Throwback Thursday | The Solar Motor

First Solar Power Experiment for Commercial Use

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | The Solar Motor – South Pasadena’s Cawston Ostrich Farm (1901)

The Cawston Ostrich Farm was the site of the world’s first successful experiment using a solar-powered motor for commercial use. Aubrey Eneas selected Cawston’s Ostrich farm in sunny South Pasadena to showcase his monstrous, parabolic dish.

It was an odd sight for sure! Cawston’s flock of some 260 strange-looking birds milling around a six-story mechanical beast with its 1,788 mirrors flashing in the bright sun.

Speculation ran high for the plentiful, low-cost energy source. The article Harnessing the Sun published in 1901 by F.B. Millard proclaimed: “Why should we burn costly, hard-delved coal in power-houses when we can hitch our trolley cars to the sun?”

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Note: The Solar Motor consisted of a boiler 13 feet in length and a foot wide, containing 1,000 gallons of water. The solar mirrors were configured to focus light energy on the boiler. The solar-powered steam engine pumped 1,400 gallons of water per minute from a deep well on the farm.


Harnessing the Sun

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.