International Exposition of Electricity

The first International Exposition of Electricity in Paris ran from August 15, 1881 through to November 15, 1881 at the Palais de l'Industrie on the Champs-Élysées. It served to display the advances in electrical technology since the small electrical display at the 1878 Universal Exposition.[1] Exhibitors came from the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as from France. As part of the exhibition, the first International Congress of Electricians presented numerous scientific and technical papers, including definitions of the standard practical units volt, ohm and ampere.[1]

International Exposition of Electricity
Palais de l'Industrie in 1855, site of the International Exposition of Electricity 1881
Native name Exposition internationale d'Électricité
DateAugust 15, 1881 through to November 15, 1881
VenuePalais de l'Industrie on the Champs-Élysées
LocationParis, France
TypeExposition, science festival


Adolphe Cochery, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs of the time, had initially suggested that an international exposition should be held.[2]

This show was a great stir. The public could admire the dynamo of Zénobe Gramme, the incandescent light, the Théâtrophone, the electric tramway of Werner von Siemens, the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell, an electrical distribution network by Marcel Deprez, and an electric boat by Gustave Trouvé. As part of the exhibition, the first International Congress of Electricians, which met in the halls of the Palais du Trocadero, presented numerous scientific and technical papers, including definitions of the standard practical units volt, ohm and ampere,[1] the International System of Electrical and Magnetic Units.

George Berger was the Commissioner General. Aside from the provision of the building by the French government, the exhibition was privately financed. Organizers would donate profits to scientific works in the public interest.

International Congress of Electricians

This congress was a decisive step in the building of the modern International System of Units (SI), since ohm, ampere, coulomb and farad were defined at this occasion. Main participants include Éleuthère Mascart, William Thomson (who later became Lord Kelvin), Hermann von Helmholtz, Rudolf Clausius, Gustav Kirchhoff, Gustav Heinrich Wiedemann, Carl Wilhelm Siemens and his brother the industrialist Werner von Siemens, who had to renounce to the siemens mercury as the resistance unit (not to be confused with siemens, current SI unit of conductance).[3]


Among the exhibits were:

  • Apparatus for production and transmission of electricity,
  • natural and artificial magnets, and compasses,
  • devices used in the study of electricity,
  • many applications of electricity (sound, heat, light, electroplating, electrochemistry, signage, power,industrial applications, agricultural and domestic),
  • lightning,
  • old instruments in connection with electricity.

Electric lighting with incandescent lamps was one of key developments on display at the exposition, with up to 2500 lamps used to light the venue. The lamps of Thomas Edison, St. George Lane-Fox, Hiram Maxim, and Joseph Swan were compared in extensive tests by a committee, including exposition juror William Crookes, to establish the most efficient lamp design.[4] The conclusion was the high resistance Edison lamp was the most efficient, followed by the Lane-Fox, Swan, and Maxim lamps.[5]


  • CNAM (ed.). "Exposition internationale d'Électricité". Retrieved Aug 16, 2008.
  • Gérard Borvon, Histoire de l'électricité, de l'ambre à l'électron, Vuibert, 2009, ISBN 978-2-7117-2492-5
  1. K. G. Beauchamp, Exhibiting electricity IET, 1997 ISBN 0-85296-895-7, pp.160-165
  2. Walker, George (1881). Consular reports, Issues 4-8,United States. Dept. of State, 1881. United States Dept of State. p. 253.
  3. "Dans les coulisses du Congrès international des électriciens de 1881". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  4. Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Volume 11, page 230
  5. The Electrical Journal, Volume 9, 1882, page 107
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