July 5; Brooklyn, The Big Apple, and “Be Good or Be Gone”

EVing into the heart New York City from Long Island was a good test for The Sun Catcher.  We are about 50 miles outside of Manhattan, and a trip into the city meant we had to have a charge to make it back.  Launching off from Massapequa to the Big Apple was similar to Columbus reaching the point of no return as he headed across the Atlantic Ocean, but on a somewhat smaller scale.  Ok, the scale difference between these events is not even close to being compared together. But our trip was one that could have been frought with danger due to my Tigers ballcap.  We were headed into the heart of Yankee territory.

To officially start Roy Chapin’s journey, we wanted to drive into the heart of New York City.  Our trip into the city was spent visiting a number of sites with an emphasis on ones that relate to the development of our modern technology world and ones that reflect the importance of maintaining our liberty and independence.


Our first stop was “Cooper Park” near Newtown Creek in Brooklyn.  Today, the park is a tranquil oasis that is only a block from the never ending movement of trucks, cars and people on Metropolitan Ave.  In the 1800’s, this neighborhood was the heart of industrial growth.  Cooper Park is named after Peter Cooper.  Near this site was Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, the pre-eminent glue of its time.  His factory employed hundreds of people, rendering the carcasses of deceased animals (at least I assume deceased…but remember, this was a time when horsepower really meant the number of horses) into glue.

Cooper was one of the wealthiest people in the country in the mid-1800s, and he had a near monopoly in glue due to his chemical processing breakthroughs in glue chemistry.  Two of his inventions from these efforts continue today: jello and the double boiler.  Cooper invented the double boiler as a method to safely control the temperature of his glue vats.  Jello is really a type of glue that he found tasted pretty good with the addition of a little sugar and fruit.  He located his factory on Newtown Creek for the same reason other companies located here.  Manhattan was getting more crowded and the creek offered a way to get rid of waste, or so it seemed.  As noted in the link above, the creek still suffers from its industrial history, and the cost to revive it is one that we and future generations must shoulder.

Many companies today find that they can turn their wastes into products that make money by reducing waste cost and possibly finding markets for their scrap material, but it takes time and a continued, never-ending conscientious effort to eliminate waste and pollution.  Many companies, such as Ford, have zero waste goals, and are reaching this goal in profitable manners.  We are going to come back to Peter Cooper because he was a good person who worked hard to benefit others throughout his long life.

Cooper Park in Brooklyn and a bridge over Newtown Creek (see link for more on its pollution.

In addition to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, the Newtown Creek area of Greenpoint was the site where the Monitor iron ships were built during the civil war.  How could the construction of a war ship relate to solar powered vehicles?  The Monitor ships were designed by DeLamater’s Iron Works engineering genius, John Ericsson.  A Swedish immigrant, Ericsson was a fountain of ideas that became reality.  He was one of the early inventors of the “screw propeller“, an important component of ship and airplane propulsion, as well as wind turbines and water turbines.  The partnership of Cornelius DeLamater and John Ericsson was that combination of the business acumen of Cornelius coupled with John’s problem solving talents.

While the Monitor was a ship of war, Ericsson was just as driven to create solar powered heat engines during the mid-1800’s.  It was clear to Ericsson that unsustainable resources would not last forever.  The “Ericsson cycle” is recognized by engineers as a heat engine capable of achieving Nature’s maximum allowable limit for converting heat into mechanical work.

John Ericsson was known to be quite intolerant and unfriendly toward most people, but somehow the relation with Cornelius was as strong as a friendship can be, with Ericsson dying one month after his business partner, Cornelius, died in 1889.

Our third reason for this stop in Brooklyn is a historic building at 1013 Grand St, just a short 2 block walk from Cooper Park.  The building below is the first air conditioned building in the world.  A young engineer, Willis Carrier, designed the system in 1902.  It was not for human comfort, but instead, to dry ink during the humid summers at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company’s.  Of course, it would not be long before humans discovered that they enjoyed the comfort of climate control spaces, with the New York Stock Exchange just across the East River being the first building air conditioned for human comfort.

After a nice pastrami hero from a deli a short distance from along Grand St ($4…who says New York is expensive?), we got back in the car and headed into Manhattan.

The BIG Apple

There’s no place in the world quite like downtown New York City.  We used our GPS in the Focus EV to locate parking places with EV charging stations.  We wanted something near City Hall Park, 1 World Trade Center, Wall St, and other lower Manhattan sites.

