Jacob F. Schoellkopf
In addition to the names of Sir Adam Beck and Nicola Tesla, another man is forever linked to the Niagara Falls power story. That name is Jacob F. Schoellkopf.
Jacob F. Schoellkopf was born in Wurttemberg, Germany, in 1819, where at the young age of 14, he received training as an industrial apprentice. In December 1841, Jacob immigrated to New York City. He saved his money and moved to Buffalo in 1844, establishing a leather business there. This venture was extremely successful and in only a few years time, it had grown to include several other tanneries in major cities across the country. For a time, Schoellkopf was the senior partner of the largest tannery in the United States, headquartered on the Niagara Frontier.
Stretching his influence, Schoellkopf branched out into other fields including banking, railroads, gas, health care and flour milling. Schoellkopf entered the Niagara power story in his efforts to provide power for his many businesses and industries. In 1877, he bought out three power companies for $77,000 and formed the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Company, the first to produce electricity using Niagara Falls as its power source. When Schoellkopf took control, he finished digging a hydraulic canal where water from the Niagara River cascaded over the gorge to produce power, in “water-wheel” fashion, using belts and drive-shafts to operate nearby equipment. The power industry was still in its infancy but Schoellkopf realized the tremendous future that lay ahead in commercial generation of electricity. In 1890, he rebuilt his power-house turbines to generate electricity and one of the first hydroelectric generating stations in the world was born.
The Schoellkopf Generating Station was built in 1896, and Buffalo became the first major city to light its streets and power its streetcars using electricity. The Schoellkopf venture went on to become known as Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. To serve history fully, the power story begun by Jacob F. Schoellkopf needs to be carried forward to his progeny for several generations. It was Jacob who made long-term contracts for water rights and power, but up to the time of his death in 1899, no large return on his investments had been received. Subsequent generations, however, increased Jacob’s power empire, providing electricity to a vast array of businesses and communities. After the Schoellkopf family sold their interests in Niagara Mohawk in 1956, they continued their investments in commercial power through Niagara Share Corp; an investment company started in the 1920s and traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The Schoellkopf family also sold their interest in Niagara Share and Jacob Schoellkopf’s $77,000 initial investment in 1877 had grown to $215,760,000 when the company was dissolved in 1992.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094