It has been over 120 years when power plants in the three-phased system created by our Michał Doliwo-Dobrowolski have functioned. Pressing the electric bell button at the door or using a hair-dryer, we also use devices which were invented and constructed by him. The Germans treated him as their compatriot, the Russians state till now, that he was a Russian man by origin, but what do we, Poles, think about it? When he lived and worked, Poland was not on the map and that is true that his mum and grandmother were Russians, but after his male predecessors, he was a Pole of the coat of arms Doliwa.

Probably in the period directly after gaining the independence, a congratulation telegram was sent to the Seym of the Polish Republic, and which was signed by ill Michał Doliwo-Dobrowolski. Unfortunately, the document was not found.

Youth years in Russia

Michał was born on 2 January in Gatchyn near Sankt Petersburg, in a Polish family. The family came from gentry settled first in Prussia and later in Lithuania. His parents were Józef Doliwo-Dobrowolski and Olga Jewrejnowa. Michał’s father was a clerk in Petersburg at that time, he had a function of a director of an orphanage in Gatczyn. In 1872 he was taken to Odessa. When young Michał attended a junior high school, he started being interested in issues connected with chemistry and electro-technology. In 1878 he started studies at the Department of Chemistry of the Polytechnic Institute in Ryga.

The teaching language at this private university was German language, and the biggest group were Poles from the lands of today’s Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. On 1 March 1881, because of the assassination, the Caesar Alexander II was killed. A bomb was thrown by a student, a member of ‘Narodna Wola’, Ignacy Hryniewski. This fact awakened anti-Polish phobia in Russia anew, which resulted in a situation in which all students, suspected of Polish origin, were expelled from universities. Also Michał Doliwo-Dobrowolski was expelled, who was an auditor at universities in Petersburg, Odessa and Noworosyjsko at that time. At that time he studied electro-chemical phenomena, cooperating with Widder in Petersburg, which fruited in inventing a small galvanic cell to power an electric bell. This cell was rewarded at the Electro-technical Exhibition in Vienna in 1883.

Studies and work in Germany

In 1883 Doliwo-Dobrowolski left for the Grand Duchy of Hesse in Germany and he joined the Higher Technical School in Damstadt there, where professor Erazm Kittler organized the first Electrical Department in the world. At that time the University was included to the oldest and the best European polytechnic universities. In 1884 Doliwo-Dobrowolski graduated from studies and for three years he worked as an assistant of prof. Kittler, giving lectures of electrochemistry. Having resigned from work at the university, he left for Odessa for a short time, where on 11 May 1887 he got married to 22-year-old Greek woman Tumba. Having returned to Germany, he started working in DEG, renamed into the today’s AEG company. He became a manager of the electric department and took over supervision over technical matters of Berlin branch. It made it possible for him to do experiments and investigations in the sphere of whirling magnetic field and multi-phased electro-energetic system. IN the year 1889 he invented, constructed and patented a three-phase motor with squirrel cage rotor. In the same year he also constructed three-phase alternating current generator with a completely new design. A year later he invented a three-phase transformer and started cooperating with a Swiss factory Oerlikon. He also constructed measuring devices, among the others, phase meter and frequency meter. In the year 1891 Dioliwo – Dobrowolski introduced the name ‘Drehstrom’, that is, three-phase current. he also introduced the concept of power factor cos ? generally used in electro-technology. He studied the issues of arcing extinction, elaborating the so-called chambers of his extinction in high voltage circuit breakers.