As we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge into the city, we could see the Empire State Building, which is the former site of the old Waldorf-Astoria where Roy Chapin’s journey ended. The Empire State Building was recently remodeled, with energy efficiency as a centerpiece of its redevelopment.  The project was part of the Clinton Climate Initiative with the Rocky Mountain Institute and Johnson Controls as partners in the project activities.  New windows, improved insulation, smarter building controls, increased efficiency of the comfort conditioning system all combined into turning the Empire State Building energy performance within the top 10% of large scale buildings in the world.  Only 2/3rds of the building had been air conditioned prior to the project.  With the improvements made to the building, the existing equipment now provides air conditioning to the whole building.  It was a great demonstration of how energy efficiency improvements make money and jobs.

Crossing the Willamsburg Bridge into Manhattan and a picture of the Empire State Building from the bridge.

We located an “Edison Parkfast” near Canal and Centre Streets in Chinatown.  The pace of Manhattan makes Brooklyn seem quite relaxing.  They advertised a “fast” 240 volt EV charger, which was located next to the parking office booth.  Of course a number of cars in the lot were blocking access to the EV charger.  The parking attendants were racing here and then, continuously shuffling their puzzle board of cars.  An attendant seemed initially dismayed when I told him we needed a charge, but told us he would move some cars to put ours in the charging spot.  We left the keys in exchange for a receipt, and watched from across the street under the beautifully decorated Chinatown building shown in the picture below to see that they would move our car…which they did.  We left to continue our trek, somewhat feeling that our car would be charged, but not fully expecting that to be the case.Edison Parkfast and decorated building in Chinatown near Canal and Centre Streets.

We walked toward City Hall Park, where the Declaration of Independence was publicly read to the American troops on July 8, 1776 in the presence of George Washington.  On the way, we passed through Thomas Paine Park, author of “Common Sense”, and considered to be an inspiration to the development of the Declaration of Independence.

We headed south along Centre Street toward City Hall Park and the Brooklyn Bridge.  The Brooklyn Bridge is pedestrian friendly with wonderful views of the city and East River.  The BB was built in 1874, with engineering breakthroughs paving the way for modern bridge building construction.  As we walked to the first bridge support where a viewing station was located, I could image Peter Cooper, John Ericsson, and Thomas Edison crossing the bridge in its early days.

Beautiful views from the Brooklyn Bridge looking up at the support, down the East River (note the “Tall Ship” near the water), and a great view of the new tower at the World Trade Center.

We continued to City Hall Park, on our quest to see the spot where the Declaration of Independence was read.  We found the spot, with some modern art added to the location near the Croton Fountain (the Westchester County reservoirs near Croton NY have fed NYC’s thirst for decades).  Freedom can be trying, but it is worth it.  Nathan Hale’s statue (“I regret I have but one life to give…”) was behind protective barriers so we were unable to see it.

I know the next stops on our walking tour will be as thrilling and exciting to you as they were to Deb.  How many times have you wondered where the first electric power plant was located?  And, who received the very first power bill?  The first power bill was for $50.44, dated January 18, 1883.  Ansonia Brass and Copper Company was the recipient of that bill (I suspect, but have no proof, that Edison purchased copper for his dynamos and wiring from Ansonia).  In today’s money, that bill would be about two billion dollars.  The picture below shows the address today is a parking lot.

We worked our way to Pearl Street, near the intersection with Fulton St (named for Robert Fulton of Fulton’s Folly fame….more about that later).  Thomas Edison built his plant at 255-257 Pearl St.  His investors included JP Morgan and the Vanderbilts.  No noticeable trace remains of the plant which burned down in 1890, but in our stumbling around the area, we saw this plaque commemorating the plant.  We also saw this huge Rapala fishing lure.

From Pearl St, we walked west along Fulton St to the World Trade Center site.  One World Trade Center, to be 1776 feet tall when crowned with its tower, is a beautiful site as one approaches the WTC site.  Tickets to visit the 9/11 memorial must be purchased ahead of time, so we were unable to visit, but the site was swirling with human activity which was great to see so many people wanting to remember that freedom is not free.



….stay tuned as we continue through the city and learn more about trains, liberty and whether our car was charged when we return to the parking lot…..