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Floating Power Plants and Peeling Stockings

In 1949, something really peculiar happened in downtown Jacksonville: The stockings on women began to peel away. And, in the picture to the left, you’re looking at what may have been the culprit. The Inductance vaguely resembles a Union gunboat from the Civil War, but in some ways it proved far more powerful. This vessel was a floating power plant that helped Jacksonville tackle its electrical requirements during World War II (1941-1945). The River City churned out a small fleet of military craft, for example. The largest of these manufacturers, the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company, gobbled enough power to supply a town of 40,000. Other crushing demands came from Camp Blanding and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. To complicate matters, new residents needed energy too. People poured into Jacksonville, with its population skyrocketing from 173,065 to 247,468 during just the first two years of the war.

The Navy came to the rescue, at least in part. Waterborne power plants proved a relatively fast, cheap way to boost power in a place. Thus, the Navy loaned Jax a floating power plant for several months in late 1944. The vessel’s withdrawal, though, left the city back in the lurch. One city commissioner cast his eye on the Inductance, which was one of four floating power plants capable of generating 30,000 kilowatts that was made available by the federal government’s Defense Plant Corporation. The feds had already dispatched three of the craft to Europe, though, and several U.S. cities coveted the remaining Inductance. Against seemingly impossible odds, Jacksonville prevailed, for the city commissioner won for his town the leasing of the Inductance. A year later, the city didn’t have to pay rent anymore when it purchased the vessel for continued service.

The Inductance measured 18 feet longer than a football field, and it could burn up to 1,200 barrels of fuel a day in two boilers that generated electricity. Towed by tug, it arrived in Jax on April 14, 1945, shortly before Germany’s surrender. But it still proved quite worthwhile, since the Pacific battles continued into August.

The Inductance was moored downtown where the Jacksonville Landing sits today. (The Landing was built beyond the spot where the shoreline used to lay.) Following Japan’s surrender, the Inductance stayed in its spot, continuing to help light the First Coast.

Which gets us to the peeling stockings: In 1949, women downtown became flush with heat, and their legs started to prickle with pain. Next, their stockings stripped away in small spots. National magazines even investigated the phenomenon. What may’ve have been the cause? Soot from pollution, the Florida Times-Union suggested. More specifically, smoke from the Inductance, which was still puffing away at the foot of Laura Street.

Sometime later, the city moved the floating electrical plant to the end of Collins Road, near the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. In 1966, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bought the Inductance, and it ended up in Guam, boosting power there.

Did you know? — During World War II, the Jacksonville City Council added extra security to prevent sabotage at the Talleyrand Avenue Light Plant, the Water Works, and the Municipal Docks & Terminals. If the enemy had planned to destroy these targets, they did not carry out the threat.

~written by Glenn Emery

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