University of Belgrade, University Library „Svetozar Marković”

Electrification of Serbia

Djordje Stanojevic

Electrification of Serbia

February, 15th 2014

Zvezdana Stojkanović

This text portrays the role of Djordje Stanojevic in electrification and describes his effort to introduce Tesla’s polyphase system. It depicts his contribution to the construction of the first thermal power plants, industrialisation and modernization of Serbia and also his effort to enhance living condition in the country.

Djordje Stanojevic, professor and rector of the University of Belgrade, lived at the time when electrical engineering and the science of electricity were being developed and when the world began to realize how useful they could be. As a great patriot dedicated to solving practical problems that are important for civilization and industrial advancement of his home country, Stanojevic gave a vital contribution to the electrification. Owing to that success, he started to turn manufacturing workshops into modern factories with electrical machines. He is the one who earned all the merits for illuminating many towns around Serbia. Stanojevic also built the first Serbian hydroelectric power plant with Tesla’s system of alternating current. Therefore he is considered the pioneer of electrification and industrialization, of the industry of cooling machines in particular.

Many activities in electrical engineering were greatly influenced and stimulated by the First International Exhibition on Electricity held in Paris in 1881. Stanojevic went to the exhibition at his own expense and this is where he discovered the potential of electricity. He returned to Serbia enchanted and published an overview of the exhibition in the newspaper Srbadija Vol. 1 (10). By publishing “Walking around the Parisian Electrical Exhibition” he wanted to inform his fellow people about the latest discoveries in the field and to present the potential of electrical power.

Two years later, at the suggestion of the Minister of Education, Stanojevic went to the Second International Exhibition on Electricity held in Vienna in order to find out about the new technical trends in the field. As a physics professor he followed trends in the field of electrical engineering.

Djordje Stanojevic’s goal was to solve the issue of illuminating Belgrade. Belgrade was first illuminated in 1856 when two lanterns were put in front of the municipality building at Terazije. In 1884 there were already 100 lanterns in Belgrade. At that time some of the world’s capitals were illuminated So, the question was how to illuminate Belgrade. Nikola Pasic, who was the president of the Board of the Municipality of Belgrade, formed a Commission whose task was to decide whether the capital should be illuminated with electric or gas lighting. Djordje Stanojevic was the advocate of electric lighting and Marko Leko, a chemist, was the advocate of gas lighting. Both of them presented their arguments to the Commission for either of the two options and Stanojevic won. The Commission decided that Belgrade should be illuminated with electric lighting.

The Board of the Municipality of Belgrade approved the suggestion of the Commission in December 1890, and in August 1891 they signed an agreement with Pericles Cikos from Milan on building a thermal power plant and electrical network. They also named a monitoring group consisting of three members and Djordje Stanojevic was elected the president of the group. The electric power plant with the network was officially opened on September 23rd 1893 and Belgrade was officially among the first cities in Europe which were electrically illuminated. In 1894, with the help of electric power plant, the first electric tram was used in Belgrade and in 1895 the horse-drawn trams were completely replaced by electric trams. Thanks to Stanojevic’s effort, Belgrade entered 20th century illuminated and the first tram arrived to Belgrade six years after it had appeared in Richmond in America.

The construction of thermal power plant in Belgrade marked the beginning of electrification in Serbia and Djordje Stanojevic was the key person in this process. Soon after hydroelectric power plants opened in other cities around Serbia with his help. In 1899 Valjevo got a hydroelectric power plant similar to the one in Belgrade. A hydroelectric power plant was also built on Gradac river at the suggestion of Djordje Stanojevic.

Djordje Stanojevic’s friendship with Nikola Tesla was of great importance for the electrification of Serbia. Stanojevic presented to Tesla the electrification plan of Serbia as he thought that Tesla’s inventions could contribute to a great extent. In 1900 a hydroelectric power plant was built on Djetinja river in Uzice which was the first power plant in Serbia with Tesla’s system of alternating current.That was the first example of application of Tesla’s system of alternating current in Serbia which was only five years after it had been used in the construction of the first power plant on the Niagara waterfalls.

For years, Stanojevic examined the potential to build hydroelectric power plants in Serbia. He was especially interested in the potential of using watercourses. For that purpose, in 1901 he did the analysis on the available water power in the country.

At the invitation of a few prominent citizens of Leskovac, Djordje Stanojevic considered the possibility of building a hydroelectric power plant in Leskovac. He saw the greatest potential in the waterfall of Vucjanka river near the village of Vucje, 17 km away from Leskovac. In February of 1903 they started to build the hydroelectric power plant. It was built in March of 1904 and Leskovac got electric lighting. The construction of this hydroelectric plant had a great impact on the improvement of living conditions in this town. What’s more, it enabled the development of modern industry in Leskovac. It is important to note that this hydroelectric power plant has been working for more than 100 years and it became the world heritage site in the history of electrical engineering in 2005. The decision was made by the Executive Board of IEEE – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Djordje Stanojevic participated in the construction of a thermal power plant in Cacak, hydroelectric power plant “Gamzigrad” on Crni Timok river near Zajecar, Sokobanja, hydroelectric power plants on Nisava in Nis, on Pek in Veliko Gradiste, on Moravica in Ivanjica, on Vlasina in Vlasotince, and he also considered the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on Djerdap which happened some 60 years later.

Electric power plants around Serbia enabled the development of the first factories. Djordje Stanojevic’s work on the development of industry of cooling, the application of electric power for this purpose and the establishment of the Commission for industry of coldness in Serbia were of utmost importance to the industrialization and electrification of Serbia.

We should also mention that Stanojevic should be praised for setting up the first radio-station in Belgrade in 1908. He was the first Serb who experimented with an X-ray generator.

Stanojevic’s effort to introduce electric power and Tesla’s system of alternate currents, his knowledge and expertise to choose and import the best equipment at the time, his advice and his influence on the selection of the most suitable locations for the construction of electric power plants contributed to modernization and industrialization of Serbia and improved living conditions for its people.