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Oral-History:Gottfried Biegelmeier

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== About Gottfried Biegelmeier  ==
 
== About Gottfried Biegelmeier  ==
  
Gottfried Biegelmeier was born in 1924 in Vienna. He received a doctorate in Physics from Vienna University in 1949, after his war service. He started his career in the testing laboratories of the Austrian Association of Electricity Companies and the Federal Research Institute Arsenal. From 1957 onwards he worked as a consulting engineer authorized by the state of Austria, and was in charge of the R&D department for low voltage switchgear at Felten&Guilleaume Austria. Biegelmeier is well known for his pioneering contributions to electrical safety, in particular his invention of the residual current operated circuit breaker. His work has earned him many international awards, among others the American IEEE-Power Life Award in 1985 and the Japanese IKEDA Award in 1993.  
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<p>Gottfried Biegelmeier was born in 1924 in Vienna. He received a doctorate in Physics from Vienna University in 1949, after his war service. He started his career in the testing laboratories of the Austrian Association of Electricity Companies and the Federal Research Institute Arsenal. From 1957 onwards he worked as a consulting engineer authorized by the state of Austria, and was in charge of the R&amp;D department for low voltage switchgear at Felten &amp; Guilleaume Austria. Biegelmeier is well known for his pioneering contributions to electrical safety, in particular his invention of the residual current operated circuit breaker. His work has earned him many international awards, among others the American IEEE-Power Life Award in 1985 and the Japanese IKEDA Award in 1993. </p>
  
In the interview, he describes the operation of what he calls the ground fault interrupter. He also describes the testing he performed on himself (and others) to determine the impedance of the living human body. He suggests reasons for American resistance to electrical safety standards and highlights the growing unification of European standards. Finally, he indicates how his nonmedical background has been an advantage in his investigations into electropathology.  
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<p>In the interview, he describes the operation of what he calls the ground fault interrupter. He also describes the testing he performed on himself (and others) to determine the impedance of the living human body. He suggests reasons for American resistance to electrical safety standards and highlights the growing unification of European standards. Finally, he indicates how his nonmedical background has been an advantage in his investigations into electropathology. </p>
 
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<br>  
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== About the Interview  ==
 
== About the Interview  ==
  
GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER: An Interview Conducted by David Morton, IEEE History Center, July 24, 1996  
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<p>GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER: An Interview Conducted by David Morton, IEEE History Center, July 24, 1996 </p>
  
Interview #287 for the , IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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<p>Interview #287 for the , IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. </p>
  
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
  
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
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<p>This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center. </p>
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
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<p>Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. </p>
  
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
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<p>It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: </p>
  
GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER, an oral history conducted in 1996 by David Morton, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
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<p>GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER, an oral history conducted in 1996 by David Morton, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA. </p>
 
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<br>  
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== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
  
Interview: Gottfried Biegelmeier<br>Interviewer: David Morton<br>Place: Vienna, Austria<br>Date: July 24, 1996  
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<p>Interview: Gottfried Biegelmeier </p>
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<p>Interviewer: David Morton </p>
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<p>Place: Vienna, Austria </p>
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<p>Date: July 24, 1996 </p>
  
 
=== Background and Early Career  ===
 
=== Background and Early Career  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
This is an interview with Dr. Gottfried Biegelmeier, and it is taking place in his office in Vienna at the Cooperative Testing Institute. Dr. Biegelmeier, could you tell me a little bit about your education and how you got into this field.  
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<p>This is an interview with Dr. Gottfried Biegelmeier, and it is taking place in his office in Vienna at the Cooperative Testing Institute. Dr. Biegelmeier, could you tell me a little bit about your education and how you got into this field. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well first I actually started here in the suburb of Vienna at a normal primary school, and after fourteen years I joined a technical school in Austria. I received five years of technical instruction there. In '43 I finished my engineering degree in Electrotechnics, and then I was of course called up into World War II, and then I returned in '46. I felt that I should go deeper into the problems, and started Physics and Mathematics.  
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<p>Well first I actually started here in the suburb of Vienna at a normal primary school, and after fourteen years I joined a technical school in Austria. I received five years of technical instruction there. In '43 I finished my engineering degree in Electrotechnics, and then I was of course called up into World War II, and then I returned in '46. I felt that I should go deeper into the problems, and started Physics and Mathematics. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
One question: Did your wartime experience have any relation to your upbringing?  
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<p>One question: Did your wartime experience have any relation to your upbringing? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No.  
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<p>No. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
You were just an ordinary soldier?  
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<p>You were just an ordinary soldier? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
I was just a soldier, yes. No technical career then. So I was quite happy when I returned home. I took my Doctor's Degree in '49 and then joined the testing stations in Austria, testing electrical safety, and immediately I started international standard work in an organization called the CEE. The United States was only an observer.  
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<p>I was just a soldier, yes. No technical career then. So I was quite happy when I returned home. I took my Doctor's Degree in '49 and then joined the testing stations in Austria, testing electrical safety, and immediately I started international standard work in an organization called the CEE. The United States was only an observer. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
What does CEE stand for?  
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<p>What does CEE stand for? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The International Commission on the rules for approval of Electrical Equipment. It was a European organization of test houses. In this function I became chairman of the technical committee for current-operated earth-leaking circuit breaker, as it was called. You call it now in the States "ground fault interrupters," and we made the first international standard for these ground fault interrupters which are now called "residual current devices" — so this changed several times. Then I joined IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission, and I took over the working group for effects of electric shock on the human body.  
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<p>The International Commission on the rules for approval of Electrical Equipment. It was a European organization of test houses. In this function I became chairman of the technical committee for current-operated earth-leaking circuit breaker, as it was called. You call it now in the States "ground fault interrupters," and we made the first international standard for these ground fault interrupters which are now called "residual current devices" — so this changed several times. Then I joined IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission, and I took over the working group for effects of electric shock on the human body. </p>
  
