The generating unit and the building that houses it are a gift to the historical society from Carver Mead, a world-renowned computer scientist and Silicon Valley pioneer who grew up in Big Creek.
The son of a Southern California Edison powerhouse operator, Mead managed to convince his father’s former employer to donate an old generating unit. Refurbished and freshly painted, the 25,000-pound unit arrived at the museum last fall in the flatbed of a semi truck. Its components had to be lifted into the building by crane, and volunteers spent months on installation.
“For a bunch of us kids that were raised here, the powerhouse was incredible inspiration,” Mead said. “We went off and did engineering for a living and taught and all that stuff.
“But once you’re retired, you really want the next generation to have that experience. Because it changed our lives, totally. So that’s how we got inspired to do this. We’re hoping to teach kids where electrical energy comes from.”
Some further background on Carver Mead:
Carver Mead coined the term “Moore’s Law, co-wrote the landmark text Introduction to VLSI systems, and built the first GaAs MESFET, a device that is today a mainstay of wireless electronics. He was the first to use a physics-based analysis to predict a lower limit to transistor size. His predictions, along with the notions of scalability that came with them, were instrumental in setting the industry on its path toward submicrometre technology. He was the first to predict millions of transistors on a chip, and, on the basis of these predictions, he developed the first techniques for designing big, complex microchips. He taught the world’s first VLSI design course. He created the first software compilation of a silicon chip… [He then shifted gears and did seminal work on neural networks.]