Sprague, Frank

Sprague, Frank (Julian)

(1857–1934) electrical engineer, inventor; born in Milford, Conn. He developed an interest in electricity while a cadet at the U.S. Naval Academy. As a junior naval officer (1878–83), Sprague experimented with various types of dynamos and motors. He resigned from the Navy to become an assistant to Thomas Edison in 1883 and formed the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company the following year. In 1887 he installed the nation's first electric trolley system in Richmond, Va., for which he has been called "the father of electric railway traction." He sold this company to Edison in 1892 and established a concern that manufactured electric elevators, selling it in turn to Otis Elevator Company. He perfected a control system for multiunit trains in 1895, using this as a basis for an automatic train control system he developed. In his later years he produced electric motors for small tools and appliances and coinvented the third rail for electrified rail lines. He served as chairman of committees on shipbuilding and electricity for the Naval Consulting Board during World War I.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.