Factors such as efficiency and knowledge of entrepreneurs and design engineers contributed to the relatively fast development of electrical power engineering in Poland. Electrical Engines Factory – K. Szpotański & Co. PLC became the largest producer of electrical equipment in Poland before September 1939. Its production output not only satisfied domestic demand but also enabled export to countries all over Europe. In terms of quality and technology, the equipment produced by FAE K. Szpotański conformed to world standards, while its solutions often exceeded standards in respect of design.
The future huge factory was a modest facility at the beginning. In 1918 engineer Kazimierz Szpotański opened an electrotechnical workshop in Warsaw at 9 Mirowska Street where he produced low voltage switchboards with circuit breakers and cut-outs. Three years later Electrical Engines Factory – K. Szpotański & Co. PLC (FAE) was relocated to new premises at 2/4/6 Kałuszyńska Street. During the 1st Poznan Fair, FAE displayed high-voltage circuit breakers. In 1924 a Construction Section was established which was soon transformed into the Design and Construction Office.
In 1928 the factory had more than 200 employees. It produced low, medium and high-voltage equipment, including electric energy meters, tramway traction controllers, instrument transformers, cut-outs, disconnecting devices and bulk oil circuit-breakers for medium voltages. One year later, during the Polish General Exhibition in Poznań, K. Szpotański Factory was awarded the gold medal for the entire production, and in particular for commencing the production of electric energy meters. In 1932 the company was transformed into a joint stock company FAE K. Szpotański S.A. with a predominant share of French capital (Companie de Counter). In 1936 FAE took part in works related to the electrification of the first railway lines in Poland: Warsaw – Otwock and Warsaw – Żyrardów.
The factory built improved direct current fuse links filled with marble powder. In 1937 FAE became the exclusive supplier of overhead circuit breakers, disconnecting devices as well as current and voltage transformers for the first 150 kV transmission mains in Poland connecting the hydroelectric power plant in Rożnów to Warsaw. Another step in the company’s development was the establishment of a division of FAE in Międzylesie near Warsaw in 1939. Apart from 150 kV apparatuses, it produced 6, 15 and 6 kV electrical equipment.
At that time the company had 1,500 employees and produced 400 types of products. During a world exhibition in New York, FAE presented a 450 kV test transformer (US400). Unfortunately, FAE was not spared by warfare - during the Warsaw Uprising (on 10 September 1944) the Headquarters of FAE at Kałuszyńskiego Street were plundered and blown up by the retreating German army.
Polish electrical engineering industry satisfying the demand of the emerging electrical power engineering, was developing. The noteworthy companies were: L. Zieleniewski Boiler Works & Co. in Kraków, Drutowski and Imass Electric Apparatus Works, Ćmielów Insulator Works, Norblin Cable Factory, Petsch Brothers Distributing Equipment Factory, Lilpop, Rau and Loewenstein company, Poręba Mechanical Equipment Factory, Hipolit Cegielski and dozens more.
New sales networks offering a wide variety of equipment, fittings and electric devices were established. The range of goods they sold was impressive, even if we consider the market conditions at that time. Borkowski Brothers with their head office in Warsaw at 306/308 Grochowska Street owned three stores in Warsaw and one in Katowice, Poznań, Lvov and Bydgoszcz. Through a network of representatives they reached all Polish cities. It should also be emphasized that local power plants owned shops with electric fittings and equipment. They often offered receivers at competitive prices to ensure increased purchase of electricity. The demand for a new type of energy, supported with favourable legislation and accessibility of electrical devices resulted in the development of electrical power engineering in Poland.
The obstacle inhibiting even more widespread use of electric power for household purposes and in crafts was the relatively high price. The fees varied in different cities and were subject to continuing controversies arising between producers and local governments. The prices also varied depending on the intended use of Energy (in Warsaw for example the price of lighting energy was 73 gr/kWh, in the case of three-phase power supply it was 35 gr/kWh, while the cost of street lighting was 29.22 gr/kWh). The rates were affected by operating costs, which were often artificially inflated. Disputes related to energy fees were settled by the Conciliation Board appointed by the Minister of Public Works.
Consumption of electricity per citizen in 1937 amounted to approx. 50 kWh, while at the same time the consumption per citizen in Paris was more than 500 kWh, in Switzerland more than 700 kWh, and in Hamburg more than 400 kWh, not to mention American cities where the level was 1,000 kWh. Data on electric energy consumption in rural areas does not exist as electricity was practically not used in the Polish countryside.
General economic growth after World War I and a suitable social climate after regaining independence were favourable to the development of electrical power engineering in Poland. In addition, the personnel presented high standards of technical culture. From the moment a power plant was put into operation, regulations were introduced providing for the employees’ responsibility covering the equipment, principles of its operation as well as maintenance of the whole plant in proper order. This is even more noteworthy if we consider the fact that the emerging sector suffered from shortages of Polish professional staff, both electrical engineers and technicians and highly skilled workers – craftsmen.
The first diploma of an electrical engineer was conferred in 1915/1916 at the Lvov Technical University, established as a technical school in 1817 and listed as a higher-education institution in 1877. The Warsaw University of Technology was opened as a Polish engineering school of higher education in 1915. The first six diplomas were granted to electrical engineers in 1921-1922. Before the outbreak of World War I, relatively few Polish electrical engineers were awarded diplomas at foreign universities (mainly in: Darmstadt, Karlsruhe, Zürich, Leodium, Petersburg). A job in electrical power engineering was a reason to be proud and a desirable position ensuring steady and well paid employment.
Social, cultural and sports activities organised at the power plants by trade unions were an additional benefit of working there. For example, at the Warsaw Power Plant in 1924, the trade unions manager a considerable library, organised trips, maintained a brass band and staged theatrical plays at the union’s premises. The Electricity sports club, active at that time, nurtured several individual Polish champions in wrestling. Political parties (Polish Socialist Party, Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, Polish Socialist Party – Left Wing, and from 1919 the Communist Workers Party of Poland) also operated at the power plant. Power engineers were actively involved in national political life and in 1920 they took part in a general strike, which forced the government to militarise power plants.
The workforce were disciplined and turned to the managerial staff with high esteem. In turn, the managers were demanding and displayed a high level of technical competence and ethics. Due to the preserved work ethos, the technical solutions applied in new power plants did not differ from the solutions used in other countries.