 
=== Electrical Safety Standards  ===
 
=== Electrical Safety Standards  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
That gets us almost up to the present, doesn't it? We need to back up. To me this work on safety seems like an unusual field. Is that a big field or a small one?  
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<p>That gets us almost up to the present, doesn't it? We need to back up. To me this work on safety seems like an unusual field. Is that a big field or a small one? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No it is a very big field; I mean it is the basis of all electrical standards of safety. In the States you have big organizations. You have the NEMA, National Electrical Manufacturers Association. You have the Underwriters Laboratory. In Europe, every country has its own laboratory for testing for safety. It was the purpose of these international organizations to standardize, to harmonize all the various standards so that manufacturers can easily sell their products.  
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<p>No it is a very big field; I mean it is the basis of all electrical standards of safety. In the States you have big organizations. You have the NEMA, National Electrical Manufacturers Association. You have the Underwriters Laboratory. In Europe, every country has its own laboratory for testing for safety. It was the purpose of these international organizations to standardize, to harmonize all the various standards so that manufacturers can easily sell their products. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
That's interesting. These safety laboratories, are they operated by the government?  
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<p>That's interesting. These safety laboratories, are they operated by the government? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Partly, in the Communist countries in Eastern Europe, they are government institutions. But in Western Europe, and also in the States, they are private undertakings working on a non-profit basis. So they are just charging the actual costs, no profit.  
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<p>Partly, in the Communist countries in Eastern Europe, they are government institutions. But in Western Europe, and also in the States, they are private undertakings working on a non-profit basis. So they are just charging the actual costs, no profit. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Was there a government mandate that these things exist?  
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<p>Was there a government mandate that these things exist? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes, actually in every country the authorization or the accreditation of the test laboratories is run by the government, by the ministers. So I am accredited by the Austrian Ministry of Economy, and I'm allowed to sign test reports, which form the basis for approval marks, safety marks on the equipment.  
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<p>Yes, actually in every country the authorization or the accreditation of the test laboratories is run by the government, by the ministers. So I am accredited by the Austrian Ministry of Economy, and I'm allowed to sign test reports, which form the basis for approval marks, safety marks on the equipment. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Is it all consumer type equipment?  
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<p>Is it all consumer type equipment? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
It is consumer type, yes. Installation material and cooking ranges, et cetera, and it is virtually all stuff for domestic use.  
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<p>It is consumer type, yes. Installation material and cooking ranges, et cetera, and it is virtually all stuff for domestic use. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Is any attention paid in Austria to non-consumer electrical equipment and safety issues related to it? The reason I ask is that a couple of years ago in the United States there was a big controversy...  
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<p>Is any attention paid in Austria to non-consumer electrical equipment and safety issues related to it? The reason I ask is that a couple of years ago in the United States there was a big controversy... </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes, but other organizations than normal test houses. You have the inspectorate, the Electrical Inspectorate. In the United Kingdom you have federal inspectors and these people who are watching safety in industries.  
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<p>Yes, but other organizations than normal test houses. You have the inspectorate, the Electrical Inspectorate. In the United Kingdom you have federal inspectors and these people who are watching safety in industries. </p>
  
 
=== Ground Fault Interrupter  ===
 
=== Ground Fault Interrupter  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Tell me a little bit more about the ground fault interrupter work. I'm not actually sure I know what that is or how it works.  
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<p>Tell me a little bit more about the ground fault interrupter work. I'm not actually sure I know what that is or how it works. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes it is not difficult to understand how a ground fault interrupter works. The basic physical principle is very simple. Normally the current which flows into an installation must be the same current which comes back, because electricity cannot get lost if the installation has good insulation. Now if you get an insulation fault, some electricity flows to earth, and the ground fault interrupter just registers the difference. If there is a difference, it disconnects.  
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<p>Yes it is not difficult to understand how a ground fault interrupter works. The basic physical principle is very simple. Normally the current which flows into an installation must be the same current which comes back, because electricity cannot get lost if the installation has good insulation. Now if you get an insulation fault, some electricity flows to earth, and the ground fault interrupter just registers the difference. If there is a difference, it disconnects. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Is that something that is commonly used?  
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<p>Is that something that is commonly used? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes, a lot. In the United States it's now very largely used normally for circuit outlets. For bathrooms and for swimming pools, and also in domestic premises, you replace the normal circuit outlet by a circuit outlet with an incorporated ground fault interrupter — which is, in your country, tripping sensitivity at about 6 milliampere. We have in Europe about 30 milliampere; we allow more.  
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<p>Yes, a lot. In the United States it's now very largely used normally for circuit outlets. For bathrooms and for swimming pools, and also in domestic premises, you replace the normal circuit outlet by a circuit outlet with an incorporated ground fault interrupter — which is, in your country, tripping sensitivity at about 6 milliampere. We have in Europe about 30 milliampere; we allow more. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Is that somehow better than simply having a fuse or —  
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<p>Is that somehow better than simply having a fuse or — </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Oh yes, a fuse can never protect you. Because a fuse operates with about 10 or 20 amperes, and you die with a tenth of an ampere.  
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<p>Oh yes, a fuse can never protect you. Because a fuse operates with about 10 or 20 amperes, and you die with a tenth of an ampere. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I guess I meant the fuse is built into equipment, you know, built into an appliance, but —  
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<p>I guess I meant the fuse is built into equipment, you know, built into an appliance, but — </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well normally it can only protect you, if the equipment gets an insulation fault, the current flows, but not through the human body so the lines and the grounded conductor and then the fuse disconnects. But if you touch for instance a live wire, so your body can only take a tenth of an ampere and no fuse can detect it.  
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<p>Well normally it can only protect you, if the equipment gets an insulation fault, the current flows, but not through the human body so the lines and the grounded conductor and then the fuse disconnects. But if you touch for instance a live wire, so your body can only take a tenth of an ampere and no fuse can detect it. </p>
  
 
=== The US and Ungrounded Electrical Outlets  ===
 
=== The US and Ungrounded Electrical Outlets  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
You and I talked earlier about the standards problem as it related to electrical outlets. Were there also similar things in Europe related to safety? Did all the countries agree on how things should be done, who was going to do the testing and so forth?  
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<p>You and I talked earlier about the standards problem as it related to electrical outlets. Were there also similar things in Europe related to safety? Did all the countries agree on how things should be done, who was going to do the testing and so forth? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Normally in the States, you had equipment, even ten years ago you had a lot of equipment — even now — which is only a two-pin plug and this does not protect, of course. There is more and more coming now in the United States, circuit outlets using earthing conductors, and so the newer equipment in your country has three pins in the plug. We have had this since about 1950, so if you look around here in these rooms, we have only circuit outlets with an earthing conductor. Now in the United States we can say approximately 50% of your buildings have receptacles without an earthing conductor and 50% with.  
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<p>Normally in the States, you had equipment, even ten years ago you had a lot of equipment — even now — which is only a two-pin plug and this does not protect, of course. There is more and more coming now in the United States, circuit outlets using earthing conductors, and so the newer equipment in your country has three pins in the plug. We have had this since about 1950, so if you look around here in these rooms, we have only circuit outlets with an earthing conductor. Now in the United States we can say approximately 50% of your buildings have receptacles without an earthing conductor and 50% with. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
What about the equipment itself? Were there any controversies between the manufacturers and the testing organizations about what should be considered safe or unsafe?  
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<p>What about the equipment itself? Were there any controversies between the manufacturers and the testing organizations about what should be considered safe or unsafe? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, no, the test house tests according to the standard, and in the standards committee you have the manufacturers, you have the test houses and you have the power stations. There is a compromise, and this is the standard, and the test house has to test according to the standard.  
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<p>No, no, the test house tests according to the standard, and in the standards committee you have the manufacturers, you have the test houses and you have the power stations. There is a compromise, and this is the standard, and the test house has to test according to the standard. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I was just thinking of an example I know of in the United States, it may not apply here, but how the way people think about things changes over the years. The example I’m thinking of, I guess televisions are still like this, is where there is no transformer in an appliance and one side of the line, one side of the chassis of a radio, for example, used to be ground, and there used to be screws and various metal things that were directly connected to that so that if there were an outlet that were wired wrong or something the chassis could be essentially live, but the radio manufacturers didn’t see that as a big problem. Later they began to agree that that was unsafe, but the whole time there was an American testing laboratory in there. Are there any examples like that?  
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<p>I was just thinking of an example I know of in the United States, it may not apply here, but how the way people think about things changes over the years. The example I’m thinking of, I guess televisions are still like this, is where there is no transformer in an appliance and one side of the line, one side of the chassis of a radio, for example, used to be ground, and there used to be screws and various metal things that were directly connected to that so that if there were an outlet that were wired wrong or something the chassis could be essentially live, but the [[Radio|radio]] manufacturers didn’t see that as a big problem. Later they began to agree that that was unsafe, but the whole time there was an American testing laboratory in there. Are there any examples like that? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, the only example I can think of is what I told you, that what you should do is, all of your appliances should have an earthing conductor, and then of course the installation you have, just transformer on the power, high voltage line, low voltage line beneath, telephone line beneath, all the power overhead, everything. That is of course dangerous because if you get a hurricane or something it might drop down, the whole lot. As a matter of fact, the United States has a very high fatal electrical accident rate. You have about seven or eight hundred people killed per year, which when compared even by number of inhabitants is very much. You have approximately three people killed per million, and good countries in Europe they have half a person killed per million, so you have about five times more people killed than in Europe. This is just because of the missing earthing.  
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<p>No, the only example I can think of is what I told you, that what you should do is, all of your appliances should have an earthing conductor, and then of course the installation you have, just transformer on the power, high voltage line, low voltage line beneath, telephone line beneath, all the power overhead, everything. That is of course dangerous because if you get a hurricane or something it might drop down, the whole lot. As a matter of fact, the United States has a very high fatal electrical accident rate. You have about seven or eight hundred people killed per year, which when compared even by number of inhabitants is very much. You have approximately three people killed per million, and good countries in Europe they have half a person killed per million, so you have about five times more people killed than in Europe. This is just because of the missing earthing. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Right. This is pure speculation but why do you think the Americans were reluctant to do that until later?  
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<p>Right. This is pure speculation but why do you think the Americans were reluctant to do that until later? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well, it is of course a question of economy, it costs more, and then many people believed — and this was a wrong belief — that the 120 volts you have in the States does not kill. This is not true. And then in my opinion you have many people killed by high voltage because of the high voltage lines falling down on low voltage lines and transmitting high voltages to earth into the dwellings. But I’m not very well informed about that; you should look into your own accident statistics.  
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<p>Well, it is of course a question of economy, it costs more, and then many people believed — and this was a wrong belief — that the 120 volts you have in the States does not kill. This is not true. And then in my opinion you have many people killed by high voltage because of the high voltage lines falling down on low voltage lines and transmitting high voltages to earth into the dwellings. But I’m not very well informed about that; you should look into your own accident statistics. </p>
  
