Jacob Friedrich Schoellkopf was born in 1819. He and his family owned and operated a well-known tannery business in Kirchheim unter Teck, which is a small village in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Early in his life, Joseph Schoellkopf came to Buffalo, New York with $800 and started a tannery business.
Schoellkopf was a very successful businessman who owned multiple tanneries in Niagara, Milwaukee, and Chicago. He was also very successful in the business of milling flour.
On May 1st 1877, Jacob Schoellkopf purchased the hydraulic canal land, water and power rights for $71,000. When Schoellkopf had taken control of the hydraulic canal, power was transmitted by a combination of belts and drive shafts. Schoellkopf improved the hydraulic power canal and organized the fourth Canal Company.
In 1879, Schoellkopf started the Schoellkopf Chemical and Dye Company for his two sons named Jacob and Hugo.
Schoellkopf found new customers for his powerhouse and soon enough water was flowing over the edge of the gorge to the turbines below. At the time this sight was as spectacular as the Niagara Falls themselves. Schoellkopf understood that the future was in commercial production of electricity, thus harnessing the power of Niagara was needed. He adapted this available electrical technology to his powerhouse turbines and one of the first hydro-electric generating stations in the world was born.
Illumination of Niagara Falls had been an attraction since 1860. Calcium flares were used originally to light the area however they were expensive and did not last long. In 1881, Charles Brush of Euclid, Ohio arrived in Niagara Falls with 16 electric carbon arc lights and a generator to illuminate the Falls. Schoellkopf offered the power from his water turbines to power Brush’s generator. This marked a milestone in the history of the illumination of Niagara Falls.
By 1882, Schoellkopf had built a small power house at the end of the canal and installed a small generator. It was one of the first generators to be built by the Bush Electric Light Company. Bush had recently demonstrated his successful arc light. The small generator lighted sixteen lights in the streets of Niagara Falls, New York. The Bush generator produced direct current which could not be transmitted more than 1.6-3.2 kilometres.
By 1882, Schoellkopf had attracted seven mills along the high bank (the top edge of the Niagara Gorge north of the American Falls) all producing power from the hydraulic canal.
Jacob Schoellkopf Sr. died in 1903. His sons took over the operation of the power business.
In 1904, a second power station was built boosting power output to 34,000 horsepower.
In 1918, Schoellkopf’s Hydraulic Power Company merged with the Niagara Falls Power Company owned by Edward Dean Adams. The Niagara Falls Power Company name was retained.
Read about the story of the Schoellkopf Power Plant Disaster