At the Niagara Falls

Diary of the Voith Engineer Albert Ungerer

Part Two: At the Niagara Falls

Albert Ungerer has arrived safely in New York. The Voith engineer has already become acquainted with the American cuisine and is less than enthusiastic about undercooked steaks. What he is really passionate about is getting finally to the power stations at the Niagara Falls. Voith is supposed to deliver turbines for the imposing plant. For a while it looks as if the Heidenheim company will not get the deal. But then, all of a sudden, the luck turns. The young man has recorded his experiences at the huge water falls, which belong both to the United States and to Canada, in his diary.*

From Albert Ungerer's diary, 29 October 1909

Niagara Falls at around 1905: Voith delivered twelve of the world's largest turbines at the time for power stations at the Niagara Falls.

We arrive at the Canadian Niagara Falls at half past ten in the morning. I drive on to Ontario Power Co., where I initially meet Mr. Mitchell and then Messrs. Suhr and Converse. Mr. Mitchell takes me for lunch, and then back to the Company, where I enlighten Mr. Converse about the purpose of my visit and also grill him regarding turbine number eight. For the time being he is deaf in this ear. (...)

18. October 1909 – Among the Competition

In the evening, the chief engineer of Lombard Governor Co. rings me and asks me to his room, where he has gathered one of his engineers and the representatives of two American competitors: Mr. Larner, blade designer of Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Co. and Mr. Gibbs of S. Morgan-Smith Co., York. I learn that Allis-Chalmers are already out of the race.

19 October 1909 - Decision Day

Decision day! We are sitting in the parlor, show each other photographs and wait. At half past two, Mr. Heward appears, takes me to the side and explains with a thousand apologies that the contract has gone to Escher. The price difference was not worth mentioning, and also from a technical point of view he was sure that we would have supplied perfect machines, but the financiers of Bank of Montreal had voted in favor of Escher. Such a defeat is truly horrible.

20 October 1909 - After the defeat

A few days of misery pass by. (…) Well, forget about it and cheer up! (…) Have submitted a quote for three machines today. In my presence, Mr. Converse dictates a letter to his presidents in Buffalo, in which he recommends to accept the offer. The decision will not be made for another four weeks.

29 October 1909 - At the Heart of the Niagara Falls

Machine room of Ontario Power Co.: Albert Ungerer described this view in his diary 100 years ago.

I say goodbye to the engineers of Ontario Power Co. We drive back to the horizontal tunnel and take an elevator, this time downwards. Hot air swells from the ground. We are surrounded by a dull, booming noise - it feels as if we are on the way to the secret workshop of a Jules Verne character.

And then we stand at the control desk and overlook the machine room. Next to us we can hear the whirring sound of the shiny regulator covers, below us the pumps chuggle along, in front of us the huge machines sing their monotonous song and outside, the father of all waters, the Niagara, rushes on forever and ever.

"Hot air swells from the ground. We are surrounded by a dull, booming noise - it feels as if we are on the way to the secret workshop of a Jules Verne character."

From Albert Ungerer's diary, 29 October 1909

15 November 1909 - Happy End

Had another negotiation with Mr. Converse yesterday. Thought about the matter for a long time beforehand and decided not to be bluffed by the Co., but oblige them by smaller concessions and compromises and stay as tough as a toad in terms of price. Mr. Converse has just sent a telegram to say that he is going to order turbine number eight; I am supposed to be back at the Niagara Falls on Sunday. (…). 

*Author's note: all texts, with the exception of the introduction, are original extracts from Ungerer's diary. The grammar has not been changed. Omissions are marked with (…).

"Mr. Converse has just sent a telegram to say that he is going to order turbine number eight; I am supposed to be back at the Niagara Falls on Sunday. (…)."

From Albert Ungerer's diary,
15 November 1909