 
=== Shock Experiments &amp; Electropathology  ===
 
=== Shock Experiments &amp; Electropathology  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
This later work on, electropathology, how did that get started? When did you begin to work on that?  
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<p>This later work on, electropathology, how did that get started? When did you begin to work on that? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
<flashmp3>287_-_biegelmeier_-_clip_1.mp3</flashmp3>
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<p><flashmp3>287_-_biegelmeier_-_clip_1.mp3</flashmp3></p>
  
Well, this was very simple because very little was known about the effect of shock on the human body. When we started making the ground fault interrupters, as you call them, there was of course the need to prove that they work. This was the reason why I made these experiments.  
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<p>Well, this was very simple because very little was known about the effect of shock on the human body. When we started making the ground fault interrupters, as you call them, there was of course the need to prove that they work. This was the reason why I made these experiments. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Could you tell me some more about the details of the experiments?  
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<p>Could you tell me some more about the details of the experiments? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well we started with low voltages. They are very extensively described. There was a conference in Toronto organized by IEEE, and there is a large chapter describing my experiments. We started just grasping two electrodes with hands, and then hand to feet and we started with 20 volts and so we slowly went up, 25 volts, 50 volts, 100 volts, 200 volts. Then we had the ground fault interrupters interrupting the current, and as long as I felt that I was not in mortal danger, I carried on.  
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<p>Well we started with low voltages. They are very extensively described. There was a conference in Toronto organized by IEEE, and there is a large chapter describing my experiments. We started just grasping two electrodes with hands, and then hand to feet and we started with 20 volts and so we slowly went up, 25 volts, 50 volts, 100 volts, 200 volts. Then we had the ground fault interrupters interrupting the current, and as long as I felt that I was not in mortal danger, I carried on. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
So you did the tests on yourself, you were the subject?  
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<p>So you did the tests on yourself, you were the subject? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
With high voltage, yes, up to 200 volt. With low voltage, 25 volt, we had a hundred people tested, because you don't feel it too strongly when you connect 25 volt across your body. You feel a shock, an electrical sensation, but not a feeling of pain or fright, and so a hundred people volunteered and we measured the impedance and all this was reported and brought to IEC.  
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<p>With high voltage, yes, up to 200 volt. With low voltage, 25 volt, we had a hundred people tested, because you don't feel it too strongly when you connect 25 volt across your body. You feel a shock, an electrical sensation, but not a feeling of pain or fright, and so a hundred people volunteered and we measured the impedance and all this was reported and brought to IEC. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
And is that work still going on?  
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<p>And is that work still going on? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
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<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No. About ten years and then we knew enough that it was not necessary anymore to take a risk. That was all published in IEC report #479.  
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<p>No. About ten years and then we knew enough that it was not necessary anymore to take a risk. That was all published in IEC report #479. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
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<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I want to talk a little bit more about your work in Electropathology. It would be useful I think to summarize what was known about that field before. Maybe talk about why so little work had been done, given the obvious risks of shocks and the long-standing history of people being injured or killed, and then talk about what your contributions were to this field.  
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<p>I want to talk a little bit more about your work in Electropathology. It would be useful I think to summarize what was known about that field before. Maybe talk about why so little work had been done, given the obvious risks of shocks and the long-standing history of people being injured or killed, and then talk about what your contributions were to this field. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well actually there are two problems. The first problem is, where are the limits of danger by electricity? The second problem is the impedance of the human body against electric currents. So the first problem, only animal experiments have been made, and Americans have been leading experts on this. The experiments were published in an IEEE paper. Ferris, King, Spence and Williams did extensive experiments on animals: sheep, dogs, pigs, but they established the threshold of ventricular fibrillation, quite extensively. But there was always a big question mark: what about a human person?  
+
<p>Well actually there are two problems. The first problem is, where are the limits of danger by electricity? The second problem is the impedance of the human body against electric currents. So the first problem, only animal experiments have been made, and Americans have been leading experts on this. The experiments were published in an IEEE paper. Ferris, King, Spence and Williams did extensive experiments on animals: sheep, dogs, pigs, but they established the threshold of ventricular fibrillation, quite extensively. But there was always a big question mark: what about a human person? </p>
  
