1950–1960: Power flows out of every socket

In the post-war years, Switzerland and Europe experienced an economic recovery of a hitherto unknown magnitude. Wages rose and the standard of living improved substantially. This boom ensured that there was enough financial latitude for domestic households to flourish. For the first time ever, the domestic budget of Swiss families allowed for the purchase of consumer durables in addition to the purchase of daily consumables. During the 1950s, washing machines, refrigerators and domestic and DIY electrical appliances found their way into the apartments and houses of the Swiss population. These years witnessed the birth of many household appliances that fundamentally changed the nature of housework, and that still make our lives easier today. This development was made possible by electrification.

Things previously considered a luxury now became affordable for many people. All the while, electrical power was being delivered as standard to all households via the power socket. Everything available with a cable was getting purchased and plugged in. Power consumption rose sharply. In 1953, television began test operations. In 1957, the first computer went into operation at ETH and in 1959, the Swiss agency (PTT), recorded one million telephone subscribers.

Immerse yourself in our picture-book history, showing life in the 1950s, a time defined by technological progress, and one that delivered us many of the pleasant things that we would now not be able or willing to manage without. During this time, so much was invented and discovered that our life became a great deal easier – indeed, at times, we are no longer aware of the fact. We owe all of that to the experts who dedicated their lives to science and who still ensure today that electrotechnical products and systems are safe to use, and that they are compatible in networked systems. These insights have become enshrined in recognized standards, and these are consistently updated to reflect state-of-the-art technology. In this way, they make a substantial contribution to ongoing further development and innovation.

Electrosuisse is responsible for the provision of standards for electrical engineering
Comité Electrotechnique Suisse (CES) at Electrosuisse is responsible for the specialized field of electrical engineering. The SNV has transferred all tasks associated with the production of electrotechnical standards to CES.

Electrosuisse is the leading Swiss professional association in the electricity sector. Its goal is to ensure the safety of networks, installations and appliances, to keep its members informed about developments in science and technology in all sub-sectors of electrical engineering, and to promote dialogue within this specialist sector.

Through its CES committee, Electrosuisse organizes and supports standardization in electrical engineering, electronics and IT in more than 90 technical committees. CES represents Swiss interests at a European and an international level. It is the national member in the international and European standards organizations for electrical engineering, the IEC and CENELEC.

Suddenly electricity everywhere – safe devices thanks to standardization

First small washing machine from V-Zug

The first small washing machine delivered huge savings in time and effort (V-Zug, 1956).

Washing machine for apartment buildings from V-Zug

The Unimatic washing machine was manufactured specifically for apartment buildings (V-Zug ad, 1950).

Washing machine Adora from V-Zug

The Adora washing machine simplified housework and improved the standard of living (V-Zug, 1959).

Electrical appliances Satrap from Coop

Since 1955, Coop has sold electrical appliances under its own brand name of Satrap (Coopzeitung magazine, June 1957).

Electrical hand tools from Scintilla/Bosch

Electrical hand tools created new options for tradesmen and DIY enthusiasts (Scintilla/Bosch, 1950).

Vacuum cleaner from Scintilla/Bosch

Scintilla, a company based in Zuchwil in the canton of Solothurn sold vacuum cleaners successfully (Scintilla/Bosch, 1955).

Hairdryer from Solis

Having a hairdryer at home became a reality (Solis).

Electric blanket from Solis

The Solis electric blanket replaced the heavy hot-water bottle (Solis).

45-year anniversary Solis catalogue in 1953/54

Excerpt from the 45-year anniversary Solis catalogue in 1953/54 (Solis).

Rotary switches from 1950

Rotary switches from 1950 made by Feller Ltd, Horgen (Electrosuisse Museum of Technology).

Wall-mounted telephone from 1955

Wall-mounted telephone from 1955, made by Autophon AG, Solothurn (Electrosuisse Museum of Technology).

New leasure time because of household devices

Billboards and print ads focused on the time-saving ability of these devices (Schulthess).

First Swiss-produced fully automatic washing machine from Merker

The first Swiss-produced fully automatic washing machine came from Baden (Merker/Schulthess, 1950).

The TURISSA novomatic Swiss sewing machine

The TURISSA novomatic Swiss sewing machine for the modern housewife (from Wir Brückenbauer, with kind permission from the Migros Genossenschafts-Bund).

High-voltage direct current power transmission

Until the mid-point of the 20th century, it was not technically possible to transmit large volumes of electricity over large distances with low levels of loss. The problem lay in the changeover between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). AC is the type of electricity that is produced by generators, and that is most commonly used to operate electrical appliances. In contrast to this, DC is used for the efficient transmission of high voltages.

Mechanical switchgear to convert AC into DC proved to be impracticable and mercury vapour valves, the only alternative, were unable to operate at the required levels of voltage. In the 1950s, after further development of conversion technology by the predecessor to ABB, a company by the name of Asea, it proved possible to build the world’s first commercial high-voltage DC power line. This cable connected the Swedish mainland with the island of Gotland, providing the island residents with a dependable and inexpensive source of electrical power. The local economy blossomed.

Since the installation of this predominantly submarine cable, measuring 100 kilometres in length, ABB has applied itself to the further development of high-voltage DC transmission technology. For example, in the 1970s, it replaced the malfunction-prone mercury vapour valves with thyristor semiconductor valves.

High-voltage DC technology from ABB has revolutionized the transmission of power right around the globe. Today, ABB is – together with Siemens and GE Grid Solutions – still among the biggest manufacturers of high-voltage DC power transmission systems.

Sources: Electrosuisse, ABB, Wikipedia, ETH library

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