When did the first electrical appliances appear in our homes? What were they? The story of technology and science is even more compelling when set against the background of the past. It’s a past you can see and touch in our special heritage collection.
The NEMO collection shows how energy has shaped and influenced our world. NEMO has a total of approximately 19,500 artefacts in its care that tell the story of humankind and energy in its broadest sense: from the parlograph to the Walkman, from the Humphry Davy lamp to the lamppost, from the antique dynamo to the surge voltage generator.
Most of NEMO’s historical technology collection was transferred in 2008 from the city’s former Energetica Museum, which had received large donations of artefacts from the museum of energy consultancy company KEMA and the former municipal energy company. The collection still contains a small range of items inherited from its predecessor, the Netherlands Institute for Industry and Technology (which started life as the Labour Museum).
“The Energetica collection is unique in the Netherlands and contains some very rare items that are seldom found in the collections of technology museums abroad.”Amsterdam Arts Council
What makes the collection extra special is that most of the objects from the Energetica collection are still in working order and their workings can be demonstrated. In addition to their historical value, many of the items in the collection are beautiful designs in their own right. The collection has something to offer everyone, from the casually interested visitor to the dedicated professional. It also has a rich nostalgic value: the older generation can be transported back in time by the wonderful appliances they knew as children. It gives them a great opportunity to tell their children and grandchildren about their past and how technology fitted into their lives.
Four core collections
NEMO curates 17,000 technology objects in four core collections: Lighting, Electrical Engineering, Energy Generation and Storage, and Technology at Home. A large part of the collection is documented on Flickr; and can be viewed here.
Core collection: Lighting
NEMO features both light sources and lighting fixtures in its Lighting core collection. Some work on gas, others on electricity. The highlights of the collection can be found among the electrical light sources and light fittings, including some wonderful examples of the work of Dutch designer Gispen. Other highlights from the electric lighting collection include the arc light from the Brandaris lighthouse on the Dutch island of Terschelling, the Yablochkov candle and other early inventions including the Edison light bulb from 1883 and the Swan light bulb from around 1885.
Core collection: Electrical Engineering
The Electrical Engineering core collection includes a number of spectacular-looking meters from around 1900, such as a recording voltmeter from 1890, an ammeter (tangent galvanometer) and a number of galvanometers from 1880. This collection also contains sockets, switches, resistors and specialized tools used by electricians over the years.
Core collection: Energy Generation and Storage
A magneto-electric machine from 1857, Willem Smit’s DC dynamo from 1896 and a spectacular air transformer and surge voltage generator: these are just a few examples from this fascinating core collection. NEMO’s Marx surge voltage generator can deliver a voltage pulse of 1.6 million volts with a maximum current of 4,000 amperes. This comes close to the amount of energy released in a lightning strike. This impressive device was mainly used to determine the effect of lightning on high-voltage equipment.
Core collection: Technology at Home
This core collection contains many household objects that have visibly shaped our domestic lifestyles over the years and are guaranteed to evoke feelings of nostalgia. These include an urn from 1965, a chrome electric butter warmer and an ‘electric hotplate with oven’ by AEG from 1930. These appliances have long since disappeared from everyday life, but NEMO is keeping the memories alive with a selection of choice models.
On display at the NEMO Science Museum
Where possible, NEMO includes items from the collection in its current exhibitions at the NEMO Science Museum. We use the items from our collection to bring the historical context of technological developments to life.
Collection at the depot
The NEMO collection is housed at Strekkerweg in Amsterdam North, where it is managed, conserved and catalogued by a permanent team of volunteers led by a professional curator. This process enables knowledge to be preserved and passed on.