The second problem was the impedance. There existed a German expert; his name was Frieberger. He made a lot of experiments with dead people, corpses. He published a book on the impedance of the human body, but the question mark was always, what’s happening to a live human being? This was the reason why I made the experiments on myself even up to where danger started to begin. So we could establish very extensive information on the impedance of the human body; at low voltages we had a hundred people who volunteered and at higher voltages it was my own body. So we then could write this IEC report #479. That was the first really conclusive report of knowledge on the effects of electricity on the human body.  
+
<p>The second problem was the impedance. There existed a German expert; his name was Frieberger. He made a lot of experiments with dead people, corpses. He published a book on the impedance of the human body, but the question mark was always, what’s happening to a live human being? This was the reason why I made the experiments on myself even up to where danger started to begin. So we could establish very extensive information on the impedance of the human body; at low voltages we had a hundred people who volunteered and at higher voltages it was my own body. So we then could write this IEC report #479. That was the first really conclusive report of knowledge on the effects of electricity on the human body. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Why was it so important to use live humans? Was this a field where it was difficult to predict based on animals?  
+
<p>Why was it so important to use live humans? Was this a field where it was difficult to predict based on animals? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Oh yes, you could not predict on animals. You could suppose that the heart of a sheep or the heart of a pig is similar to the heart of a man, but you don’t know exactly the limits with regard to the thresholds. With impedance, certainly if you measure dead people it’s quite different than a (live) human being, because in a (live) human being the skin has blood in it you see. A dead person has high impedance on the skin because it’s dry, and so we could not just predict what is the impedance of a human being alive.  
+
<p>Oh yes, you could not predict on animals. You could suppose that the heart of a sheep or the heart of a pig is similar to the heart of a man, but you don’t know exactly the limits with regard to the thresholds. With impedance, certainly if you measure dead people it’s quite different than a (live) human being, because in a (live) human being the skin has blood in it you see. A dead person has high impedance on the skin because it’s dry, and so we could not just predict what is the impedance of a human being alive. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Did you find significant differences?  
+
<p>Did you find significant differences? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Oh yes. The impedance is completely different, of course. The impedance of dead people, of corpses, is much higher than the impedance of humans alive, up to voltages of about 100 Volts AC or DC.  
+
<p>Oh yes. The impedance is completely different, of course. The impedance of dead people, of corpses, is much higher than the impedance of humans alive, up to voltages of about 100 Volts AC or DC. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
What implication does that have for safety?  
+
<p>What implication does that have for safety? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well, you have to be more careful of course, because if the impedance is low, more current flows and the danger is higher.  
+
<p>Well, you have to be more careful of course, because if the impedance is low, more current flows and the danger is higher. </p>
  
 
=== American Resistance to Safety Codes  ===
 
=== American Resistance to Safety Codes  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Has that resulted in any concrete examples of design changes that you might — can think of?  
+
<p>Has that resulted in any concrete examples of design changes that you might — can think of? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The consequence was the ground fault interrupters — their sensitivity. We know more how sensitive we must make ground fault interrupters.  
+
<p>The consequence was the ground fault interrupters — their sensitivity. We know more how sensitive we must make ground fault interrupters. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
You mentioned those are sort of a growing technology. I see them more commonly in the United States in certain public buildings, like hotels and things like that, but not too much in houses. Do you get the sense that there is again a resistance to implementing these things?  
+
<p>You mentioned those are sort of a growing technology. I see them more commonly in the United States in certain public buildings, like hotels and things like that, but not too much in houses. Do you get the sense that there is again a resistance to implementing these things? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, what I think is simply you have your national electrical code.  
+
<p>No, what I think is simply you have your national electrical code. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Evidently they're not in the code yet. I wonder why that is.  
+
<p>Evidently they're not in the code yet. I wonder why that is. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
This is because Americans normally want to be free. They resist every law in that respect. Even if it is in the code, it is not necessarily the case that they install it, but I think in new houses they are quite common.  
+
<p>This is because Americans normally want to be free. They resist every law in that respect. Even if it is in the code, it is not necessarily the case that they install it, but I think in new houses they are quite common. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Okay. Yeah, one of the things that come out in these interviews is how much easier it is to get national agreements on standards like this in Austria then it is in the United States. One of the questions I posed to [[Norbert Adler Oral History|Dr. [Norbert] Adler]] is, "What are the reasons for that?"  
+
<p>Okay. Yeah, one of the things that come out in these interviews is how much easier it is to get national agreements on standards like this in Austria then it is in the United States. One of the questions I posed to [[Oral-History:Norbert Adler|Dr. [Norbert] Adler]] is, "What are the reasons for that?" </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
I think that is not true, because in Europe now we are having a standard organization all over Europe. So that’s an international corporation, and it is more difficult now to make a European standard than an American standard.  
+
<p>I think that is not true, because in Europe now we are having a standard organization all over Europe. So that’s an international corporation, and it is more difficult now to make a European standard than an American standard. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I guess the question is, in a case like safety, how can there be a debate? What’s an example of what kind of issues have to be solved?  
+
<p>I guess the question is, in a case like safety, how can there be a debate? What’s an example of what kind of issues have to be solved? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The most important issue is economy because there is always a fight between various manufacturers, because every manufacturer might find another solution, you see, and they want to introduce it into standards, so they fight each other. The big danger for standards is that it can become a minimum requirement.  
+
<p>The most important issue is economy because there is always a fight between various manufacturers, because every manufacturer might find another solution, you see, and they want to introduce it into standards, so they fight each other. The big danger for standards is that it can become a minimum requirement. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
How often do these things fail? Are there cases where in your opinion the standards still aren’t good enough? Where the compromises have been too great?  
+
<p>How often do these things fail? Are there cases where in your opinion the standards still aren’t good enough? Where the compromises have been too great? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
That is nearly always the case. So every manufacturer has his own responsibility in spite of the standard. He must produce better equipment than in the standard, because he’s responsible. One of the big problems of this protective switchgear is reliability, in the course of years, because you install such a ground fault interrupter and you forget about it, and twenty years later it doesn’t work anymore.  
+
<p>That is nearly always the case. So every manufacturer has his own responsibility in spite of the standard. He must produce better equipment than in the standard, because he’s responsible. One of the big problems of this protective switchgear is reliability, in the course of years, because you install such a ground fault interrupter and you forget about it, and twenty years later it doesn’t work anymore. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Has that been the case? These things are pretty recent, has that been the case that they have reliability problems?  
+
<p>Has that been the case? These things are pretty recent, has that been the case that they have reliability problems? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Oh yes. Of course that’s up to date.  
+
<p>Oh yes. Of course that’s up to date. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Going back a little bit to the issue of the third wire, the grounded wire.  
+
<p>Going back a little bit to the issue of the third wire, the grounded wire. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes.  
+
<p>Yes. </p>
  
 
=== Implementation of Codes in Europe  ===
 
=== Implementation of Codes in Europe  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
You mentioned that the chief resistance to that was economic. How did the European countries convince people to change over?  
+
<p>You mentioned that the chief resistance to that was economic. How did the European countries convince people to change over? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The implementation of the standards in Europe is much more strict than in the States. So if it is in the standard here, the installer, who is commissioned by the government, he’s responsible for the installation. There is not the freedom you have in the States or even in the U.K., where anybody can make an installation.  
+
<p>The implementation of the standards in Europe is much more strict than in the States. So if it is in the standard here, the installer, who is commissioned by the government, he’s responsible for the installation. There is not the freedom you have in the States or even in the U.K., where anybody can make an installation. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
So an individual householder is not allowed to do that kind of thing?  
+
<p>So an individual householder is not allowed to do that kind of thing? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No. No.  
+
<p>No. No. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Was there no political resistance? I can imagine a situation where the owners of apartment buildings or somewhere where there are a lot of outlets might organize political resistance to something like this, because it would cost a lot of money to change these things over. Were there examples of that?  
+
<p>Was there no political resistance? I can imagine a situation where the owners of apartment buildings or somewhere where there are a lot of outlets might organize political resistance to something like this, because it would cost a lot of money to change these things over. Were there examples of that? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, I think it was only because there was the understanding of the safety problem. You tell people “Do you want to be killed by your installation or not?” and they accept it straight away. They accept it much easier than some soap or something.  
+
<p>No, I think it was only because there was the understanding of the safety problem. You tell people “Do you want to be killed by your installation or not?” and they accept it straight away. They accept it much easier than some soap or something. </p>
  
