Fred Stark Pearson, civil engineer
, son of Ambrose and Hannah (Edgerly) Pearson, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts
, on July 3, 1861. Pearson was a revolutionary in the field of hydroelectic power. He attended Tufts
University at the recommendation of a professor, and subsequently went on to become a professor
in the mathematics
department(in 1900 and 1905 he would receive honorary doctorates in science
, respectively). However, he later left Tufts with another graduate, and founded two electric
companies that were among the first to provide electricity to an entire community using only one power
Pearson then went on to provide electricity to the West End Street Railway in Boston, and to the Brooklyn Heights Railway Company in New York. Additionally, he assisted other railway systems in America, Canada, and England. Interested in coal mining, Pearson also invented the first machine to carry coal from a railroad car to a vessel.
However, he decided to focus on hydroelectric power. Pearson moved to Brazil, where he used water from the Rio Tiete to power Sao Paulo. He built other systems similar to this, most notably using water from the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls, to found the Toronto and Niagara Power Company. His final project was in Barcelona, Spain, using the Ebro River to power Barcelona and Most of the province of Catalonia. A statue of his likeness can be located somewhere in Barcelona.
Fred Stark Pearson epitomized what the historian Duncan McDowall called "the technological missionary." McDowall wrote,
"In a career that was to span just three decades, Pearson made a significant contribution to the public-utility industries of his native United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Brazil. He carried the message and the means of electricity into urban America and then abroad to lands eager to emulate the prosperity of North America. If he was also the servant of business profits, he never lost sight of 'the vision of the more perfect future' for his fellow man."
Pearson lived by water, and he died by water. He and his wife died when the Lusitania, the ship they were on, was sunk by a German submarine on May 7, 1915. Ironically he had been going to Britain to give a speech on anti-submarine technologies he had been researching. Pearson and his wife gave up chances at lifeboats in favor of younger people. In 1923 Tufts named their Chemistry building after Pearson, and the building, newly renovated and still bearing that name, stands to this day.
It should also be duly noted that Fred Stark Pearson is my great-great-grandfather.