All of huntington Beach

Rails and Waves – Masters of the Ocean Waves

Adapted from an article written by the late Mary Adams Urashima

Early 1900s history sometimes seems like an explosion of new-fangled ideas and inventions - from ornamental street lighting to considering the possibility of airplanes flying overhead. Long before surfing was even known, “wave motors” promised to master the ocean’s energy and transform it into practical consumable electricity.

Wave motors were the early 20th-century’s renewable energy dream. Although they sound a little like a “Rube Goldberg” contraption, the project was confirmed.

“The problem of extracting light and power from the ocean’s immeasurable energy has been solved by Alva L. Reynolds,” was announced in the pages of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper in December 1909.

Inventor Alva L. Reynolds, a prominent resident of Huntington Beach, responded, “We have made a capital demonstration at our plant at Huntington Beach…We make electricity daily, and hundreds of people call at our pier to see our motors work, and they go away convinced that this age-long problem has been solved”.

From a 2011 article in Wired magazine, we learn that this wave motor machine was built around a dedicated wharf, not involving our historic pier in any way. “There were vanes on the pylons that would spin when the waves came in, turning a crank that would pump seawater to a reservoir on shore, where it would run down through a standard hydroelectric generator.”

The Los Angeles Herald celebrated Alva Reynolds' Wave Motor as the one effort among more than 175 attempts. For its success, it was championed above all others.

Reynold’s California Wave Motor Company installed two units at a Huntington Beach industrial pier, boasting they had “withstood for several weeks the severest storm known on this coast for many years.”  His patent, almost  immediately filed in 1907, claimed “a complete wave power system of production, equalization and transmission.”

Alva Reynolds announced his group’s intention to supply electricity to Huntington Beach first. He declared, “Every housewife of the town will throw away her smoky and dangerous oil stove and replace it with the clean, comfortable electric cooker. She will have a big oven with plate glass windows, which are electrically lighted and heated. There will be no smoke and no ashes in the house.”

He theorized that a single mile of oceanfront would provide all the electricity needed by the entire state.

In the end, Alva Reynolds and his brother George constructed a dedicated 500-foot wave motor wharf at the end of present-day 21st Street, where it proved not to be the wave of the future after all.  The wave motor machine churned for several years after 1908 until investors grew weary of its lackluster performance.  The “machine” had powered up a few twinkling lights on the wharf but not much else.  Investors moved on, and by 1913, the entire endeavor faded away.