 
=== Unification of European Standards  ===
 
=== Unification of European Standards  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Are there any interesting things that have come up recently because of the decline of the Soviet Union? Are those countries now trying to meet Western European safety standards?  
+
<p>Are there any interesting things that have come up recently because of the decline of the Soviet Union? Are those countries now trying to meet Western European safety standards? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The current problem of the Communist countries was of course that they had no copper, so they had to make the wires of aluminum. Aluminum is a very bad material for electric wiring for normal installations. This was the big problem because the terminals and everything corrodes and breaks and this is all they had for the installations. The basic protection was the best they could make, as in the United States they had, they call it, neutral grounding. You call it also in the States the grounded neutral. They have it also in the eastern countries. They had no ground fault interrupters of course.  
+
<p>The current problem of the Communist countries was of course that they had no copper, so they had to make the wires of aluminum. Aluminum is a very bad material for electric wiring for normal installations. This was the big problem because the terminals and everything corrodes and breaks and this is all they had for the installations. The basic protection was the best they could make, as in the United States they had, they call it, neutral grounding. You call it also in the States the grounded neutral. They have it also in the eastern countries. They had no ground fault interrupters of course. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
In some places, I know in Great Britain and maybe elsewhere in Europe, there are still different electrical systems, different voltages.  
+
<p>In some places, I know in Great Britain and maybe elsewhere in Europe, there are still different electrical systems, different voltages. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
It’s not so in Europe anymore, because it has been unified. We have quite a different system than the States you see, because you have a single phase system, but we have a three phase system and all of Europe now has unified voltages, 230 volt and 400 volt. So the old divergence between U.K. and the continent has disappeared.  
+
<p>It’s not so in Europe anymore, because it has been unified. We have quite a different system than the States you see, because you have a single phase system, but we have a three phase system and all of Europe now has unified voltages, 230 volt and 400 volt. So the old divergence between U.K. and the continent has disappeared. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Oh. Okay, I didn’t know that. Well, that’s the end of an era.  
+
<p>Oh. Okay, I didn’t know that. Well, that’s the end of an era. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Yes, yes, because the old way was they had 240 and 415 volts, this was in England, U.K. and we had 220 and 380, but it was brought together, 230 and 400, so it is all the same now. You have in the United States quite different. You have 120 and 240, single phase.  
+
<p>Yes, yes, because the old way was they had 240 and 415 volts, this was in England, U.K. and we had 220 and 380, but it was brought together, 230 and 400, so it is all the same now. You have in the United States quite different. You have 120 and 240, single phase. </p>
  
 
=== Underwriters Laboratory  ===
 
=== Underwriters Laboratory  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Those are the most of the big topics I wanted to cover, unless there are other things you’d like to add. I don’t have specific questions to follow up on this. Maybe one, is there a significant difference between the Underwriters Laboratory and the European versions of that organization?  
+
<p>Those are the most of the big topics I wanted to cover, unless there are other things you’d like to add. I don’t have specific questions to follow up on this. Maybe one, is there a significant difference between the Underwriters Laboratory and the European versions of that organization? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
The European testing stations you mean? No, not really, because Underwriters has very competent people in the organization. They are neutral and they are very safety minded, and this you can see from all European testing stations, except a few countries where it is a commercial interest, but that is an exception.  
+
<p>The European testing stations you mean? No, not really, because Underwriters has very competent people in the organization. They are neutral and they are very safety minded, and this you can see from all European testing stations, except a few countries where it is a commercial interest, but that is an exception. </p>
  
 
=== Educational Background  ===
 
=== Educational Background  ===
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I was going to ask you a little bit about your education, and what that experience was.  
+
<p>I was going to ask you a little bit about your education, and what that experience was. </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
Well, there are two possibilities. You have one possibility at fourteen years of age you can join a technical school and you finish at nineteen. This is a technical education, for instance I had that education in Electrotechnics. When you stop at nineteen you have the possibility to go to a university, a technical university. Then you come a diploma engineer. Before with a normal education at nineteen you are just an engineer. Diploma engineer is always an academic degree. Now there is also the possibility that you may be an apprentice. You start in on a two or three year course, which makes you fachhochschule engineer. Then you have an academic degree, but this diploma engineer is not worth quite as much as the real one when you go to a technical university. There are really three steps: the simple engineer, the engineer fachhochschule, and the diploma engineer.  
+
<p>Well, there are two possibilities. You have one possibility at fourteen years of age you can join a technical school and you finish at nineteen. This is a technical education, for instance I had that education in Electrotechnics. When you stop at nineteen you have the possibility to go to a university, a technical university. Then you come a diploma engineer. Before with a normal education at nineteen you are just an engineer. Diploma engineer is always an academic degree. Now there is also the possibility that you may be an apprentice. You start in on a two or three year course, which makes you fachhochschule engineer. Then you have an academic degree, but this diploma engineer is not worth quite as much as the real one when you go to a technical university. There are really three steps: the simple engineer, the engineer fachhochschule, and the diploma engineer. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
What did you think you would be doing? Did you become an engineering student with some career in mind and what was that?  
+
<p>What did you think you would be doing? Did you become an engineering student with some career in mind and what was that? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
I told you, I joined at fourteen years a normal technical school. At nineteen years, I passed my examinations and then I had the right to call myself engineer and to go to a university. But there was the war of course, so there was a break in my career, for a couple of years.  
+
<p>I told you, I joined at fourteen years a normal technical school. At nineteen years, I passed my examinations and then I had the right to call myself engineer and to go to a university. But there was the war of course, so there was a break in my career, for a couple of years. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
Did you hope to have a particular career?  
+
<p>Did you hope to have a particular career? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, I wanted to become an electrical engineer.  
+
<p>No, I wanted to become an electrical engineer. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
At that time, in Vienna, what was the best place to work? What was the career you imagined you would have?  
+
<p>At that time, in Vienna, what was the best place to work? What was the career you imagined you would have? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
When I had finished at the university, I went right into a testing station, but that was just by chance because there were very few jobs available and so I just found an open job in a test house and I joined it. Then when I was in the test house I saw that I was interested and I carried on in the safety field. My knowledge on Electropathology and on all this medical business, of course I had to study myself.  
+
<p>When I had finished at the university, I went right into a testing station, but that was just by chance because there were very few jobs available and so I just found an open job in a test house and I joined it. Then when I was in the test house I saw that I was interested and I carried on in the safety field. My knowledge on Electropathology and on all this medical business, of course I had to study myself. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
That is an interesting point. Is it difficult for someone who is not already a medical doctor, to do that kind of research and have it be accepted?  
+
<p>That is an interesting point. Is it difficult for someone who is not already a medical doctor, to do that kind of research and have it be accepted? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
I found that it was for me easier, I had to study a little medicine of course, but it was easier for me than for a physician to understand electrotechnics. In the committees, for instance in my working group where I was the convener then, working group 4 of IEC, dealing with effects of shock, we had also medical people. It was always very difficult to make them understand for instance, Ohm’s law and all these problems, how to calculate current and what is a potential. This was for me self-evident of course, so what I had to study was only medicine, a very special small part of medicine - heart activity.  
+
<p>I found that it was for me easier, I had to study a little medicine of course, but it was easier for me than for a physician to understand electrotechnics. In the committees, for instance in my working group where I was the convener then, working group 4 of IEC, dealing with effects of shock, we had also medical people. It was always very difficult to make them understand for instance, Ohm’s law and all these problems, how to calculate current and what is a potential. This was for me self-evident of course, so what I had to study was only medicine, a very special small part of medicine - heart activity. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
In terms of acceptance by medical people, not just the people on the committee, but the medical profession, was it difficult?  
+
<p>In terms of acceptance by medical people, not just the people on the committee, but the medical profession, was it difficult? </p>
  
