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Wave Motors

In the late 1800ís two Wave Motors were constructed north of the Cliff House and Sutro Baths. Both of them claimed that when completed they would convert the power of the waves into electrical power by pumping water uphill to a water tank where the water would run down to a water wheel turning a dynamo to generate electricity.

Each of them was based on sound mechanical principles but did not take into account the variability of waves, the loses of friction, the loses of misaligned parts, the corrosion of salt water, the power needed to raise water 150 feet, and the fierce storms that pounded the northern California coast. It's not clear, but very possible that neither wave motor ever pumped a drop of sea water up hill.

E. T. Steenís motor was mounted across the mouth of a sea cave in 1886. Henry P. Hollandís motor was perched on an off-shore rock in 1891; attached to the land by a suspension bridge. The remnants of these wave motors survived into the mid 1900ís.

John Hall  (5/2/2020)

Steen Wave Motor

Holland Wave Motor


"Life-Saving Station, near Cliff House"
Contrary to the stereoview caption, this photo shows the wave motors.  The Holland Wave Motor in the background and the Steen wave motor in the foreground. This
may be the earliest photo of the Holland motor.  The top of the structure is missing so it must be under construction.


Holland Wave Motor
Image courtesy of John Hall


Wave Motor (ebay image)
Holland Wave Motor right-center, Steen Wave Motor partially visible lower-left


Courtesy of the Doug Johnson Collection
Looking down on the Steen Wave Motor from the cliff above


Analysis by John Martini (3/3/2016):

ďThis is Steen's Wave Moto at Point Lobos overlook. It spanned a narrow inlet (or more accurately, a crevice) in the Point where waves rushed in with tremendous force. From what we can decipher from old drawings and descriptions, itís operation was complex: a float or paddle suspended beneath the trestlework bobbed up and down (or, if a paddle, was pushed back and forth) as waves washed into the cleft. The resulting motion moved a piston that pumped seawater into a reservoir high on the hillside, which was released to turn a Pelton waterwheel to create electrical power. Itís not clear if it was ever completed. The photo dates to between 1905 and 1925. The double tracks in the foreground are for the electric Cliff Line/#1 Line, which was constructed in 1905 by United Railroads. The streetcar line was abandoned in 1925 when the tracks washed out further to the east. Portions of Steenís Motor lasted until World War II."

close-up of Steen's wave motor (ebay image)


Ohioan shipwreck, Holland Wave Motor (right of center), Steen Wave Motor (front-center)
(from a set of six photographs)


Holland Wave Motor
ebay image, BW Kilburn (rev)


Steen's sea cave at Point Lobos (SFPL BP-49-276)
Drawing created by Steen showing the alternations he made at Point Lobos when he built his ďbridgeĒ wave motor.  - John Martini 4/19/2020



Holland Wave Motor Patents

Patent 454,821


Patent 460,812




Contemporary photograph showing the location of the two footings for the Steen Wave Motor where it spanned the crevice
Image source: California Coastal Record


Holland Wave Motor recreation by John Hall



Wave Motor Company incorporated, Steen Wave Motor
Daily Alta California - 22 July 1886


San Francisco Chronicle - Nov 4 1886
Steen Wave Motor

Morning Press - 30 Dec 1887
Steen Wave Motor

The San Francisco Examiner - Nov 19 1888
Steen Wave Motor


Steen Wave motor damaged by Parallel explosion
Daily Alta California - 13 January 1889


The San Francisco Call - Apr 13 1890
Mention of why the Steen wave motor failed

The San Francisco Call - Apr 20 1890
Response by E. T. Steen, inventor


San Francisco Examiner - Aug 5 1891
Holland Wave Motor

The San Francisco Call - Aug 6 1891
Holland Wave Motor


The San Francisco Examiner - Dec 25 1891
Reference to both Holland and Steen Wave Motors
(full story)


Abandoned wave motors (both Steen and Holland) pose safety hazards
San Francisco Call - 25 September 1892




The San Francisco Call - Mar 2 1896
Santa Cruz Wave Motor, with brief references to Steen and Holland Wave Motors


Los Angeles Herald - Aug 25 1907