Why Telluride?

The Tech Fest is based on the historical fact that in 1891, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse and Telluride’s own L.L. Nunn built the world’s first commercial grade AC power plant in Telluride. Each year, present day honorees are selected that exemplify the life, times and standard of contribution of these inventors, who not only changed the world—they electrified it.

The history, unique mountain environment and social atmosphere make it the perfect place to contemplate the future of technology.

The Story

L.L. Nunn, who was trained as lawyer at Harvard and schooled in Germany at Goettingen University, moved to Telluride in the late 1880’s. As the manager of the Gold King Mine, located high above Telluride near today’s ghost town of Alta, Nunn was faced with dwindling profits and possible closure if he could not figure out how to power the mine and milling operations at a lower cost. The mine, which had already cut all the trees for fuel over the years, was now being powered by coal, which had to be brought in by mule trains. The cost was prohibitive.

Nunn had read about the successes of Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse with alternating current power and was impressed with their claims that it could be transmitted much longer distances than Direct Current. He was able to strike a deal with Tesla and Westinghouse to build the world’s first commercial grade alternating current power plant in Telluride. The Ames Power Plant in Telluride began operation in 1891.
The word was out—AC Power Worked—and it could be transmitted miles and power large equipment. The mine and the economy of the town were saved.  As a direct result of the success of the power plant in Telluride, Tesla and Westinghouse were invited to demonstrate alternating current power right next to the Edison Electric Company’s demonstration of direct current at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. More than 30 million people in total attended the extravaganza and everyone witnessed for themselves the “Battle of the Currents”.

The Niagara Falls Power Plant had been planned to be a direct current power plant, but was changed after the Chicago World’s Fair. The plant, which is still working today and has a statue of Nikola Tesla overlooking the falls, worked and supplied cheap, abundant power to the Northeast of America at a critical time in the Industrial Revolution.