'''Biegelmeier:'''  
+
<p>'''Biegelmeier:''' </p>
  
No, they accepted it always because they understood what I was doing.  
+
<p>No, they accepted it always because they understood what I was doing. </p>
  
'''Morton:'''  
+
<p>'''Morton:''' </p>
  
I see. Okay. Well why don’t we stop here. Thank you very much.  
+
<p>I see. Okay. Well why don’t we stop here. Thank you very much. </p>
  
[[Category:People_and_organizations]] [[Category:Engineers]] [[Category:Government]] [[Category:Scientists]] [[Category:Culture_and_society]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&amp;_security]] [[Category:World_War_II]] [[Category:Law_&_government|Category:Law_&amp;_government]] [[Category:Regulatory_law]] [[Category:Bioengineering]] [[Category:Pathology]] [[Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&_systems|Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&amp;_systems]] [[Category:Fuses]] [[Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application|Category:Power,_energy_&amp;_industry_application]] [[Category:Inspection,_safety_&_security|Category:Inspection,_safety_&amp;_security]] [[Category:Domestic_safety]] [[Category:Hazards]] [[Category:Health_and_safety]] [[Category:Safety_devices]] [[Category:Standardization]] [[Category:Standards]] [[Category:Standards_organizations]]
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[[Category:People and organizations|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Engineers|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Government|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Scientists|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Culture and society|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Defense & security|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:World War II|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Law & government|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Regulatory law|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Bioengineering|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Pathology|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Components, circuits, devices & systems|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Fuses|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Power, energy & industry applications|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Inspection, safety & security|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Domestic safety|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Hazards|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Health and safety|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Safety devices|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Standardization|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Standards|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:Standards organizations|Biegelmeier]] [[Category:News|Biegelmeier]]

Revision as of 13:51, 13 November 2013

Contents

About Gottfried Biegelmeier

Gottfried Biegelmeier was born in 1924 in Vienna. He received a doctorate in Physics from Vienna University in 1949, after his war service. He started his career in the testing laboratories of the Austrian Association of Electricity Companies and the Federal Research Institute Arsenal. From 1957 onwards he worked as a consulting engineer authorized by the state of Austria, and was in charge of the R&D department for low voltage switchgear at Felten & Guilleaume Austria. Biegelmeier is well known for his pioneering contributions to electrical safety, in particular his invention of the residual current operated circuit breaker. His work has earned him many international awards, among others the American IEEE-Power Life Award in 1985 and the Japanese IKEDA Award in 1993.

In the interview, he describes the operation of what he calls the ground fault interrupter. He also describes the testing he performed on himself (and others) to determine the impedance of the living human body. He suggests reasons for American resistance to electrical safety standards and highlights the growing unification of European standards. Finally, he indicates how his nonmedical background has been an advantage in his investigations into electropathology.

About the Interview

GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER: An Interview Conducted by David Morton, IEEE History Center, July 24, 1996

Interview #287 for the , IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

GOTTFRIED BIEGELMEIER, an oral history conducted in 1996 by David Morton, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Gottfried Biegelmeier

Interviewer: David Morton

Place: Vienna, Austria

Date: July 24, 1996

Background and Early Career

Morton:

This is an interview with Dr. Gottfried Biegelmeier, and it is taking place in his office in Vienna at the Cooperative Testing Institute. Dr. Biegelmeier, could you tell me a little bit about your education and how you got into this field.

Biegelmeier:

Well first I actually started here in the suburb of Vienna at a normal primary school, and after fourteen years I joined a technical school in Austria. I received five years of technical instruction there. In '43 I finished my engineering degree in Electrotechnics, and then I was of course called up into World War II, and then I returned in '46. I felt that I should go deeper into the problems, and started Physics and Mathematics.

Morton:

One question: Did your wartime experience have any relation to your upbringing?

Biegelmeier:

No.

Morton:

You were just an ordinary soldier?

Biegelmeier:

I was just a soldier, yes. No technical career then. So I was quite happy when I returned home. I took my Doctor's Degree in '49 and then joined the testing stations in Austria, testing electrical safety, and immediately I started international standard work in an organization called the CEE. The United States was only an observer.

Morton:

What does CEE stand for?

Biegelmeier:

The International Commission on the rules for approval of Electrical Equipment. It was a European organization of test houses. In this function I became chairman of the technical committee for current-operated earth-leaking circuit breaker, as it was called. You call it now in the States "ground fault interrupters," and we made the first international standard for these ground fault interrupters which are now called "residual current devices" — so this changed several times. Then I joined IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission, and I took over the working group for effects of electric shock on the human body.

Electrical Safety Standards

Morton:

That gets us almost up to the present, doesn't it? We need to back up. To me this work on safety seems like an unusual field. Is that a big field or a small one?

Biegelmeier:

No it is a very big field; I mean it is the basis of all electrical standards of safety. In the States you have big organizations. You have the NEMA, National Electrical Manufacturers Association. You have the Underwriters Laboratory. In Europe, every country has its own laboratory for testing for safety. It was the purpose of these international organizations to standardize, to harmonize all the various standards so that manufacturers can easily sell their products.

Morton:

That's interesting. These safety laboratories, are they operated by the government?

Biegelmeier:

Partly, in the Communist countries in Eastern Europe, they are government institutions. But in Western Europe, and also in the States, they are private undertakings working on a non-profit basis. So they are just charging the actual costs, no profit.

Morton:

Was there a government mandate that these things exist?

Biegelmeier:

Yes, actually in every country the authorization or the accreditation of the test laboratories is run by the government, by the ministers. So I am accredited by the Austrian Ministry of Economy, and I'm allowed to sign test reports, which form the basis for approval marks, safety marks on the equipment.

Morton:

Is it all consumer type equipment?

Biegelmeier:

It is consumer type, yes. Installation material and cooking ranges, et cetera, and it is virtually all stuff for domestic use.

Morton:

Is any attention paid in Austria to non-consumer electrical equipment and safety issues related to it? The reason I ask is that a couple of years ago in the United States there was a big controversy...

Biegelmeier:

Yes, but other organizations than normal test houses. You have the inspectorate, the Electrical Inspectorate. In the United Kingdom you have federal inspectors and these people who are watching safety in industries.

Ground Fault Interrupter

Morton:

Tell me a little bit more about the ground fault interrupter work. I'm not actually sure I know what that is or how it works.

