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Archives:How They Won the Market Electric Motors in Competition with Steam Engines, 1890-1925

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When the first marketable electric drives came on the scene in the mid-1800s, they were faced by the dominant steam engine and its mechanical power transmission via shafts and belts. There was little obvious need in industry for alternative drives apart from water turbines, which ran more smoothly and gave better results in some areas, such as papermaking and the weaving of fine cloth. Reasons had to be found why electric drives could have been superior. In many potential markets steam was already established and electricity could hardly compete on the basis of energy costs. In these areas electric drives only had a chance if they could bring about something that could not easily be done with steam. In the early years of electric drives, this was seen as less an economic than a social achievement: the overcoming of centralized industry and the renaissance of small businesses and craft shops.

Citation and Link

Ulrich Wengenroth, "How They Won the Market Electric Motors in Competition with Steam Engines, 1890-1925," in Technological Competitiveness: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Electrical, Electronics, and Computer Industries (Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press, 1993), 270-286.