When Friedrich Engels, the son of a Wuppertal textile manufacturer, visited Manchester during the early years of the industrial revolution he was shocked by the working conditions in the factories. In 1848 he and Karl Marx published the “Communist Manifesto” and very soon they were known all over the world as the pioneers of revolution. Shortly before, in 1837, Friedrich Engels senior had opened the Ermen & Engels cotton mill in the Agger valley in the Bergisch Land. Friedrich Engels was a benevolent employer and his son never had just grounds to accuse him of a greed for profits. Nonetheless his firm was to become the scene of a revolution. In this case: electricity. For very soon Engelskirchen and the surrounding locality was making a name for itself – in the shape of light bulbs and electric sockets. The old hydraulic generator with its powerful turbines, flywheels and generators is now one of the finest exhibits in the Rhineland Industrial Museum which has taken over the grounds and old factory buildings as one its six sites.
“Under Tension” is the motto of the museum and its fascinating programme of exhibits and activities which show the direct effects of industrialisation on the everyday lives of the people in the factories and at home. As everywhere in the region the machines at the Ermen & Engels cotton mill were first driven by water. But in the long term the River Agger was not a sufficiently reliable source of power. Starting in 1845 steam engines began to compensate for the fluctuating water levels. This did not make the river redundant. From now on it was harnessed to make electricity. In 1903 so much electricity was produced that the whole of Engelskirchen was able to benefit from it. The result was a textile factory which also functioned as an electricity station, electricity supplies to an increasing number of households and a strong belief in the idea of progress. At the heart of the factory which heralded in a new era was an extremely long switchboard panel. Audiovisual installations and films bring to life the technology and the pulsating atmosphere of the time. The rapid development of electrical office and kitchen equipment speaks volumes. An electrically driven ring spinner recalls the turbulent times in the textile works. Until 1924 the spinning mill provided enough power to cover its own needs. It was finally closed down in 1979 only to reopen as an industrial museum in 1987. A short walk away from the main museum site there is the Oelcheshammer, an old water-driven smithy which is still in working order.