Solar Power in Olney, IL historical marker.

Birthplace Of Solar Power

Field review by the editors.

Olney, Illinois

One would think that the birthplace of solar power would be someplace really sunny, like southern California or Florida. Or at a nexus known for its scientific research, like a university or technical company. Not according to this plaque. "The first experimental solar power plant was built in Olney, Illinois," it reads, "by H.E. Willsie and John Boyle Jr." in 1902. The names Willsie and Boyle are not mentioned in textbooks along with Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, which tells you all that you need to know about the ultimate impact of their experiments. And that maybe they really should have built their plant in Arizona.

Interestingly, 1902 was the same year in which white squirrels mysteriously appeared in the town of Olney. Coincidence? Or are Olney's bleached-out nutcrackers the unforeseen result of some sun-boosting experiment gone wildly wrong?

The "Birthplace of Solar Power" is kind of a silly claim if it actually didn't work. Various timelines of the use of solar power go back thousands of years to when people used glass or mirrors to concentrate heat from the sun. The trick is in the ability to store solar power and use it when you need it. After a century of bad descriptions and fanciful drawings of such photovoltaic storage devices, Bell Labs tested the first actual usable solar battery in 1954. Seems it worked -- we've seen photos of happy science nerds in sun glasses on the Labs lawn at Murray Hill, NJ.

Birthplace Of Solar Power

City Park

Address:
584 N. West St., Olney, IL
Directions:
The marker is on the west side of White Squirrel Circle, which is in City Park, which is on the east side of Hwy 130/West St. about four blocks north of the intersection of Hwy 250/Main St.
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July 23, 2014

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