A new lease of life for the Sulzer-BBC machine at the Musée Electropolis (Electropolis Museum)

By Electropolis Museum

An emblem of Mulhouse industrial heritage, the "Grande Machine" (Great Machine) embodies the technological transition between the first and second industrial revolutions.

From disassembly to restoration at the Musée Electropolis, learn all about the rebirth of the Sulzer-BBC steam generator.

Vue d'ensemble de la centrale avant démontage du groupe électrogèneElectropolis Museum

In 1978, DMC grew concerned about the future of their 1901 Sulzer-BBC machine and offered to donate it to an institution that would showcase its heritage value. As a result, the Association for the Museum of Electricity (Association pour le Musée de l’électricité, AMELEC) was born, which still manages the Musée Electropolis today.

Jonathan Minns au travail dans l'ancienne centrale DMCElectropolis Museum

The restoration of the machine was carried out under the direction of Jonathan Minns, a global specialist in steam engines and quite a colorful character who spoke passionately about the "eroticism" of machines.

Relevé technique sur une soupapeElectropolis Museum

The decision was made to move the machine from the DMC factory to the current museum site. Each element of its inner workings was identified, photographed, and measured before disassembly.

La machine en cours de démontage chez DMCElectropolis Museum

The machine consisted of almost 190 tons of different materials that were damaged by 30 years of inactivity. The cast iron, steel, brass, bronze, copper, glass, wood, marble, leather, etc. all required specialized restoration techniques.

Portage d'un boulonElectropolis Museum

It took two people to carry one bolt weighting almost 180 pounds!

Le toit de la centrale DMC démontéElectropolis Museum

A hole had to be cut in the roof of the power plant had to get the largest pieces out.

Levage du rotor de l'alternateurElectropolis Museum

At the end of 1983, the almost 19-ton upper part of the rotor left the power plant for the first and last time.

Levage du rotor de l'alternateurElectropolis Museum

Part of the alternator rises above the roofs of Mulhouse.

Les fondations poséesElectropolis Museum

The brick foundations of the DMC plant were surveyed, and replaced with new concrete foundations that fit perfectly into the original space.

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Disassembly and reassembly required tools like those seen in Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times." Most of the tools used were the same tools employed during its construction in 1901.

Vue d'ensemble des pièces dans l'atelier de restaurationElectropolis Museum

Of the thousands of pieces that had stood in place for over 80 years, weighing from just a few pounds to almost 19 tons, only a single piece was noted as being slightly bent after disassembly.

Importante corrosion des soupapes d'une pompe à vide avant restaurationElectropolis Museum

Some of the parts that had been in water for years, such as condensers and vacuum pumps, could not be restored and were instead replaced with identical ones.

Peinture du stator de l'alternateurElectropolis Museum

Some elements were coated in up to 7 coats of primer and paint.

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From disassembly to restoration, it took about 2 years to get the machine in full working order at the future museum in early 1986.

Arrivée de la grue au futur muséeElectropolis Museum

The largest parts were moved to the new museum site by crane, which accessed the building via a specially designed route and a ramp. The building was then closed around the machine.

Remise en place d'un piston basse pressionElectropolis Museum

The two low pressure pistons, the largest such pieces, have a diameter of just over 3 feet.

Remise en place d'un boulon de serrage du rotor d'alternateurElectropolis Museum

One of the 180-pound bolts that joined the two parts of the polar wheel together was put back in place. It allowed the two parts, each weighing almost 19 tons, to be joined together.

Courroie d'entraînement de l'excitatrice : marque "J. Schultz, Mulhouse Bourtzwiller".Electropolis Museum

The exciter's leather drive belt is the original one. It continues to be treated once a year with neatsfoot oil.

It wasn't until 2015 that it was discovered by chance that it bears a trademark.

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Disassembly, restoration, and reassembly required 20,000 hours of work in total.

Le groupe électrogène après restaurationElectropolis Museum

Newly reinstalled, the machine looks as gleaming as it did back in 1901.

In 1987, the Musée Electropolis, which won the Museum of France title in 1996, opened its doors and presented the Sulzer-BBC machine to the public for the first time. It is part of a chronological museography presenting the history of electricity and the evolution of its uses.

Spectacle audiovisuel de la Grande MachineElectropolis Museum

Today, the "Grande Machine" (Great Machine) continues to amaze young and old alike. Visitors can see how it works and enjoy a multimedia show that retraces its history and illustrates the technical, social, and economic context of Mulhouse in the late 19th century.

Credits: Story

© Henri COLLOT

Remerciements :
- à Damien Kuntz, responsable du service scientifique au Musée Electropolis.
- au Pôle valorisation du patrimoine industriel du groupe EDF.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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