The Giant Drunk of Boone, North Carolina - A Historical Examination of the Mod-1 Wind Turbine


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1 The “Giant Drunk” of Boone, North Carolina: A Historical Examination of the Mod-1 Wind Turbine By Natasha Thompson HIST 452 Dr. Tracey Rizzo 21 November 2003 2 In 1979, a columnist for the Charlotte Observer alleged that a “giant drunk” plagued the town of Boone, North Carolina, attempting to flag down rides from vehicles on the highway.1 The writer referred not to a literal inebriated hitchhiker, but instead to the world’s largest wind turbine at that time, the product of a government wind energy project cosponsored by NASA and the Department of Energy, known as the Mod-1 wind turbine. Reactions to the turbine varied, ranging from positive, to negative, to mocking, to apathetic. Lauded for its role in the research of wind energy as a renewable method of generating electricity, it also faced sharp criticism due to malfunctions and inefficiency. By the time of its dismantling in 1983, stories surfaced in newspapers that described the turbine as a failure and a waste of tax dollars. Such an assessment, however, completely ignores the experimental nature and value of the Mod-1. Despite the problems that plagued the project, along with the turbine’s inability to consistently produce significant quantities of electricity, the Mod-1 project did not deserve its reputation as a complete failure. The machine provided scientists with important information on the feasibility of using wind turbines to generate electricity. Few, if any, scholarly sources exist that deal exclusively with the Mod-1 wind turbine, or NASA’s Mod project. However, some scholarly sources relating to alternative energy development or environmental movements in the twentieth century provide limited information. This information may mention the Mod-1 specifically, or just movements toward wind energy at the time of the Mod-1’s development. Environmental historian Ted Steinberg’s book, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History, provides useful information concerning the environmental movement 1 Pat Jobe. “The Gimmicks, my Friend, are Blowing in the Wind” Charlotte Observer, 24 August 1979. 3 in the United States during the 1970’s, focusing some sections on the decade’s movement to develop energy alternatives to petroleum.2 In environmental historian Hal Rothman’s book, Saving the Planet: The American Response to the Environment in the Twentieth Century, includes a section describing the oil embargo of 1973 that increased interest in developing alternative forms of energy.3 Presidential policy researcher Dennis L. Soden’s compilation of essays, The Environmental Presidency provides information on the environmental policies of presidential administrations during the time of the Mod-1’s design, operation, and dismantling.4 Technology historian Carroll Pursell’s journal article, “The Rise and Fall of the Appropriate Technology Movement in the United States, 1965-1985,” discusses some of the ways that the Reagan administration sought to reverse policy’s of the Carter administration in regard to alternative energy research.5 Political scientists Michael E. Kraft and Regina S. Axelrod also provide information on the switches in environmental policy from Carter to Reagan in their article, “Political Constraints on Development of Alternative Energy Sources: Lessons From the Reagan Administration.” 6 Also, several scholarly sources exist with ...

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