Central

Pictorial History

Historical Photo

Historical Facts and Photographs provided by the Bentley Historical Library.
*Click on each photo below for larger view.

One of the original three heating plants.
One of the original three heating plants

The first University buildings were erected in 1840. During the late 1800's, three separate heating plants were constructed to provide heat to these University buildings. In 1897, the first electrical generating units (two direct current 75-kilowatt, 220 volt generators) were installed as gas illumination was replaced by electricity.

 
Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls 1912 design of the new Central Power Plant.
Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls 1912 design of the new Central Power Plant

The University had expanded beyond the capacities of the original heating plants by 1911. A central plant was designed in order to adequately service the quickly expanding University of Michigan campus. This plant replaced the original heating plants and became known as the University of Michigan Central Power Plant.

 
The Central Power Plant as constructed in 1914.
The Central Power Plant as constructed in 1914

The original Central Power Plant was equipped with a 500 kilowatt, 2,300 volt, alternating-current generator for electrical power, and eight 400 brake horsepower vertical-tube boilers for heating. Soon after construction, technology was added to provide hot, softened water to all University Buildings. Three men were required per shift to run the Power Plant: an engineer, a stoker, and a waterboy. Since each man worked an eight hour shift, only nine total men were needed to fully operate the plant.

 
Construction of the 250 foot radial chimney -1924
Construction of the 250 foot radial chimney -1924   

In 1924 a 250 foot radial chimney was added along with 598,000 cubic feet of space. Areas were constructed to increase coal storage and add heating and water softening technology.

The University of Michigan Central Power Plant as it stands today.
The University of Michigan Central Power Plant as it stands todayThe Central Power Plant has continued to expand to meet the needs of the University. Over the many years between its original design and the current plant, it has been upgraded numerous times to provide the most efficient and cost effective energy possible. The Central Power Plant is currently able to generate 45,000 kilowatts, 13,200 volts, of electricity. It provides electrical services to 130 University of Michigan buildings. It provides heat/hot water services to nearly 100 University of Michigan buildings. Today, only one more man per shift is required to operate the plant: an operating engineer, a turbine operator, and two boiler operators. There are three shifts per day, which the operators rotate through every four weeks. A total of 36 people are employed at the powerhouse.
image, arrow View some of the Power Plant's old equipment.
image, arrow Old Boiler Control Room ( 1997 University Record article)
image, arrowVisit the UM Railroad & Power House History page. (off-site)

Content modified: March, 2005