Milestone-Proposal:Rheinfelden Hydroelectric Power Plant, 1898 - 2010

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Docket #:2013-17

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1892 - 1898

Title of the proposed milestone:

Rheinfelden Hydroelectric Power Plant, 1898 - 2010

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The original Rheinfelden plant was an outstanding achievement in Europe's early large-scale generation of hydroelectric power. It was important for its 17,000 horsepower (12,500 kilowatt) output, for pioneering three-phase alternating current later adopted around the world, and using 50-Hertz frequency which afterwards became standard in most countries. Gradually, Rheinfelden entered into joint operation with other stations, from which the interconnected network of continental Europe evolved.

German text: Will be submitted as soon as the final English wording is determined.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Germany Section, IEEE PES Germany Chapter

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE German Section
Senior Officer Name: Dr. Axel Richter

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE PES Germany
Senior Officer Name: Wilfried Fischer

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: IEEE Germany
IEEE Section Chair name: Dr. Axel Richter

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Wilfried Fischer, IEEE Member
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: Gerhard Neidhöfer, IEEE Life Fellow
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Kanalstrasse,D 79618 Rheinfelden (Baden), Germany UTM (WGS84) : Z-32T, E-409787, N-5268660

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The milestone plaques (one in English, one in German) will be mounted on plinths on the grounds close to the Exhibition Pavilion “Kraftwerk 1898” (Power Station 1898). This pavilion stands for the old power house from 1898, demolished in 2011 after erection of a new power plant somewhat upstream. Inside the pavilion one of the oldest turbine-generator sets and other original key components are on display, modern presentation means assist the visitors to better understand the technical and historical significance of the old hydropower station Rheinfelden. The pavilion is situated at a transborder foot- and bikeway along both sides of the river, and is opened for the general public all days during certain daytime hours.

Are the original buildings extant?

No, there is not but they are well represented by an exhibition pavilion as described above.

Details of the plaque mounting:

The plaques will be mounted on plinths in the grounds next to the exhibition pavilion

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The exhibition pavilion is open to the public during certain daytime hours throughout the week, including Sundays and holidays. The pavilion, and the surrounding grounds where the plaques will be mounted, are under the surveillance of the power company’s security personnel, and are monitored by cameras.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

The power company Energiedienst AG, D 79618 Rheinfelden (Baden), Schoenenbergerstrasse 10 , Germany

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

The old hydro-power station Rheinfelden is a pearl from the early stages of real electric power supply in Europe. The power plant stands for the beginnings of large-scale generation of electricity from hydropower, including the transmission to consumer centers. The power company adopted the name “Rheinfelden Power Generation and Transmission Company” and thus expressed the dual role of the enterprise. The plant was commissioned in 1898. Thanks to an innovative design it became possible to derive a legendary 17’000 horse power in electrical form from the River Rhine and to transmit this via high-voltage lines to consumer centers. Three years earlier, the very first large-scale hydropower station in the world had been completed. In North America courageous engineers had succeeded in tapping the power of the giant Niagara Falls. From 1895 hydraulic turbines extracted from the water complex the power of 15’000 hp, to be converted into electric power by generators and transported via transmission lines to nearby cities. The two large-scale power plants are milestones in a development process reflecting the dawn of modern electric power supply. What current type or current system and what frequency should best be applied, was by no means clear. At that time, there was still a system conflict concerning the struggle to decide on the best current system and the best suitable alternation number (later called “frequency”) of the current. The planning engineers and manufacturers of the electrical equipment for Rheinfelden decided, after thorough investigations, for “three-phase alternating current” with 50 periods per second, the “50-Hz rotary current”. It was a decision that was to give the power station a high technical prominence and exemplary role, right up to the present. Thanks to step-by-step improvements and partial retrofits, the electric output − originally 12’500 Kilowatt − was ultimately increased to 25’000 kW. Two of the original three-phase ac generators were providing reliable service until decommissioning in 2011. A few years after commissioning, the Rheinfelden hydropower plant was interconnected for operation with other power stations on both sides of the German-Swiss border and became the nucleus of today’s interconnected network of Europe. This is the second particularity for which the Rheinfelden power plant can claim for being the very first district power station of the world with trans-border operation.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

At that time a future oriented and courageous decision had to be made • out of the jungle of different frequency proposals for alternating current (tendencies: rather high for electric lighting and distribution, rather low for power purposes and transmission), • forward to a best appropriate number of phases ( 1, 2 or 3 ) • away with the use of various current systems (dependent on lighting or power, distribution or transmission) and focus on general system • for well accepting the offered new type of energy, called electricity, for public supply and variety of applications

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

When the Rheinfelden power plant was being prepared, no ideal examples existed to help decide which basic current system and what number of cycles should best be used (it was the time of “war of the currents” and “war of the frequencies”). Comparable predecessors had most diverse characteristics in this respect: For instance, the large-scale power transmission experiment Lauffen-Frankfurt in 1891 operated with the brand-new three-phase alternating current (ac) system but with 40 cycles, by 1895 Niagara Falls went into operation with two-phase ac and 25 cycles, in certain regions of Europe 42 cycles had been established, only some sporadic new plants went into operation with 50 cycles. Most of the new power stations of that time were equipped with single-phase or two-phase ac generators, until about 1897. With the decision for three-phase ac with 50 cycles the Rheinfelden power plant set new standards and launched the triumphant progress “of the right current system”, suitable for both lighting and power purposes.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

[1a] Emil Rathenau, Die Kraftübertragungswerke zu Rheinfelden. Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift ETZ 17(1896)27, 402−409. (Translated title: The Rheinfelden Power Generation and Transmission Plant).

[1b] Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft, Die Kraftübertragungs-Werke zu Rheinfelden. Technische und wirtschaftliche Darstellung der Ausnutzung der Wasserkräfte des Rheins bei Rheinfelden. H- S. Hermann, 1896 Berlin. (Translated title: The Rheinfelden Power Generation and Transmission Plant. Technical and economic description of the Rhine River hydropower exploitation at Rheinfelden).

[2] Franz Bendt, Ein Vierteljahrhundert aus der Wirksamkeit der Allgemeinen Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft zu Berlin. Westermann Monatshefte 52(1908)104, 337−353, Georg Westermann in Braunschweig. (Translated title: The General Electricity Company in Berlin: a quarter-century of business activity).

[3] Oskar von Miller, Die geschichtliche Entwicklung der elektrischen Kraftübertragung auf weite Entfernung, Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift ETZ 52(1931)40, 1241−1245. (Translated title: The Historical Evolution of Electric Power Transmission over Long Distances).

[4] Wolfgang Bocks, Perspektiven mit Strom, Homberger Druck KG, 1994 ,Maulburg. (Translated title: Perspectives with Current).

[5] Gerhard Neidhöfer, Technikgeschichtliche Bedeutung des alten Kraftwerks Rheinfelden, Aargauer Heimatschutzpreis 2009, Geschäftsstelle Rheinfelden / Schweiz. (Translated title: Technical and historical significance of the old hydropower station Rheinfelden).

[6] Gerhard Neidhöfer, Early three-phase power. Winner in the development of polyphase ac, IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, September/October (2007)5, 88−100.

[7] Gerhard Neidhöfer, 50-Hz frequency. How the standard emerged from a European jumble, IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, July/August (2011)4, 66−81.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

The 7 reference files will be sent separately by mail as soon as the full address of the receiver is known. Please sent me the postal address.

File:CH IEEE PES Reference - Historical Milestone Rheinfelden.pdf

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.