An electric pioneer: New museum exhibit details life of T.W. Sullivan
After years of diligent research on the life of Portland General Electric (PGE) engineer T.W. Sullivan, George Kramer nearly gave up on finding any of Sullivan's living descendants.
Kramer was working on behalf of PGE for a new exhibit at Oregon City's Museum of Oregon Territory (M.O.O.T.) that would detail Sullivan's life and accomplishments. Yet, as he joked, "Sullivan is sort of like Smith if you're Irish — there are lots of Sullivans."
Kramer was thrilled when he found a man who had known Sullivan for a brief period of time — and it was during this interview that he finally got the break he was looking for.
"You'll want to talk to John Paul," the man told him. "That's T.W. Sullivan's son."
Kramer told the story with a laugh on the evening of Friday, March 3, when M.O.O.T. and PGE hosted a grand opening of the new exhibit.
Now, at long last, museum visitors can learn about the life of the man who helped develop the nation's first long-distance transmission of electricity and built PGE Station B, which still operates in West Linn to this day.
The exhibit features an interactive demonstration of how power was transmitted to Portland, as well as interpretive signs detailing Sullivan's life and work.
PGE is in the midst of completing seismic upgrades at Station B, and the museum exhibit was commissioned as part of a series of mitigation efforts that were required because of the plant's status as a historic property.
"What is really invaluable out of all of this was the opportunity this project gave us to tell the story of T.W. Sullivan, and for that I am very thankful," PGE Archeologist Mini Sharma-Ogle said at the opening ceremony.
While Sullivan's 91-year-old son John Paul was unable to travel from California to attend the ceremony, grandsons Mark, John and Patrick made the journey.
"My father was only 14 years old when my grandfather died, and consequently my brothers and I never knew him," Mark Sullivan said. "George (Kramer) has provided to us information about our grandfather that colored in the bare bones of information we had, and placed him into a historical con-
text which answers some of
the 'hows' and 'whys' of his
"We are proud of our grandfather's achievements and are appreciative of all the work to highlight them in this museum."
Kramer said that cooperation from the Sullivan family was what made the project special, and that he also learned plenty from a series
of letters written by Sullivan.
"(The letters) gave us a little glimpse not only into his handwriting — which was beautiful — but how he thought and how he fussed over every single issue regarding Willamette Falls," Kramer said. "That was a pretty incredible thing to find for someone who was born in the middle of the nineteenth century and died in 1940."