For an urban area with a population less than 300,000 Mulhouse has more than its share of high quality technical museums. Among these is the Musée Electropolis « l’aventure de l’électricité », a museum about electrical power.
The origins of Electropolis start in the 1978. A group of enthusiasts banded together to preserve a massive 1901 steam engine and alternator built by a collaboration of the two Swiss firms Sulzer and BBC (Brown, Boveri & Company). The Swiss-built machine was constructed to provide electricity to Mulhouse’s nearby textile industry.
Not long after they organized the enthusiast’s restoration effort obtained the patronage of the French electrical giant, Électricité de France or EDF. Years later in 1992, with the steam generator as its premier exhibit, the doors were opened to Electropolis, a museum dedicated to explaining electricity to the masses.
Inside the museum complex is an attractive collection of electrical devices, ranging from early scientific instruments to 1990’s era modern appliances. Though there’s a thread through the compilation that runs from old to new the displays are minimally explained. But there’s no mistaking Electropolis’s featured attraction, the impressive Sulzer-BBC machine that sparked the creation of the museum sits today in its own cavernous room.
Arrangements have been made to drive the Sulzer-BBC generator mechanically to continuously demonstrate how this massive contraption moved. Without steam the gigantic machine is silky smooth, kept quiet by the constant oiling of its mechanical workings by attendants. The apparatus is well lit, meticulously maintained, and polished shiny. All this effort has turned a relic of France’s industrial past into a modern day work of art.
Musée Electropolis is four kilometers from the port de plaisance in Mulhouse. It is easily accessible by tram or by bike. Located nearby and also worth seeing is the Cité du Train, SNCF’s rail museum. A combined entrance ticket for both museums is €18.