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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.

Potsdam | Germany
The water-pumping station on the banks of the Neustadter Havelbucht in Potsdam is one of the most extraordinary industrial buildings in Europe. Its purpose was to accommodate an 81.4 hp steam engine built in Berlin by the young August Borsig (1804-54) that was used to pump water from the River Havel ...

Steam Pump House
Breite Strasse 28
14467 Potsdam, Germany

Recklinghausen | Germany
Suddenly there’s a cow standing in the room. The milking machine attached to its udders is genuine. The cow isn’t. There again the tram dating back to 1915 is genuine. It’s fully lit and appears to be ready to drive off at any moment. Just as genuine are old-fashioned telegraphs and telephones, a ...

Electricity Museum
Uferstraße 2–4
45663 Recklinghausen, Germany

Spremberg-Schwarze Pumpe | Germany
The whole system moves in perfect harmony here. In the steam generator furnace the lignite dust burns at around 1,000ºC and heats up the so-called feed water. The resulting steam drives several turbine components. Power is thus generated, with part of the heat feeding the regional heating network. ...

Schwarze Pumpe power station
An der alten Ziegelei
03130 Spremberg, Germany

Uebigau-Wahrenbrück OT Domsdorf | Germany
Although LOUISE, Europe’s oldest briquette factory ceased operations in February 1992 its freshly plastered facades and renovated roofs give it a smart impression. For the workforce, who have remained loyal to the works, still maintain the buildings, restore machines and guide visitors around the ...

Louise Briquette Works
Louise 111
04924 Uebigau-Wahrenbrück, Germany

Unterwellenborn | Germany
The present-day Stahlwerk Thüringen GmbH plant at Unterwellenborn, east of Saalfeld in Thuringia, succeeds the Maxhütte, a blast furnace complex established in 1872 as a branch of the Maximilianshütte in Sulzbach-Rosenberg in northern Bavaria. The blast furnaces continued to operate until 1992, and ...

Gasmaschinenzentrale Maxhütte
Bergweg 1
07333 Unterwellenborn, Germany

Dimitsana | Greece
Dimitsana is a village some 30 km north-west of Tripolis in the Central Peloponnese. The museum is close to a celebrated beauty spot called Kefalari-tou Al-Yanni. All the restored industrial buildings on the 10 ha site depended on water power. A corn mill has working equipment powered by a ...

Open-air water-power museum
Kefalari Ai-Yannis
220 07 Dimitsana, Greece

Budapest VIII | Hungary
The Obuda Gasworks was erected in Budapest between 1910 and 1913 and was officially opened two months before the outbreak of the First World War. The first gasworks in the city had begun work in 1856, and others had been built in 1871, 1872 and 1874, but the Obuda works was a project on a very large ...

Gas Museum
Koztarsasag ter 20
Budapest, Hungary

The nuclear power station 5 km from the city of Paks supplies about 50 per cent of Hungary’s requirements for electricity. It uses pressurised water reactors, originally of Soviet design, and occupies a site originally chosen in 1976. The first unit began generating in 1982 and the next three, ...

Paks Nuclear Power Plant, Museum of Nuclear Energetics
Atomenergetikai Múzeum
8803/10 HRSZ
7031 Paks, Hungary

Seydisfjordur | Iceland
The town of Seydisfjordur (until recently spelt Seydhisfjordur) lies 400 km north-east of Reykjavik. The technical museum that illustrates many aspects of the history of the region has three principal exhibits that relate to the industrial heritage. The mechanical engineering workshop of Johann ...

East Iceland Technical Museum
Tǽkniminjasfn Asturlands
Hafnargötu 44
710 Seydisfjordur, Iceland

The hydro-electric power station at Ardnacrusha on the River Shannon, 6 km N of Limerick, was built in 1925-9 at the same time as the national grid in Ireland. It was the policy of what was then the Free State to make Ireland independent of British sources of energy. The station was built by the ...

