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European Themeroute | Application of Power

From the Middle Ages until the late 19th century water and wind supplied the driving power for a huge variety of engines. Windmills dominated the flat lands of northwest Europe. In the 18th century around a thousand mills were standing alongside the banks of the River Zaan, near the trading centre of ... more

Icon: Application of PowerWhat drives us forward. European Theme Route Energy

From the Middle Ages until the late 19th century water and wind supplied the driving power for a huge variety of engines. Windmills dominated the flat lands of northwest Europe. In the 18th century around a thousand mills were standing alongside the banks of the River Zaan, near the trading centre of Amsterdam. They were used to process timber, flour and paper, and not least raw materials from abroad like tobacco and cocoa. For this reason the region around Zaandam is widely recognized as being one of Europe's earliest industrial areas. Around the middle of the 18th century people a small wind wheel began to be added to the mills: this enabled the blades to turn automatically in the direction of the wind. At the end of the century an English engineer invented a mechanism to enable the windmills to adapt to different wind strengths. He divided the blades into shutter-like segments which could be opened or closed as necessary.

There were more than 500,000 waterwheels in Europe at the time. They were used to drive all sorts of machinery ranging from paper mills, oil mills and sawmills to forging hammers. Later on, huge high-power wheels - some made of iron – supplied power to large textile factories and ironworks. Where water was scarce, horizontal waterwheels proved their worth – and these led to decisive innovations. In 1833 a French engineer by the name of Benoit Fourneyron invented the water turbine. This was more efficient because it channelled the water to flow alongside the axis without coming up against one vane after another as in waterwheels, but several at the same time.

Improvements primarily came from the agricultural areas of the USA which were rich in water. The Francis turbine, named after its inventor, was created in the textile centre of Lowell: it had movable vanes which enabled it to react better to the changing amounts of water. Finally an American by the name of Lester Pelton achieved a very high rate of revolutions by directing the concentrated power of a jet of water on to the turbine vanes. Nowadays his turbine is primarily used in mountain power stations where it is possible to exploit high waterfalls to the full.

It was only after 1870 that steam power began to replace water power. This major invention has a long prehistory: the first working model of a steam engine, built by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, was put into action to pump off pit water in a coalmine near Wolverhampton. Newcomen blew hot steam from below into a cylinder, thereby driving a piston upwards. He then sprayed cold water into the cylinder and the condensed steam produced a vacuum. The upshot was that the piston was then driven back downwards by pressure from the air outside.

Since the cylinder was being alternately heated by steam and cooled by water, a lot of energy was lost in the process and the engines needed a great deal of fuel. This is where improvements began. In 1769 James Watt made history by separating the condensing chamber from the cylinder. In this way he could keep the cylinder constantly hot and the condensing chamber constantly cool, thereby saving fuel. Next, with the aid of transmission he replaced the up-and-down movement by a rotation. Nonetheless the steam engine was still unable to compete with the continual rotation of large waterwheels. Watt rebuilt them in such a way as to enable the steam to drive the piston in both directions. He not only blew steam into the cylinder from below in order to drive the piston upwards, but also from above in order to drive it back down again. This resulted in a considerably smoother movement.

Starting in 1785 the Boulton & Watt factory began to deliver 'double-acting' steam engines. These proved to be the first really competitive universal engines, because they could be used on all sites independent of water or wind. For this reason the steam engine is regarded as the mother of industrial cities, which now began to shoot out of the ground. Steam power began its triumphal march in the booming textile industry, before moving over to coal mines and steelworks.

The next fundamental improvement took place around a hundred years later, once more in Great Britain, when Charles Parsons succeeded in directing the steam onto the vanes of a rotor so that the power could immediately be converted into a very quick rotary movement. The 1884 steam turbine is still regarded as the ideal method of producing electricity. Only in mountainous regions are water turbines more efficient.

Only in the 1880s did steam begin to be replaced by electrical power, even though the basic knowledge went back to the first half of the century. At that time the Englishman Michael Faraday discovered that you could create electricity in a wire-wound coil if it was rotated between the poles of a powerful magnet. This was the underlying principle behind the generator, known at the time as a dynamo, which could convert mechanical power into electrical power. The discovery only became economically viable after several experimenters realised that it was possible to maintain the magnetic field solely with the help of the electricity produced, without the need for any additional external source of electricity.

Following the so-called dynamo-electric principle, companies like Siemens & Halske in Berlin and the Belgian Théophile Gramme company in France began to build dynamo engines to drive things like arc lamps, which were able to produce a very bright light when placed between two carbon electrodes. It was only with the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison that a greater demand for electrical power set in.