Biegelmeier:

Yes it is not difficult to understand how a ground fault interrupter works. The basic physical principle is very simple. Normally the current which flows into an installation must be the same current which comes back, because electricity cannot get lost if the installation has good insulation. Now if you get an insulation fault, some electricity flows to earth, and the ground fault interrupter just registers the difference. If there is a difference, it disconnects.

Morton:

Is that something that is commonly used?

Biegelmeier:

Yes, a lot. In the United States it's now very largely used normally for circuit outlets. For bathrooms and for swimming pools, and also in domestic premises, you replace the normal circuit outlet by a circuit outlet with an incorporated ground fault interrupter — which is, in your country, tripping sensitivity at about 6 milliampere. We have in Europe about 30 milliampere; we allow more.

Morton:

Is that somehow better than simply having a fuse or —

Biegelmeier:

Oh yes, a fuse can never protect you. Because a fuse operates with about 10 or 20 amperes, and you die with a tenth of an ampere.

Morton:

I guess I meant the fuse is built into equipment, you know, built into an appliance, but —

Biegelmeier:

Well normally it can only protect you, if the equipment gets an insulation fault, the current flows, but not through the human body so the lines and the grounded conductor and then the fuse disconnects. But if you touch for instance a live wire, so your body can only take a tenth of an ampere and no fuse can detect it.

The US and Ungrounded Electrical Outlets

Morton:

You and I talked earlier about the standards problem as it related to electrical outlets. Were there also similar things in Europe related to safety? Did all the countries agree on how things should be done, who was going to do the testing and so forth?

Biegelmeier:

Normally in the States, you had equipment, even ten years ago you had a lot of equipment — even now — which is only a two-pin plug and this does not protect, of course. There is more and more coming now in the United States, circuit outlets using earthing conductors, and so the newer equipment in your country has three pins in the plug. We have had this since about 1950, so if you look around here in these rooms, we have only circuit outlets with an earthing conductor. Now in the United States we can say approximately 50% of your buildings have receptacles without an earthing conductor and 50% with.

Morton:

What about the equipment itself? Were there any controversies between the manufacturers and the testing organizations about what should be considered safe or unsafe?

Biegelmeier:

No, no, the test house tests according to the standard, and in the standards committee you have the manufacturers, you have the test houses and you have the power stations. There is a compromise, and this is the standard, and the test house has to test according to the standard.

Morton:

I was just thinking of an example I know of in the United States, it may not apply here, but how the way people think about things changes over the years. The example I’m thinking of, I guess televisions are still like this, is where there is no transformer in an appliance and one side of the line, one side of the chassis of a radio, for example, used to be ground, and there used to be screws and various metal things that were directly connected to that so that if there were an outlet that were wired wrong or something the chassis could be essentially live, but the radio manufacturers didn’t see that as a big problem. Later they began to agree that that was unsafe, but the whole time there was an American testing laboratory in there. Are there any examples like that?

Biegelmeier:

No, the only example I can think of is what I told you, that what you should do is, all of your appliances should have an earthing conductor, and then of course the installation you have, just transformer on the power, high voltage line, low voltage line beneath, telephone line beneath, all the power overhead, everything. That is of course dangerous because if you get a hurricane or something it might drop down, the whole lot. As a matter of fact, the United States has a very high fatal electrical accident rate. You have about seven or eight hundred people killed per year, which when compared even by number of inhabitants is very much. You have approximately three people killed per million, and good countries in Europe they have half a person killed per million, so you have about five times more people killed than in Europe. This is just because of the missing earthing.

Morton:

Right. This is pure speculation but why do you think the Americans were reluctant to do that until later?

Biegelmeier:

Well, it is of course a question of economy, it costs more, and then many people believed — and this was a wrong belief — that the 120 volts you have in the States does not kill. This is not true. And then in my opinion you have many people killed by high voltage because of the high voltage lines falling down on low voltage lines and transmitting high voltages to earth into the dwellings. But I’m not very well informed about that; you should look into your own accident statistics.

Shock Experiments & Electropathology

Morton:

This later work on, electropathology, how did that get started? When did you begin to work on that?

Biegelmeier:

Well, this was very simple because very little was known about the effect of shock on the human body. When we started making the ground fault interrupters, as you call them, there was of course the need to prove that they work. This was the reason why I made these experiments.

Morton:

Could you tell me some more about the details of the experiments?

Biegelmeier:

Well we started with low voltages. They are very extensively described. There was a conference in Toronto organized by IEEE, and there is a large chapter describing my experiments. We started just grasping two electrodes with hands, and then hand to feet and we started with 20 volts and so we slowly went up, 25 volts, 50 volts, 100 volts, 200 volts. Then we had the ground fault interrupters interrupting the current, and as long as I felt that I was not in mortal danger, I carried on.

Morton:

So you did the tests on yourself, you were the subject?

Biegelmeier:

With high voltage, yes, up to 200 volt. With low voltage, 25 volt, we had a hundred people tested, because you don't feel it too strongly when you connect 25 volt across your body. You feel a shock, an electrical sensation, but not a feeling of pain or fright, and so a hundred people volunteered and we measured the impedance and all this was reported and brought to IEC.

Morton:

And is that work still going on?

Biegelmeier:

No. About ten years and then we knew enough that it was not necessary anymore to take a risk. That was all published in IEC report #479.

Morton:

I want to talk a little bit more about your work in Electropathology. It would be useful I think to summarize what was known about that field before. Maybe talk about why so little work had been done, given the obvious risks of shocks and the long-standing history of people being injured or killed, and then talk about what your contributions were to this field.

Biegelmeier:

Well actually there are two problems. The first problem is, where are the limits of danger by electricity? The second problem is the impedance of the human body against electric currents. So the first problem, only animal experiments have been made, and Americans have been leading experts on this. The experiments were published in an IEEE paper. Ferris, King, Spence and Williams did extensive experiments on animals: sheep, dogs, pigs, but they established the threshold of ventricular fibrillation, quite extensively. But there was always a big question mark: what about a human person?

The second problem was the impedance. There existed a German expert; his name was Frieberger. He made a lot of experiments with dead people, corpses. He published a book on the impedance of the human body, but the question mark was always, what’s happening to a live human being? This was the reason why I made the experiments on myself even up to where danger started to begin. So we could establish very extensive information on the impedance of the human body; at low voltages we had a hundred people who volunteered and at higher voltages it was my own body. So we then could write this IEC report #479. That was the first really conclusive report of knowledge on the effects of electricity on the human body.

Morton:

Why was it so important to use live humans? Was this a field where it was difficult to predict based on animals?

Biegelmeier:

Oh yes, you could not predict on animals. You could suppose that the heart of a sheep or the heart of a pig is similar to the heart of a man, but you don’t know exactly the limits with regard to the thresholds. With impedance, certainly if you measure dead people it’s quite different than a (live) human being, because in a (live) human being the skin has blood in it you see. A dead person has high impedance on the skin because it’s dry, and so we could not just predict what is the impedance of a human being alive.

Morton:

Did you find significant differences?

Biegelmeier:

Oh yes. The impedance is completely different, of course. The impedance of dead people, of corpses, is much higher than the impedance of humans alive, up to voltages of about 100 Volts AC or DC.

Morton:

What implication does that have for safety?

