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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.



Kongens Lyngby | Denmark
Molleaen, the 12 km long Mill Stream, north of Copenhagen, powered nine mills, and was for many centuries one of the reasons for the prosperity of the Danish capital. It has been called the Cradle of Danish Industry. The various mills were used for grinding grain, fulling woollen cloth, making ...

National Open Air Museum
Frilandsmuseet ved Sorgenfri
Kongevejen 100
2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark

Kohtla | Estonia
The Kohtla area as one of the centres of the Ida-Virumaa mining area of north-east Estonia. It is one of Europe’s principal sources of shale oil which was extensively mined in the 20th century and is still being extracted to be used in generating electric power. Mining began in 1916, and production ...

Estonian Mining Museum
Eesti Kaevandusmuuseum
Jaama t. 1
30305 Kohtla, Estonia

Tallinn | Estonia
The energy discovery centre in Talinn is located in an early twentieth century power station. The collection was re-displayed on interactive principles in 2014 and is reckoned by many visitors to be one of the outstanding attractions in the city. There are displays of lightning and spectacular ...

Energy Discovery Centre
Energia Avastuskeskus
Pöhjo Puiestee 29
10415 Tallinn, Estonia

Helsinki | Finland
Finland’s national open air museum was established, like those of other Scandinavian countries, in the period of Romantic nationalism before the First World War, at a time when Finland formed part of the Russian Empire. It was founded in 1909 on Seurasaari island, close to the centre of Helsinki by ...

Seurasaari Open Air Museum
00250 Helsinki, Finland

La Richardais | France
The pioneering Rance tidal power station near La Richardais is located on the estuary of the River Rance between Dinard and St Malo in Britanny. Construction began in July 1963 and it opened in November 1966. The dam, 163 m long, includes a lock measuring 65m X 13m which allows 20,000 vessels per ...

Rance Tidal Power Station
L’usine marémotrice de la Rance
Barrage de la Rance
35780 La Richardais, France

Merkwiller-Pechelbronn | France
The useful properties of the oils extracted from sands extraction in northern Alsace, in the present-day department of Bas-Rhin were recognised in the Middle Ages, and the oils were systematically extracted from the mid-eighteenth century until 1970. Mining began in 1745 under the direction of Louis ...

Petroleum Museum at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn
Musée du pétrole de Merkwiller-Pechelbronn Vosges de Nord Regional Natural Park
4 Rue d’École
67250 Merkwiller-Pechelbronn, France

Mulhouse | France
Electropolis, located in a ‘city of museums’, is claimed to be the most important museum of electric power in Europe, and is sponsored by EDF SA (i.e. Electricite de France), the principal French power generating and distribution company that has subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The ...

EDF Electropolis
Musee EDF Electropolis
Rue de Paturage 555
68200 Mulhouse, France

The Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie is one of Europe’s most imaginative interactive science centres. It is also an outstanding example of the successful adaptation to new purposes of a large industrial building. The activities of the various abattoirs and wholesale meat markets of the city of ...

Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie
30 avenue Corentin-Cariou
75019 Paris, France

Toulouse | France
The EDF Bazacle hydroelectric power station is in the centre of Toulouse on the river Garonne. This was recognised as an important water-power site in the Middle Ages, when there were floating corn mills on the river. The great mill of Bazacle was converted into a hydroelectric plant in 1888 by the ...

EDF Bazacle Complex
L’espace EDF Bazacle
11, quai Saint-Pierre
31000 Toulouse, France

Vaujany | France
The Dauphine in the French Alps is one of the most important sources of hydro-electric power in Europe. The first power station producing what is known in France as ‘white coal’ (houille blanche) was built at Lancey in 1869 by Aristide Berges (1833-1904). The production of steel in electric furnaces ...

Hydrelec Museum
Musee EDF Hydrelec
38114 Vaujany, France

Alsdorf | Germany
Alsdorf is a mining community north of Aachen and close to the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. It is built around an ancient castle and has a complex political history have belonged at different periods to the duchies of Limburg, Jülich and Burgundy. It became part of Prussia in 1815 and now ...

Konrad-Adenauer-Allee 7
52477 Alsdorf, Germany

Augsburg | Germany
The first gasworks in the Bavarian city of Augsburg was established in 1848 and, as in many cities, initially provided gas for street lighting. A second gasworks came into production in 1868, but in 1915 both of the early plants were replaced by a works on an 18.7 ha site in Augsburg-Oberhausen. The ...

August-Wessels-Strasse 30
86156 Augsburg, Germany

Barßel-Elisabethfehn | Germany
The origins of Elisabethfehn are closely related to the construction of the Hunte-Ems-Canal in the mid 19th century. The village evolved thanks to the cultivation of the vast wetlands in northwestern Germany in order to cut combustible peat and to gain farmland.Elisabethfehn witnessed all the ...

Elisabethfehn Moorland Museum
Oldenburger Straße 1
26676 Barßel, Germany

Cloppenburg | Germany
The Museumdorf in Cloppenburg was founded in 1934 by Dr Heinrich Ottenjann (1886-1961), a teacher, wounded during military service in the First World War, who began collecting historical artefacts while employed at the secondary school in Cloppenburg in 1922. Some buildings were destroyed by an ...

Cloppenburg Open Air Museum
Bether Strass 6
49601 Cloppenburg, Germany

Detmold | Germany
The open air museum at Detmold, capital of the former principality of Lippe-Detmold, is reckoned the largest of its kind in Germany. It extends over 90 ha and its collection totals more than a hundred buildings. It displays in rich detail the material culture of peasant society in a prosperous ...

Westphalian Open Air Museum
Krummes Haus
32760 Detmold, Germany

If you don’t believe that office work is bad for your health you should try the so-called “compulsory posture”, a kind of corset which imitates the unnatural position adopted by most people when they’re sitting in front of a computer. It is only one of countless experimentation points in the German ...

DASA - German Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition
Friedrich-Henkel-Weg 1-25
44149 Dortmund, Germany

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 ...

Ermen & Engels Power Station LVR Industrial Museum
Engels-Platz 2
51766 Engelskirchen, Germany

The piercing pounding of the mighty scythe rings through the green valley of the Mäckinger stream – no wonder that the old blacksmiths suffered from deafness. Other locations are also full of activity. An agate grinder is cutting unprocessed agate, a clog maker is hollowing out a piece of willow ...

LWL Open Air Museum of Handicrafts and Science
Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Handwerk und Technik
58091 Hagen, Germany

Ideas for a museum in Hanover illustrating the history of energy were first discussed in 1979 at the time of the 50th jubilee of the Hannover-Braunschweigischen Stromversorgungs AG power company. The museum opened in its present premises in Humboldtstrasse in 1987. It has exhibits that relate to the ...

Avacon Netz GmbH Museum of the Histories of Energy
Museum für Energiegeschichte(n) der Avacon Netz GmbH
Humboldtstrasse 32
30169 Hannover, Germany

Kochel am See | Germany
There is a 200 m difference in height between the Kochelsee and Walchensee lakes in the Bavarian Alps that was first exploited for the construction of a hydro-electric plant in 1904. From 1918 Oskar von Miller began to establish the Bayernwerke complex, linking existing plants with new generating ...

Walchensee Power Station
Informationszentrum Walchenseekraftwerk
Altjoch 21
82431 Kochel am See, Germany