The Creation of Modern Centralized Networks in Swiss Cities: Institutional and Technological Strategies in Developing a Stable System in the 19th Century

Special Report: Forming Networks in Switzerland
By Serge Paquier


The objective of this paper is to encircle the mechanisms at work in the creation of the centralized modern networks. They are upstream made up of solutions with strong technological intensity able to produce on a reduced space (pumping station, gas-works, water turbines-building, hydroelectric power station) a fluid in very great quantity and downstream from pipes which connect a multitude of consumers distributed in urban space.
The historical analysis shows that the process started in the London innovative crucible at the beginning of the 18th century by incorporation of the steam engine with the existing water supply network which knew thereafter a considerable growth. Confronted with the return in strength of the extensive solutions (the traditional water derivation) the concept of centralized network modern transposed itself in a related urban sector: lighting. Thus, the manufactured gas coal knew as from the years 1820-1830 a broad diffusion in the European cities.
The diffusion of the modern networks in Switzerland encountered traditional municipal institutions that resisted more the possible for a long time, until worms the years 1840-1850. But rather quickly engages a process of appropriation and of adaptation of the gas networks built by French and German wandering manufacturers. There is to note obvious analogies with the creative process which took place 150 years ago in England. The difference lies in a larger complexity which mobilized creators of networks, suppliers of equipment and high schools of engineers. Thus Switzerland following England, from France and Germany contributed a major share to the progression of the centralized modern networks.
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