Biegelmeier:

Well, you have to be more careful of course, because if the impedance is low, more current flows and the danger is higher.

American Resistance to Safety Codes

Morton:

Has that resulted in any concrete examples of design changes that you might — can think of?

Biegelmeier:

The consequence was the ground fault interrupters — their sensitivity. We know more how sensitive we must make ground fault interrupters.

Morton:

You mentioned those are sort of a growing technology. I see them more commonly in the United States in certain public buildings, like hotels and things like that, but not too much in houses. Do you get the sense that there is again a resistance to implementing these things?

Biegelmeier:

No, what I think is simply you have your national electrical code.

Morton:

Evidently they're not in the code yet. I wonder why that is.

Biegelmeier:

This is because Americans normally want to be free. They resist every law in that respect. Even if it is in the code, it is not necessarily the case that they install it, but I think in new houses they are quite common.

Morton:

Okay. Yeah, one of the things that come out in these interviews is how much easier it is to get national agreements on standards like this in Austria then it is in the United States. One of the questions I posed to Dr. [Norbert] Adler is, "What are the reasons for that?"

Biegelmeier:

I think that is not true, because in Europe now we are having a standard organization all over Europe. So that’s an international corporation, and it is more difficult now to make a European standard than an American standard.

Morton:

I guess the question is, in a case like safety, how can there be a debate? What’s an example of what kind of issues have to be solved?

Biegelmeier:

The most important issue is economy because there is always a fight between various manufacturers, because every manufacturer might find another solution, you see, and they want to introduce it into standards, so they fight each other. The big danger for standards is that it can become a minimum requirement.

Morton:

How often do these things fail? Are there cases where in your opinion the standards still aren’t good enough? Where the compromises have been too great?

Biegelmeier:

That is nearly always the case. So every manufacturer has his own responsibility in spite of the standard. He must produce better equipment than in the standard, because he’s responsible. One of the big problems of this protective switchgear is reliability, in the course of years, because you install such a ground fault interrupter and you forget about it, and twenty years later it doesn’t work anymore.

Morton:

Has that been the case? These things are pretty recent, has that been the case that they have reliability problems?

Biegelmeier:

Oh yes. Of course that’s up to date.

Morton:

Going back a little bit to the issue of the third wire, the grounded wire.

Biegelmeier:

Yes.

Implementation of Codes in Europe

Morton:

You mentioned that the chief resistance to that was economic. How did the European countries convince people to change over?

Biegelmeier:

The implementation of the standards in Europe is much more strict than in the States. So if it is in the standard here, the installer, who is commissioned by the government, he’s responsible for the installation. There is not the freedom you have in the States or even in the U.K., where anybody can make an installation.

Morton:

So an individual householder is not allowed to do that kind of thing?

Biegelmeier:

No. No.

Morton:

Was there no political resistance? I can imagine a situation where the owners of apartment buildings or somewhere where there are a lot of outlets might organize political resistance to something like this, because it would cost a lot of money to change these things over. Were there examples of that?

Biegelmeier:

No, I think it was only because there was the understanding of the safety problem. You tell people “Do you want to be killed by your installation or not?” and they accept it straight away. They accept it much easier than some soap or something.

Unification of European Standards

Morton:

Are there any interesting things that have come up recently because of the decline of the Soviet Union? Are those countries now trying to meet Western European safety standards?

Biegelmeier:

The current problem of the Communist countries was of course that they had no copper, so they had to make the wires of aluminum. Aluminum is a very bad material for electric wiring for normal installations. This was the big problem because the terminals and everything corrodes and breaks and this is all they had for the installations. The basic protection was the best they could make, as in the United States they had, they call it, neutral grounding. You call it also in the States the grounded neutral. They have it also in the eastern countries. They had no ground fault interrupters of course.

Morton:

In some places, I know in Great Britain and maybe elsewhere in Europe, there are still different electrical systems, different voltages.

Biegelmeier:

It’s not so in Europe anymore, because it has been unified. We have quite a different system than the States you see, because you have a single phase system, but we have a three phase system and all of Europe now has unified voltages, 230 volt and 400 volt. So the old divergence between U.K. and the continent has disappeared.

Morton:

Oh. Okay, I didn’t know that. Well, that’s the end of an era.

Biegelmeier:

Yes, yes, because the old way was they had 240 and 415 volts, this was in England, U.K. and we had 220 and 380, but it was brought together, 230 and 400, so it is all the same now. You have in the United States quite different. You have 120 and 240, single phase.

Underwriters Laboratory

Morton:

Those are the most of the big topics I wanted to cover, unless there are other things you’d like to add. I don’t have specific questions to follow up on this. Maybe one, is there a significant difference between the Underwriters Laboratory and the European versions of that organization?

Biegelmeier:

The European testing stations you mean? No, not really, because Underwriters has very competent people in the organization. They are neutral and they are very safety minded, and this you can see from all European testing stations, except a few countries where it is a commercial interest, but that is an exception.

Educational Background

Morton:

I was going to ask you a little bit about your education, and what that experience was.

Biegelmeier:

Well, there are two possibilities. You have one possibility at fourteen years of age you can join a technical school and you finish at nineteen. This is a technical education, for instance I had that education in Electrotechnics. When you stop at nineteen you have the possibility to go to a university, a technical university. Then you come a diploma engineer. Before with a normal education at nineteen you are just an engineer. Diploma engineer is always an academic degree. Now there is also the possibility that you may be an apprentice. You start in on a two or three year course, which makes you fachhochschule engineer. Then you have an academic degree, but this diploma engineer is not worth quite as much as the real one when you go to a technical university. There are really three steps: the simple engineer, the engineer fachhochschule, and the diploma engineer.

Morton:

What did you think you would be doing? Did you become an engineering student with some career in mind and what was that?

Biegelmeier:

I told you, I joined at fourteen years a normal technical school. At nineteen years, I passed my examinations and then I had the right to call myself engineer and to go to a university. But there was the war of course, so there was a break in my career, for a couple of years.

Morton:

Did you hope to have a particular career?

Biegelmeier:

No, I wanted to become an electrical engineer.

Morton:

At that time, in Vienna, what was the best place to work? What was the career you imagined you would have?

Biegelmeier:

When I had finished at the university, I went right into a testing station, but that was just by chance because there were very few jobs available and so I just found an open job in a test house and I joined it. Then when I was in the test house I saw that I was interested and I carried on in the safety field. My knowledge on Electropathology and on all this medical business, of course I had to study myself.

Morton:

That is an interesting point. Is it difficult for someone who is not already a medical doctor, to do that kind of research and have it be accepted?

Biegelmeier:

I found that it was for me easier, I had to study a little medicine of course, but it was easier for me than for a physician to understand electrotechnics. In the committees, for instance in my working group where I was the convener then, working group 4 of IEC, dealing with effects of shock, we had also medical people. It was always very difficult to make them understand for instance, Ohm’s law and all these problems, how to calculate current and what is a potential. This was for me self-evident of course, so what I had to study was only medicine, a very special small part of medicine - heart activity.

Morton:

In terms of acceptance by medical people, not just the people on the committee, but the medical profession, was it difficult?

Biegelmeier:

No, they accepted it always because they understood what I was doing.

Morton:

I see. Okay. Well why don’t we stop here. Thank you very much.