The American discovered that carbonised bamboo filaments enclosed in glass did not catch fire but radiated on a continual basis. Carbonised filaments were later replaced by tungsten filaments. Edison, who was more a manager than an inventor, always had his eye on the market. He not only produced light bulbs but also planned power stations and grids. In 1882 he opened a central electricity work in New York. Companies in European countries were quick to follow: in Germany for example, the German Edison company (Deutsche Edison-Gesellschaft or DEG), which later became AEG.

Edison’s greatest competitor was gaslight because every industrial country already possessed a gas-supply network. Gas was produced by coal and first used for lighting purposes before being used for domestic heating and cooking. Although electric light became the major source of illumination in private households, gasworks remained an indispensable part of practically every local authority for around 100 years.

Around the turn of the 20th century, industry finally began to abandon steam power in favour of electricity: the triumphal march of electricity had finally begun. Since electricity was mainly produced by means of steam turbines, coal remained the most important source of power until the rise of the oil industry.

Even before the middle of the 19th century people from regions as far apart as Galicia and Baku, Alsace and Sicily where producing petrol from oil sources in order to fuel lamps. In 1840 a refinery was opened in Romania, and another in 1859 in Poland. There was a particularly large demand for petroleum in the west of the USA, where there were no gas supplies for the new settlers. The oil industry expanded rapidly - in Europe too – after Edward Drake successfully drilled for oil in Pennsylvania in 1859. Petroleum continued to be used for lighting purposes and the invention of the combustion engine towards the end of the century opened up new areas of use for the residual ingredients of crude oil: petrol and diesel.

Laziska Górne | Poland
It presents a few thousand exhibits related to power engineer­ing: from an iron and one-hundred-year-old booth of a street transform­er from Bytom, machines and power generators, measuring and lighting devices, to documents and photographs.
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Museum of Power Industry
Muzeum Energetyki
Wyzwolenia 30
43-170 Laziska Górne, Poland

Paczków | Poland
Paczków is a small town in Silesia in southern Poland, chiefly notable for its perfectly preserved medieval fortifications. The gasworks was constructed in 1902 and continued to supply the town until 1977. It has been preserved in its entirety as a museum, and visitors are able to see the retorts, ...
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Paczków Gasworks Museum
Muzeum Gazownictwa w Paczków
ul Pocztowa 6
48-3870 Paczków, Poland

A permanent supply of coal gas for street lighting was established in Warsaw in 1856, and by 1900 there were more than 2,000 gas lamps in the city’s street. More gasworks were built in the second half of the nineteenth century to meet growing demand, among them the Wola plant, constructed in red ...
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Museum of the Gas Industry in Warsaw
Muzeum Gazownictwa w Warsawie
ul Marcina Kasprzaka 25
01-224 Warsaw, Poland

Funchal | Portugal
Electricity was generated for street lighting in Funchal, principal city of the Madeira islands, from 1897. The museum, located in the Central Termica do Funchal, the original power station, was established to commemorate the centenary of the event. It tells the story of how, from small beginnings ...
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Museum of Electricity
Museu de Electricidade Casa da Luz
Rua Casa da Luz 2
9050 Funchal, Portugal

Lisbon | Portugal
Portugal’s Museum of Electricity is located in the former Tejo (Tagus) power station, begun in 1908, with additions made up to 1951. Parts are in the Art Nouveau style. It is situated on land reclaimed from the river in the late nineteenth century.The museum, opened in 1990 and extensively renovated ...
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Museum of Electricity
Museu da Eletricidade Central Tejo
Avenida Brasilia
1300-598 Lisbon, Portugal

Seixal | Portugal
Ten tide mills formerly ground grain in the area around Seixal at the mouth of the River Tagus, 14 km south of Lisbon. They all form part of the Municipal Ecomuseum, but that at Corroios which dates from the fifteenth century has been open as a museum since 1986. The displays illustrate the ...
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Tide Mill
Moinho de Maré de Corroios
Rua do Rouxinol
2840 Seixal, Portugal

The city of Ploiesti in Prahova County on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, 60 km north of Bucharest, was one of the first communities in Europe to prosper from the growth of the oil industry, The first oil refinery in Romania, and the third in the world, was built by Marin Mehedinteanu at ...
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National Museum of the Oil Industry
Muzeul National al Petrolului
8 Dr E Bagdazar Str.
100575 Ploiesti, Romania

Kolárovo | Slovakia
A floating mill usually consisted of two vessels, one with milling machinery, one used for storage, with an undershot water wheel between them. The earliest known was used by the defenders of Rome during the siege of the city by the Ostrogoths in ad 537. They were employed in many parts of Europe, ...
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Water Mill Museum
Múzeum vodného mlynárstva Kolárovo
Petoffiho rad 23
946 03 Kolárovo, Slovakia