Hydro-electric power station at Ardnacrusha
c/o ESB Lower Fitzwilliam Street Dublin 2 Tel. +353 (0)1702 - 6069
Site address: Ballykeelaun
Ardnacrusha, Ireland

Genova/Genoa | Italy
The Museo dell’Acqua e del Gas (Museum of Water and Gas) tells the story of the two public utilities in the city of Genoa. From the early thirteenth century some of the city’s water was delivered by the Brugneto Aqueduct which has been modified many times in subsequent centuries. Coal gas production ...

Museum of Water and Gas
Museo dell’Acqua e del Gas
Via Piacenza 54
16138 Genova, Italy

The museum of electrical technology was established in 2000 as a joint enterprise of the University of Pavia and local, regional and provincial government authorities. It is one of nine museums that came together as the University Museum System of Padua in 2005. The museum tells the story of ...

Museum of Electrical Technology
Museo della Tecnica Elettrica
Via Ferrata 6
27100 Pavia, Italy

Rome | Italy
The Centrale Montemartini was a power station built on the Via Ostiense just outside the city walls of Rome in 1912 by the public utility company now called ACEA. It was named after the economist Giovanni Montemartini (1867-1913), professor of political economy at the University of Padua. The power ...

Centrale Montemartini
Via Ostiense 106
00154 Rome, Italy

Settima Torinese (TO) | Italy
Settima Torinese is a suburb of Turin on the north-east side of the city. The Ecomuseo de Freidano is a project that studies all aspects of the River Freidano, a tributary of the River Po, and interprets its findings to the public at large. The project was first proposed and was implemented from ...

Ecomuseum [of the River] Freidano
Ecomuseo del Freidano
Via Ariosto 36-bis
10036 Settima Torinese, Italy

Prizren is a substantial city with a population of about 80,000 in southern Kosovo. The municipality has borders with Albania and Macedonia. The Prizrenasja hydro-electric power plant was the first to be erected in Kosovo and began generating in 1929. It was built by an Austrian company to take ...

Hydro-Power Plant - Electrical Museum
Lumbardh Gorge Jabllanica
20000 Prizren, Kosovo

Vilnius | Lithuania
The Energy and Technology Museum in Vilnius occupies a former power station which opened in 1903 and worked until 1998. It was damaged in the Second World War but was subsequently rebuilt, and much of the original equipment remains. The plant included three turbines by AEG (1911), MAN (1913) and ...

Energy and Technology Museum
Viešoji įstaiga Lietuvos energetikos muziejus
Rinktinés g 2
09310 Vilnius, Lithuania

Amsterdam-Westerpark | Netherlands
The Westergasfabriek is a former gasfactory in the center of Amsterdam. The complex is most popular by trendy young public. Regular (music)events are held there because of it´s central location. Between 1883 and 1904 the Imperial Continental Gaz Association gave an assignment to build the ...

Haarlemmerweg 8-10
1014 BE Amsterdam-Westerpark, Netherlands

Haarlem | Netherlands
The EBH-terrain is currently being redeveloped. In the monumental buildings dance-events and fashionshows as well as (business)fairs are organised. EBH, also knows as The Lichtfabriek is a popular place for trendy visitors. The in London residing multinational opererende Imperial Continental Gas ...

Minckelersweg 3
2031 EM Haarlem, Netherlands

Hengelo | Netherlands
How does a farming hamlet grow into an industrial town? The Educational Industrial Museum in Hengelo will give you the answer. Its theme is the industrial development of the town of Hengelo in the west of the Netherlands during the last 150 years. The museum starts with an exhibition of textile ...

Museum of Technology HEIM
Twents Techniekmuseum HEIM
Industriestraat 9
7553 CK Hengelo, Netherlands

Kinderdijk | Netherlands
The 19 windmills at Kinderdijk comprise the most impressive historic landscape of wind-power in Europe, and are a powerful evocation of the landscape of the western provinces of the Netherlands in the period before steam was applied to work drainage pumps. Kinderdijk lies at the confluence of the ...

Windmills at Kinderdijk
Neverwaard 5
2961 AS Kinderdijk, Netherlands

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WORK it Out – Day of Industrial Culture

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