Little Bits of History

May 16

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2017

1891: The International Electrotechnical Exhibition opens in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The exhibition ran until October 19 on the sites of three former Western Railway Stations, located on the western outskirts of the city. The Elektrotechnische Gesellschaft (Electrotechnical Society) was founded in 1881 in Frankfurt with the goal of promoting electricity and research into uses for industry and technology. By 1884, ten manufacturers of electrical equipment had moved to the city and by 1890 some of the major players in the German power infrastructure had moved there. A “second industrial revolution” found roots in the city as new ideas were explored and electricity took over as the power source once held by steam engines.

Paris was host to a World Fair in 1889 and inspired Leopold Sonnermann to put forth the idea to the Electrotechnical Society to host their own exhibition. The issues at hand were twofold. The newly emerging markets for electricity needed to be explored and opportunities were abundant for further uses. A second concern was for Frankfurt itself. They were planning a new power station and the city’s political and technical leaders were unsure which type of power to produce. At the time there were three options: direct current, alternation current, and three-phase current. The exhibition would be the place for each type of power to demonstrate benefits and show why it was the most commercially viable.

Lauffen am Necker was about 110 miles away. They would produce three-phase current and transmit the high voltage power to Frankfurt with a minimal loss of 25%. The highlight of the exhibition was a three-section entrance gate with the center gate’s signage saying: Power Transmission Lauffen–Frankfurt 175 km (in German). The two side rectangles bore signs proclaimed Allgemeine Electricitätsgesellschaft (AEG – General Electricity Company) and Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (Oerlikon Engineering Works). The entire entrance was ablaze with 1000 light bulbs and that wasn’t all. Inside was an electrically powered waterfall to amaze the 1,200,000 visitors from around the world. The ticket to enter was 15 marks, about $200 today.

The exhibition was so successful, it helped Germany decide on the way to power itself. It found the most economical means of transmitting power to be the three-phase current and the Lauffen station continued operation after the event. Frankfurt went on to built its own power station nearby and a third private company built one in Bockenheim. The three-phase current is a type of polyphase system and is the most common method used by electrical grids worldwide. It is usually more economical than a single-phase for the same voltage because it uses less conductor material to move the same amount of power.

Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs. – Nikola Tesla

Electricity for example was considered a very Satanic thing when it was first discovered and utilized. – Zeena Schreck

There is a force more powerful than steam and electricity: the will. – Fernán Caballero

Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? – Nathaniel Hawthorne


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