Ljubljana | Slovenia
Gas lighting replaced oil lamps in the streets of Ljubljana in 1861. The gasworks museum illustrates the role of gas as a source of energy and light in the city since that time. The museum, located in the administration building of the company that is now responsible for energy supplies in ...
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Gasworks Museum
Plinarniski muzej Energetika Ljubljana
Verovškova 70
1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Castelló d’Empúries | Spain
Castelló d’Empúries is a small town in the Catalan province of Gerona and the ecomuseum is part of the Museu de la Ciècia I de la Tēcnica de Catalunya based in Terrassa. The ecomuseum is based in a flour mill to which the first references date from 1331. It was transformed from the 1860s by the ...
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Flour milling ecomuseum of Castelló d’Empúries
Ecomuseu-Farinera de Castelló d’Empúries
Carrer de Sant Francesc 5-7
17486 Castelló d’Empúries, Spain

Murcia | Spain
Water power has always been important in the history of the city of Murcia in south-eastern Spain. There were eight mills on the River Segura and its associated canal in the late middle ages. The Molinos Nuevos (new mill) is first documented in 1363 when it was used for fulling woollen cloth, but it ...
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Museum of Water Power
Museo Hidraulico
Los Molinos del Rio Segura c/ Molinos 1
30002 Murcia, Spain

Ponferrada | Spain
The museum of energy that occupies two former power stations at Ponferrada, 114 km. west of Léon in northern Spain has been described as one of the jewels of Spain’s industrial heritage, and won an award from Europa Nostra in 2012. The Minero Siderurgica de Ponferrada power station (or Thermal ...
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Museum of Energy
La Fábrica de Luz Museo de la Energía
Avenida Libertad 46
24404 Ponferrada, Spain

Ängelsberg | Sweden
A refinery dating from the pioneer years of the oil industry is preserved at Angelsberg on Oljeon (oil island) in Lake Amannigen, near the Engelsberg ironworks. Oil-refining was begun on the mainland in 1871 by Pehr August Alund, but his plant was twice destroyed by fire, and he set up the company ...
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Oljeon
Barron (Sjon Ananningen)
Ängelsberg, Sweden

The hydro-electric power station at Porjus, 100 km S of Kiruna, was one of the factors which made it possible for people to live and mine iron ore north of the Arctic Circle. The power station, designed by Erik Josephson, was completed in 1914. It derived its power from water impounded by a 1250 m ...
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Porjus hydro-electric power station
Luleälvens kraftverk
Maskinistvägen 15
982 60 Porjus, Sweden

The disaster at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine on 26 April 1992 was the worst in the history of nuclear power generation. The objective of the museum is to help humanity to understand the implications of what happened. Multi-media presentations explain the technology of the power ...
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Ukraine National Chernobyl Museum
Horev Lane 1
Kyiv, Ukraine

Biggar | United Kingdom
Biggar is a small market town mostly built along a single main street. As in most towns in the United Kingdom, a company was established in the nineteenth to provide coal gas, initially for lighting but subsequently for cooking and heating. The Biggar Gas Light Company which completed its gasworks ...
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Biggar Gasworks Museum
Gasworks Road
ML12 6BZ Biggar, United Kingdom

Bolton | United Kingdom
The Northern Mill Engine Society was formed in 1966 and can be seen as part of a growing nationwide awareness in the United Kingdom that the nation’s industrial heritage was under threat. The Society’s object was to collect examples of characteristic steam engines from the many textile mills in ...
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Bolton Steam Museum
Mornington Road
BL1 4EU Bolton, United Kingdom

Cambridge | United Kingdom
Alongside the well-known Cambridge of dreamy medieval colleges and spires, lies the first pumping station in the world powered by re-processed household waste. Before the pumping station was built in 1894, untreated sewage from Cambridge was poured directly into the River Cam. combating the ...
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Cambridge Museum of Technology
The Old Pumping Station Cheddars Lane
CB5 8LD Cambridge, United Kingdom

Carrickfergus | United Kingdom
The gasworks at Carrickfergus was characteristic of those built in small towns all over Europe in the mid-19th century when the growth of main line railways made possible the distribution of coal to most parts of the continent. The works was opened in 1855, and the last significant alterations made ...
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FLAME: The Gasworks Museum of Ireland
44 Irish Quarter West
BT38 8AT Carrickfergus, United Kingdom

Douglas | United Kingdom
The Lady Isabella water wheel at Laxey is 22m in diameter, and is reputedly the largest in the world. It was designed by Robert Casement, began work on 27 September 1854, and operated pumps in nearby lead and zinc mines, although its estimated power output of 200 hp was much more than was required ...
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Manx Museum
Manx National Heritage Laxey
IM1 3LY Douglas, United Kingdom