F L Pope

In October of 1895 both the general public and the electrical community were stunned by news headlines reported in newspapers such
as The Boston Journal:

Inventor's End

Franklin Pope Killed by Electricity

Felled by the Power He So Long Mastered

People only familiar with his telegraph career were puzzled by how such an accident could have happened considering the relatively safe operating currents of the telegraph. In 1894, Pope moved back to Great Barrington and remodeled the family home where he lived as a boy. He took on the job of re-engineering the electric light power system in the city. He converted the system from steam power to hydro power, doubled the operating voltages, and improved the distribution about the city. To evaluate his own efforts, being also a customer, Pope ran a 2100 volt aerial distribution line into his own workshop through a basement window. He originally ran it underground but had problems with the grounds that developed during heavy rain fall. He needed to evaluate the capabilities of the distribution converters ( step-down transformers ) ( 1050 to 52 volts ) that were in place around the city from the previous system, so he installed two well used examples of them in his basement workshop. Pope found by connecting two in series, he was able to re-use the old converters on his system. ( 2100 to 105 volts )


Basement Window On a Sunday evening during heavy rain and strong winds, residents of the city reported flashing as wet branches hit and rested on the power lines. With the lights dimmed in his home, Pope took a lantern that was low on fuel down into the basement to inspect the converters and his meter. The wind had blown open the basement window allowing rain to dampen the basement floor and the converters, which were mounted two feet away from the window. Pope reached up and closed the window. When pulling his hand away from it, the back of his right hand made contact with a converter and/or the tapped splice that connected the distribution line to the converters.

Several people representing a who's who in American telegraph and electrical engineering fields gathered in Great Barrington for Mr.Pope's funeral. Among them was a small contingent of engineers representing the American Institute of Electrical Engineers who were also there to investigate the accident. The investigating group included eminent A.C. power engineers William Stanley Jr. and Edward Weston of Weston Instruments, both good friends of Mr. Pope. The converters were bench tested in Great Barrington by Weston and Stanley where they found a primary lead of one the converters shorted to its case. The day after the accident, Mr. Pope's wife, Amelia, as a show of confidence in her husbands design, ordered their home electric light system repaired and put back into service.

Because of the notoriety of Mr. Pope's passing and the subsequent report by the AIEE, new safety and grounding codes were established for the young industry. Left unfinished in his typewriter that Sunday evening, was his article on The Distribution of Electric Power at Niagara.

When Mr.Pope was researching the life and career of Joseph Henry in 1878, he wrote: " There is to me a singular fascination in tracing the footsteps of the pioneers of science and discovery; in visiting the places which have been the scenes of their struggles, their disappointments, and their triumphs; in handling the crude and roughly fashioned apparatus, frequently the work of their own not unskillful hands; and in gathering from the lips of eye-witnesses the anecdotes and reminiscences which tell the story of their lives, and work, and studies."

My modest attempt in tracking the footsteps of Mr. Pope has led me to the place where his regrettably stopped. His former workshop is located in a dark and dusty corner of a now vacant room in the basement of his beautiful former old home. Underneath the basement window, where he last stood, I can still see by flashlight evidence where those infamous converters were once mounted.

It is hoped that this article has accurately documented Franklin Pope's career and that his good name and life's work will appropriately be relayed to the future...





Telegraph Key Drawing by F.L. Pope


Mr.Pope's Signature is an example of the spectacular penmanship typical of early telegraphers



The Spirit of the Wires

" Away ! away ! through the viewless air
Stretch forth your iron thread ;
For I will not dim my sandals fair
With the dust ye tamely tread.
Aye, rear it up on its million piers !
Let it reach the world around ;
And the journey ye make in a hundred years
I'll clear a single bound ! "


A telegraph poem used by Franklin Pope in The Telegrapher, July 15, 1867.


The Wainwright Inn--located on the corner of Pope and Main St.
Franklin Pope's former home in Great Barrington, Mass..
Now a bed and breakfast, called The Wainwright Inn.



Special thanks to Mr. George Price, great-grandson of Franklin Pope,
for the opportunity to research and photograph family memorabilia.

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Copyright (c) by John Casale - W2NI
Troy, New York
2000-2004
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