In 1778, right in the middle of the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton took George Washington to see the Great Falls of the Passaic River in northern New Jersey. There the river drops 77 feet in a torrent 280 feet wide. The visionary Hamilton saw in this watercourse a dream of plenty: cheap energy to build industry and free the nation from foreign markets.
Three years after the war, in 1791, Hamilton lined up a group of patriots, industrialists, and financiers to form the “Society for Establishing Usefull Manufactures,” otherwise known as the S.U.M. It was America’s first industrial community. The S.U.M. hired Pierre L’Enfant – the military engineer who laid out the plans for Washington, D.C. – to build the first raceway and harness the Passaic River’s energy.[...]