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Power Machinery – Machines move the World. You will find the following themes and contents in the exhibition:

Muscle Power Machines – real “Manual Work”

For millennia, muscle power was the only source of power that was available to people for their work. Over time, simple tools such as wedges, levers, wheels, shafts and pulleys helped people to make better use of their own power. The combination of these simple machine elements led to the development of the machines driven by muscle power that are on display in the exhibition: treadmills, treadwheels and horse gins.

Muscle power was cheap for a long time – slaves and prisoners were utilised as well as animals – and covered the comparatively low energy requirements. Therefore, other sources of energy were only developed gradually. From the Middle Ages, people used water and wind power to a greater extent. Today, we have a broad range of power machinery for a wide variety of purposes: in addition to steam engines, there are water turbines, combustion engines, wind turbines and gas turbines. Machines driven by muscle power have largely lost their significance. However, there is one muscle power machine that is still widespread: the bicycle!

Water Wheels – the first “Motors”

A wheel is turned by the power of the water. When the water wheel turns, this then drives something else – initially mills and water pumping stations. Since the 9th century, undershot water wheels – water wheels that are powered by water from below – have spread throughout Europe. From the 11th century, the turning of the water wheel could be converted (via a camshaft) into a forward and backward movement. This meant that hydroelectric power could also be used for tamping devices, hammers or bellows. From the 14th century, the more efficient overshot water wheel was used. Both types – the overshot and the undershot water wheel – can be seen in their original size in the exhibition.

In comparison with wind power, hydroelectric power has the advantage that it can be used around the clock. That is why water wheels were popular with craftsman’s establishments. However, the wheels are tied to local waterways. As hydroelectric power spread, the landscape was modelled accordingly.

A particular highlight of the exhibition is the water-powered vortex wheel with a millstone.

Windmills – Wind as Labour

The wind turns the blades of a windmill, and this motion causes work to be performed. These machines were initially used to mill grain – and that is how they got their name. Early windmills are known to have existed in Persia or China, and they only came to Europe in the 12th century. Thereafter they spread quickly, saving people a lot of work. The windmill predominantly powered grain mills and water-pumping stations. These devices required little handling and allowed reserves to be stored. This made it possible to tide over windless days.

The models in the exhibition allow you to retrace the technical development of windmills in Europe. You can discover a lot of details along the way, for example a miller who is struggling with a sack of flour. A distinction is made between tower, post and smock mills, but they all have a horizontal windmill axle and generally four blades.

A particular highlight is the collection of functioning windmill models.

“It is sunlight in modified form which turns all the windmills and water wheels and the machinery which they drive. It is the energy derived from coal and petroleum (fossil sunlight) which propels our steam and gas engines, our locomotives and automobiles. ... Food is simply sunlight in cold storage.”
John Harvey Kellogg (1852–1943), American doctor

Steam Engines up to the mid-19th Century

The historic machines in their lower area of the room look a little like an exotic menagerie. Approach these contemporary witnesses of industrialisation and soak in the atmosphere of the room. Every single one of these machines would have a lot to tell: of rich manufacturers, labour disputes or boiler disasters.

Only one machine was never actually used in a factory: the Watt steam engine, which was only reconstructed in the early 20th century for the Deutsches Museum. The original had already been in London’s South Kensington Museum for more 40 years when the Deutsches Museum was founded. Our model shows pretty much everything else that was developed for the steam engine at Boulton & Watt over the years. For example, an indicator that was able to record the varying pressure ratios in the cylinder for the first time and is therefore the forerunner of all sensors inside machines.

The Beam Engine

One of the objects in the Power Machinery exhibition is the beam engine from 1815. Regular demonstrations of the engine take place during the free guided tours.

Steam Engines up to the mid-20th Century

In the middle of the 19th century, the development of steam engines was by no means complete: whilst they initially powered pumps and machine tools, increasingly specialised steam engines were designed for ships, railways and other applications. Some applications would have been impossible for the fathers of the steam engine to predict: electric power and “artificial cooling” are examples of these. The steam engine has been the driver of a whole series of developments that have been very important for the world we live in today. For example, do you think skyscrapers would have been built if we didn’t have lifts? The first lifts were moved with the help of steam engines.

When the technical possibilities of steam engines reached their limits, a new technical solution opened up: steam turbines can deliver high levels of performance in a comparatively small space. The basic principle is still the same: energy-rich, hot steam is released and performs work in the process.

Power Machinery exhibition.

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Guided tours, activities and exhibition themes at a glance.

At a Glance