CONGRÈS DE LA HOUILLE BLANCHE Grenoble - Annecy - Chamonix. 7 - 13 Septembre 1902. Compte Rendu des Travaux du Congrès, des visites industrielles et des excursions. Premier [-Deuxième] Volume. Syndicat des Propriétaires et Industrielles possédant ou exploitant des Forces Motrices Hydrauliques. Grenoble, Siège Socia: Place du Lycée, 2.
1902. Two volumes, large 8vo; pp. 605,  blank, with with one double-page table t p. 178 and one plate at p. 330, together with 89 text engravings and graphs, some of which are full-age; pp. 666,  blank, with folding chromolithograph map, a heliogravure portrait (both retaining tissue guards), and with 306 text engravings, graphs and half-tone images, a number of which are full-page; volume one printed on different paper stock and a little more browned with some light foxing along upper edge, title-page of Vol. II lightly foxed, with some light soiling to both volumes, but otherwise clean and crisp; a lovely bright set in the original green fine grained publisher’s cloth, upper covers lettered in silver, head and tail of spines a little bumped and rubbed, with further light rubbing to joints and extremities, spine of Vol. I a little cockled, corners bumped, book-blocks very slightly shaken due to the weight and size. First edition of this extremely comprehensive and detailed illustrated account of the first ‘Congrès de la Houille Blanche’ held in Grenoble in 1902, organised by the ‘Syndicat des propriétaires et industriels possédant ou exploitant des forces motrices hydrauliques’, discussing the technical, economical and legal issues surrounding the development, concessions, rights of use, and potential of ‘white coal’ - the metaphorical term coined in 1889 by the entrepreneur and paper-maker Aristide Bergès (1833-1904) to describe the pure energy resource of mountain rivers and glaciers which could be harnessed to create renewable ‘clean’ hydroelectric power.
Though hydropower had long been used for grinding grain and flour, it was not until the late 19th century that it came to be used as an electricity source. In 1878 the world’s first hydroelectric power scheme was developed at Cragside in Northumberland by William Armstrong to power a a single arc lamp. The first Edison hydroelectric power station began operating in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1882, with an output of about 12.5 kilowatts. By 1886 there were 45 hydroelectric power stations in the US and Canada.
In Europe, Grenoble was to become the centre of electrification from the start of electrical power generation. In 1883 Marcel Depréz succeeded in transmitting direct current over a distance of 14km to Grenoble. The driving force however, was to be Aristide Bergés, who became the voice of the developing industry, being one of the first to adopt hydropowered electrical turbines for paper manufacture, and indeed building a dam to help expand his business. An excellent communicator, he is remembered for his famous speech given at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889, who coined the term ‘white coal’ to ‘fire the imagination and report intensely that the mountains and glaciers, which provide the driving forces, are just as valuable for their region and for the state as the coal from the depths’. He strongly believed that such technical progress should also be used for social progress, and had electricity installed in the houses of Lancey, as well as founding in 1896 the Société d'éclairage électrique du Grésivaudan which supplied low-cost electricity to the valley and supplied the tram line from Grenoble to Chapareillan. It’s potential was soon recognised and seized upon by the Grenoble authorities, both municipal, industrial, and indeed academic and legal, who began working together to further development. In 1899 the Grenoble Electrotechnical Institute was created with links to the University, and that year also saw the formation of the Société générale Force et Lumière (SGFL), which became one of the leading hydroelectric power companies. The region thus saw the creation of new professions and industries through the development of public works, the construction of dams, the rise of cement factories, the manufacture of turbines and electrical equipment, improved transportation, and the development of electrochemical and electrometallurgical industries. Such a transformation was not without controversy, many decrying the loss of traditional trades such as glove-making, and the dramatic changes to the landscape which such large scale constructions resulted in. Indeed Bergès himself faced a number of civil court challenges from aggrieved farmer who had lost land and which affected his health towards the end of his life, although his legacy lives on today, with a school and road named after him in Grenoble.
In response to these rapid developments, a union of owners and industrialists owning or exploiting hydraulic forces was formed in 1901, and under whose auspices this first Congress was organised. It brought together for the first time, all the parties involved in the creation and operation of hydroelectric facilities: directors of companies, engineers, civil servants, academics, etc. From the tone of the preface, it seems likely that the present publication was done in limited numbers, with copies given primarily to delegates and other interested parties. The first volume provides details of the committee, the programme and itinerary of the Congress, an account of the plenary sessions, and transcripts of the various conference papers delivered by delegates, who counted amongst their number engineers, lawyers, academics, industrialists, and government ministers. The second volume, which is printed on better quality paper to enable the extensive inclusion of half-tone images, describes in detail the various excursions to visit sites including Lancey (the site of Bergés’ paper mill); la chute et des usines de la Société hydro-électrique de Fure et Morge; des chutes et usines de la Société des Forces motrices du Haut-Grésivaudan; the chute d’Avignonet; usines électriques de Grenoble et Voiron; Chamonix; Simplon; and electric installations at Lausanne. A Lengthy section of ‘notices d’usines’ then follows describing numerous factories and industries which are associated with and benefit from hydroelectric power.
A Turbine commission was set up as a result, bringing together scientists, operators and manufacturers, to study the various problems relating to the performance of the machines and to look into the number of accidents that had occurred at certain installations. Eventually an independent company was created - the Société Hydrotechnique de France (SHF) in 1912.
This was the first of three such Congress to be held, with further gatherings in 1914, 1922, and most notably perhaps, in 1925. By this time the region had grown considerably, the Congress was expanded becoming an International Exhibition of Hydropower and Tourism which promoted not only the benefits of hydroelectric power, but Grenoble in general.