Sitting is Good – Riding is Better – Electric Trains are the Best

May 31, 1879

A new type of electric locomotive was introduced in Germany at the Berlin Industrial Exhibition. This locomotive, developed by engineer Werner von Siemens, did not need batteries to operate. This marked the first time that a generator provided the electrical energy needed to power a locomotive.

Originally constructed for use in a coal mine, the locomotive traveled at a speed of four miles (6.4 kilometers) per hour and pulled three small carriages that were each fitted with wooden benches. Each of those cars could carry up to six passengers for a ride along approximately 328 yards (300 meters) of a circular track. The electrical current was supplied by a third rail laid between the other two on that track.

Using the electric motor for transportation – contemporary drawing, 1879

This new means of transportation proved to be extremely popular during the course of that four-month exhibition, with about 90,000 people altogether riding in those cars. A few highly curious and arguably brave individuals even lay down on the track so that they could feel the invisible power propelling the locomotive.

“Our electric train is creating quite a stir,” von Siemens wrote his brother in a somewhat understated fashion about two weeks after that locomotive had made its big debut. Similar railways were soon built at other exhibitions throughout Europe. A new era in railroad history was born. The original locomotive used at the Berlin Industrial Exhibition can be seen today at the Munich-based Deutsches Museum, the largest museum of technology and science in the world.

For more information on the 1879 introduction of the first electric locomotive with an external power source, please check out https://www.siemens.com/history/en/news/electric_railway.htm.

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