The Worldly Electrotechnical Exhibition in Frankfurt at the Main

In the year 1891 there was the Worldly Electrotechnical Exhibition at the Main. At that time, electrictiy was used on quite a limited scale, and the symbol of that energetics was constant current power plant of Edison in New York. Commutative current was not a novelty any longer, but had many opponents, who were led just by Thomas A. Edison. They did not want to give an initiative (and benefits) to supporters of the commutative current, who were supported by such authorities as Tesel or Ferranti. The exhibition gave a chance for a break-through, which a German company AEG, together with the Swiss Oerlikon decided to use in a risky way. Their project was aimed at using water turbine, driving a three-phase current generator located in Lauffen in Switzerland and transmission power generated there for three-phase alternating current for exhibition area to a distance of 175km in Frankfurt at the Main. The Oerlikon company provided a three-phase current generator for driving water turbine and transformers of 150kVA power. AEG also provided two transformers, motors – the big one (of 10 times higher power than the motors built at that time) and a few smaller ones, 1000 50-watt light bulb for voltage 50 V and all the auxiliary equipment. Construction of the line voltage 15kV was the responsibility of the postal company that has implemented an innovative intention in record time - six weeks, putting 3282 poles with a special high-voltage insulation (the spacing between the phases were almost identical to those of modern lines to a voltage of 15 kV). Moreover, organizational difficulties were overcome, such as negotiations with hundreds of landowners, exceeding the inner boundaries of the German Reich, and also gaining material and financial means. Even the caesar of Germany Wilhelm II assignated quite a big sum of Marks in gold for this purpose. Undoubtedly, it was also a risky intention – first of all in terms of the lack of experience of builders and provisions connected with the public safety. The determination in which the idea was implemented is proved by the unusual way, in which Dobrowolski convinced the commission deciding about giving permission for starting the line. In their presence he picked up a broken cable of the line of the high voltage, proving no danger for people in this way, which was not so obvious at all. Having constructed and started the whole system on 24 August 1891, he demonstrated the effect of energy transfer from a distance of 175 km hydroelectric power to the motor driving the water pump that pumped water up beautifully illuminated cascade of the 10-foot waterfall. At those times, the light of 1000 bulbs installed for illuminating the waterfall was very impressive. The transmission system was evaluated by the international commission which, during a few days, made precise measurements. The results were confirmed by excellent possibilities of transmitting electricity to big distances. Reports of newspapers at that time were very enthusiastic. Also the speech of frustrated T. Edison passed into the history of technology, who answered to the suggestion of looking at the AC motor: 'No, no the alternating current is rubbish, it has no future. I do not want to look at the motor of the alternating current or hear about it'.

A man of success

The turn of the XIX and XX centuries are in the life of Michał Doliwo-Dobrowolski a special period, full of career and personal successes. On 23 May 1891 his first son Dymitrii is born, and four years later, on 21 February 1895 – his another son – Serge - is born. He was awarded with the Gold Medal of the World Exhibition in Paris (1900) for his achievements in the sphere of electrotechnology. In 1911 he was honoured with PhD of honoris causa of the Polytechnics in Darmstadt.

When Doliwo-Dobrowolski gained his recognition, the authorities of Russia suggested him taking over the function of a dean of the newly established and the first Electrotechnical Department of the Polytechnical Institute in Petersburg. The inventor helped in consulting the program and details concerning the construction of the department building, organised a purchase of equipment, and even gave his private collection of professional journals to the department. However, he did not take the suggested function. In 1903, there were no more contacts of Dobrowolski with Russia stopped to exist, and he with his family moved – probably for health reasons – to Lozanna and applying for citizenship in Switzerland, which he received in 1906. In 1907 he got divorced and after 5 months he gote married again to Hedwig Pallatschek (Jadwiga Polaczkówna). In 1908 he returned to Germany where he took over the post of a director in a Berlin factory of electric apparatus of the AGD consortium. However, after a year, he resigned from any administrative functions in AGD, keeping the post of a technical advisor of this consortium and devoted himself to scientific work. In this period he published a several dozen articles in „Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift”. In spring on 15 March 1919, 57-year-old Doliwo-Dobrowolski returned to the university in Darmstadt. Unfortunately, the condition of his health, especially his weakened heart, got worsened after flu. The last days of his life he spent in the University Clinic in Heidelberg, where his older son Dymitr was a doctor. He died on 15 November 1919 and was buried in Darmstadt.


"Niedziela" 39/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: