BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — Most Vermonters know the state has long been at the forefront of renewable energy in America, but it might surprise some to learn just how far back that tradition goes.
Inspired by a visit to see a working electromagnet at the Penfield and Taft Iron Works in Crown Point, New York, in 1833, Forest Dale, VT resident Thomas Davenport began work on the world’s first battery-powered electric motor, receiving the first-ever patent for one in 1837.
This year, July 9, will mark the 220th anniversary of the birth of Mr. Davenport, and Governor Phil Scott recently passed a resolution officially recognizing the date. To celebrate, the town of Brandon will be hosting the first Davenport Electric Fest from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Estabrook Park.
The event—sponsored by Green Mountain Energy, Drive Electric Vermont, and Solar Fest—will have several electric vehicles on display, including cars, busses, construction and agricultural equipment, as well as lawn care tools.
The festival’s organizers said several local and state politicians would also be in attendance to help raise awareness for the project, although none are slated to speak.
One person who will be speaking is UVM’s Department of Physics’ Scientific Electronics Technician David Hammond, who will be on hand to give a demonstration of a replica of the original Davenport electric motor.
“We’re excited about exposure for the tech,” said Jack Schneider of Brandon’s energy committee. “Once people are in the vehicles and see how they work, [switching to electric] it’s a no-brainer.”
Davenport’s wife, Emily, played a significant role in helping the original motor work more efficiently, even donating silk from her wedding dress to better insulate the copper coils used in its machinery.
“She sacrificed a lot more than that for him,” said historian Kevin Thornton—who is currently preparing a new exhibit on Davenport for the Brandon Museum—referring to Emily’s steadfast financial support of her husband as he worked on the motor.
In that spirit, the Davenport festival will also be a family affair, with food, music, face painting, and a bouncy house among the attractions meant to appeal to those who might not be of age to purchase their first electrically operated machine quite yet.
The Davenport Electric Fest represents just one of several events the town of Brandon has in development around the theme of renewable energy. The Energy Committee will be ramping up their promotions during the Independence Day celebration on July 2, and Solar Fest will be hosting a mixer for the Brandon Chamber of commerce on June 22 as part of a ramping up in activities for their bigger festival in September.
Even the Brandon Police Department is getting in on the EV game, as they recently announced the purchase (with the assistance of Green Mountain Power) of a new Kollter electric motorcycle as a sign of good faith in their commitment to eventually transition the force to an all-electric fleet of vehicles.
“We want it to be a celebration of one of Brandon’s greatest citizens,” said Brandon Town Moderator and Recreation Director Bill Moore. “Thomas Davenport helped change the world and might help save it too.”