Since the mid-1700’s, Kassel has been a center for the production of fine precision optical instruments used in the fields of surveying and measuring. Microscopes, telescopes, theodolites, and other optical devices made in Kassel were at the forefront of European technological development. Hertel & Reuss, Schütz Ruf & Co., Fennel, Fuhse, Breithaupt, and Siegel all had their headquarters in Kassel during the 19th century. The devices made by these Kassel companies were on a par with items produced in London and in other major European cities. The antiques displayed in these cases show examples of the workmanship of the times. Even today, the legacy in Kassel endures with Breithaupt & Sohn as well as with geo-Fennel continuing to produce high precision measurement instruments.
With the proliferation of electrical telegraph networks in the 1800’s, instantaneous communication across faraway lands and seas became possible. The social and economic impact of this development was enormous.
Kassel can be proud to call itself the birthplace of Paul Julius Reuter, founder of the international news agency, Reuters. If there was a scoop from abroad to be had, Reuters was almost assuredly the first to report it. Beginning with homing pigeons and later the telegraph, Reuters was a leader in the commercial utilization of groundbreaking communication technologies. Even today, almost every major news outlet in the world uses Reuter’s services.
The geological landscape of North Hesse, to which Kassel belongs, includes a variety of mineral resources. At one time, quarries dotted this region, extracting basalt, gypsum, calcite and other crystalline structures from the earth.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Kassel was the site of many textile mills. These businesses, utilizing piston steam engines and other state-of-the-art machinery, epitomized the spread of the industrial revolution throughout Germany. Prominent among these factories, Aschrott, Fröhlich & Wolff, Gottschalk, and Salzmann became household names. Kassel benefitted culturally as well as economically from these businesses. In addition to donating land, the most successful of the industrialists, Sigmund Aschrott, created parks and spirited the construction of Kassel’s Meeting Hall (Stadthalle).
The metal instruments displayed in this area were inspired by the work of Dr. Walter Sons, a now retired professor from the Department of Music Education at the University of Kassel. Initiated in 1987, Professor Sons’ metal music project has been an interdisciplinary effort to inspire the exploration, experimentation, and synthesis of new sounds using unorthodox materials. All of the instruments in this exhibit were fabricated using scrap metal and were crafted in collaboration with metal artisans.
The power grid model here was built by AEG to demonstrate a complete system for distributing electricity throughout Germany. One of the most important power companies in Germany, AEG had, at one time, a facility in Kassel. AEG’s Kassel plant originally manufactured high voltage transformers. Later, the Kassel factory produced insulators and compressors for household appliances.
Kassel harbors a rightful claim as the birthplace of the development of superheated steam technology. During the late 19th century, Wilhelm Schmidt, a German civilian engineer, was working in Kassel when he became the first person to use steam technology over 250 °C (482 °F). Schmidt’s breakthrough raised the thermal efficiency of steam engines by 50%, significantly impacting the steam locomotives and steamships of the day. Schmidt continued to perfect his superheater technology throughout his life, creating piston valves and other steam-based inventions. Even now, the successor to Schmidt’s company, ALSTOM Power Energy Recovery GmbH, is located in Kassel and continues to be an innovator in building devices for the transfer of heat.
The Industrial Revolution spurred the development of heavy machine tools in Kassel. With its beginnings as a foundry, the local firm, Henschel & Son, had since distinguished itself for its mechanical engineering ingenuity. In 1840, the company naturally progressed to the manufacturing of heavy machinery.
Vacuum engines, also known as flame-licker or flame-gulper engines, work by drawing hot gases or a flame into a cylinder where it is cooled. The intake of the hot flame into the cylinder is controlled by a valve. Each cycle includes a power stroke. During the outward stroke of the piston, the valve is open and the flame is drawn into the cylinder through the valve. The valve is closed just before the top of the stroke. The resulting drop in pressure draws back the piston for the power stroke.
Kassel and its vicinity are active locations for the design and manufacture of a vast number of automotive parts. Just outside the city, in nearby Hofgeismar, the family firm AKG has been producing radiators for over 50 years. On an even larger scale, Volkswagen’s Kassel facility is one of VW’s largest automotive parts plants in the world. In operation since 1958, the VW facility in Kassel refurbishes engines and transmissions while also supplying original parts for approximately 45 million company vehicles.
Few vestiges remain of Henschel & Son’s World War II production of aircraft and aircraft engines. More memorable has been the contributions of the 19th century German glider pioneer, Otto Lilienthal. Above you can see a replica of a Lilienthal glider which was built in Kassel in 1970. Film footage captures this model in flight.
Steam engines came of age in Kassel, marked notably by Henschel & Son’s production of steam locomotives. One of the first of its kind to be manufactured in Germany, the “Dragon” began servicing the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Nordbahn train line in 1848.
Train technology evolved rapidly. By the late 1800’s, Werner von Siemens had introduced the first electric passenger train to the world. Henschel followed this development, building its first electric locomotive in 1905.
In addition to locomotives, many railway cars were also built in Kassel. Credé Brothers & Co. as well as Wegmann & Co. were both founded in Kassel during the late 19th century as manufacturers of railroad passenger cars. Pictured here is a 1953 photograph of perhaps Wegmann’s most luxurious creation, the Pullman car used by the Shah of Iran.
A natural expansion of its railway car line, the Kassel company Credé Brothers began manufacturing trolleys in 1899.
These vintage trucks were manufactured by the former Kassel foundry, Henschel & Son. In 1925, Henschel & Son expanded its production line to include trucks and motor vehicles.
A relatively inexpensive means of everyday transport, mopeds were popular in Germany in the 1950’s. Located in Kassel, Credé Brothers & Co. produced various versions of its SITTA Credette line of mopeds during this time.
On display here are the Transrapid 02 and the Transrapid 05, both early prototypes of magnetic levitation vehicles. Instead of rolling down a track on wheels, these vehicles utilize magnetic forces to instead float above a rail. This lack of physical contact with a track results in a frictionless means of travel that allows magnetic levitation vehicles to achieve super high speeds. The Transrapid 02 was used on a test track in Munich in October 1971. Manufactured in Kassel, the Transrapid 05 was used to demonstrate the effectiveness of magnetic levitation transportation technology at the 1979 international traffic engineering exhibition in Hamburg. Successfully shuttling 50,000 visitors over 900 meters, the Transrapid 05 formed the basis for Shanghai’s Maglev Train. With a top regular operational speed of 431 km/hr (268 ph), the Maglev is the fastest train in the world.