Lauffen to Frankfurt 1891
The beginning of modern electric power in the world

The three phase generator installed at Lauffen am Neckar, Germany
All historic photos provided by the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

A Victory for AC Power:
The 1891 International Electro-Technical Exhibition

This exposition and it's power system was one of the most important events in the early history of electricity. The exposition took place in Germany in 1891 and included a hydro power station at Lauffen, with transmission lines that extended 109 miles north to Frankfurt am Main. This was the first long distance transmission of electric power for utility. This event also demonstrated the first efficient long distance transmission system using three phase power. The demonstration of the the effectiveness of 3 phase power marked the end of the War of Currents. This event proved the superiority of Dobrovolsy's three phase system over other systems. Three phase power would prove over the next 20 years to be a better method for transmitting power than Edison's DC and Tesla's two phase systems. Read more below about this monumental event.


this Power Generation Site:

Distinction: The first major demonstration of 3 phase AC power in the world.

40 Hz
Three-Phase, Alternating Current
Power Transmission Length: 109 miles
Power system built by: Oerlikon Company, Switzerland
Notable Engineers: Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky, Oskar von Miller
Maximum Power Output: 200 kVA or 180 kW
provided 55 V AC, bei 150 min
20 kV was transmitted to Frankfurt



In 1889 Leopold Sonnemann of the Frankfurt Zeitung newspaper was inspired by the Exposition Universelle in Paris and decided to promote an electrical exposition in the city of Frankfurt. He approached the local Electro-Technical Society and gained support. Along with the commercial backing of several companies that sold electrical apparatus the planning began. Oskar von Miller, director of the German Edison Company (later on called the “Allgemeine Electricitätsgesellschaft") directed the planning efforts and hoped the event would show the world the latest in electrical technology. Electrical expositions were not new for Mr. Miller, he had succeeded in transmitting HVDC (high voltage direct current) power over 60 kilometers from Miesbach to Munich for an exposition in 1882.

Oskar von Miller - Electrical Pioneer

The Power Station
It was decided that a power station would be built at Lauffen am Neckar. This was a small village located on the banks of the Neckar River north of Stuttgart. Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky was the genius that designed the revolutionary 3 phase generator and transmission system. It should be noted that alternating current had been around for a while. Lucian Gaulard(France), John Dixon Gibbs(England), and William Stanley(USA) had worked out early AC systems that used transformers(1885) in order to create the first AC distribution systems. Elihu Thomson, Rudolph Eickmeyer and Nikola Tesla had developed the early AC motors which were necessary for industrial needs. With AC power systems now commercially salable the last major obstacle remained the issue of power transmission.

Village of Lauffen in 1891 with the Neckar River in the foreground

Water power was the most obvious choice for electric power since it had been used at mills for thousands of years. Good hydropower locations are limited, so it was necessary to transmit power over great distances in order to illuminate and power the great cities of the time.

AC power began in single and double phase methods. Dobrovolsky had constructed the first three phase AC generator in 1888 in Germany. He constructed an improved three phase generator which was installed in Lauffen for the exposition.


Left: Inventor of three phase power Michael Osipovich Dolivo-Dobrovolsky

The dam and powerhouse at Lauffen

The generator, switch gear, and transformer


An waterfall powered by an electric pump.

The Exposition in Frankfurt

The Electro-Technical Exposition ran from May to October in 1891. Visitors paid 15 marks to enter a fair grounds that contained various amusing uses of electrical power. One thousand light bulbs lit the entrance. For many it was just an entertaining spectacle, but for the engineering mind it was a highly exciting chance to check out the latest in electric motors and power systems. For businessmen the exposition was a chance to explore the possibilities of using new electric machines to replace machines run on coal, oil, and gas. Companies like Helios and Oerlikon various products in both static and interactive displays. Company executives from electrical firms around the world came to examine the new technology. Many attempted to recreate what they had seen and improve upon it. In the new business of electricity information spread fast. Many important figures of AC power were invited to the event, at the Congress Dinner Galileo Ferraris was hailed as “the father of three-phase current.”

The Future

Three phase power had only been around in experimental form for 3 years, yet many companies immediately began work on new systems in the race for patents. Siemens and General Electric began work on three phase generators the same year as the exposition. General Electric was able to build it's first three phase hydroelectric power station at Redlands, California in 1891. In North America General Electric lead the 3 phase effort while Westinghouse with Tesla kept working on the 2 phase system. Siemens had been making AC alternators since before 1881 and was able to rapidly become competition for General Electric in the three phase area.

The Helios display. Over the 6 month period 1,200,000 visitors attended the exposition.
photos by the Historisches Museum

Exposition area west of city center, next to the new Haptbahnhof(main train station).

A new three phase electric motor (Drehstrommotor) by Dobrowolsky (Dobrovolsky)

An electric horse race track (Electrische-Rennbahn)

Demonstration of a electric mine locomotive. Germany had a very strong mine industry in the 19th century.

An early electric boat on the Main River which flows through Frankfurt

Erinnerung Internat. Electrot. Ausstellung Frankfurt A/M 1891
A "keepsake" postcard showing the electric lithography machines displayed at the event. Notice the lady proving electricity from afar.

The Generator and Site at Lauffen:


A video of the generator as it is displayed at the Deutsches Museum.

The Generator built by Oerlikon Company

The Generator spun at 150 revolutions per minute. The field magnet rotated with 32 poles. Power was transmitted with 75% efficiency - a spectacular accomplishment at the time.

The Oerlikon Transformer


Backside of the generator. See the generator in person at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

forebay and powerhouse. The powerhouse is gone today, this may have been caused by flooding or two world wars. If anyone can clarify what caused the destruction of the original powerhouse please contact us.

View of the canal today where the powerhouse once stood.

Lauffen am Neckar: A plaque commemorating the powerhouse site


Continued Research:

If you have anything to improve or correct on this web page please contact the Edison Tech Center

Article by M. W. of the Edison Tech Center


Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany

Historisches Museum, Frankfurt,Germany

Historical photos provided from the archives of the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt,Germany
Other photos were taken by the Edison Tech Center on location

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Other early hydro power plant links:

Folsom Powerhouse, Folsom California 1895

Redlands Mill Creek 1 powerhouse Redlands, CA 1893
Great Barrington 1886 The first AC power distribution system using transformers
Schaghticoke Power Station and Steinmetz's monocyclic power experiment



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