Impulse turbines, also known as high pressure water wheels, were first developed in the foothill gold fields of Northern California to produce rotating mechanical power. Early water wheel designs were produced by Donnelly and Knight foundries of Sutter Creek and later Pelton and Doble improved on these designs. As electricity was developed as a power source in the 1890's, these turbines were coupled to dynamos, or generators, to produce electricity from the high-pressure water sources already in place in the region.
The first hydroelectric operation in Amador County was located in Sutter Creek at the corner of Main Street and Badger (Foundry Street) next to the creek. The Amador Railway and Electric Light Co. was formed in 1893 and began producing electricity, mainly for lighting, in 1894. The power lines were extended to Amador City and Jackson and the initial plant was expanded to meet increasing demand. During this time period and into the early 1900s, Knight Foundry was producing hydroelectric equipment for use in the western United States and worldwide.
In 1895 Blue Lakes Water Co. began planning for the first powerhouse on the Mokelumne River at Blue Lakes City. It began producing power in 1897, sending electricity as far as Stockton. Blue Lakes Water Co. bought the original Amador Electric Light Co. in 1898
and combined the systems.
The Standard Electric Co. was formed in 1898 under the direction of Prince Andre Poniatowaski and plans were made for the construction of the first Electra Powerhouse which would send electricity to the San Francisco Bay Area. Electra Powerhouse was completed and began operation in 1902. Standard Electric Company was purchased by the California Gas & Electric Corporation which became Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1905. PG&E continues to own and operate hydroelectric facilities on the Mokelumne River today.
This early Pelton Co. turbine and generator set was donated by Nick Skuce of Columbia, Tuolumne County.