts on the future of using wind power to generate electricity. Putnam, despite the failure of his project, is a pioneer of wind energy by creating the first megawatt turbine and laying the foundation for wind power in the USA. Putnam died in 1984, a year after the Californian Wind Boom.


Power from the Wind – Palmer C Putnam, 1948

Wind Power – Peter Musgrove, 2010

Wind Power – Daniel M. Simmons, 1975

Palmer C Putnam – Wikipedia