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  • Rita Zurcher

1847: The Very First Wave Pool?

Updated: Sep 29, 2019


Long before Duke Kahanamoku popularized surfing on California's shores, there has been a fascination with waves and the pleasure of, at least, having them splash at you. This is especially true in land-locked places where the river and lakes did not provide the thrill on an ocean wave.


The industrial revolution and the introduction of steam powered technologies changed everything. Even while trains were spreading across continents in the nineteenth century, enterpreneurial engineers conceived and built what may be regarded as the first modern man-made, artificial waves. Where? In Germany.


A swimming facility was built on the eastern tip of Lohmühleninsel, a tiny island in the Spree River of Berlin, in 1847. The artificial waves were generated by a "Wellenmaschine" or wave machine -- a steam engine. In 1877, Eugen Sachs, the inventor of underwater lights for divers, took over the facility. It was then called: Sachse's Steam Wave Bath. It closed in 1920. The island, however still remains as a popular sports and recreational area.


Present day Lohmühleninsel on the Spree River, Berlin Germany

The basic principle that made the wave production is explained:


On the deep side of a water basin, water is rhythmically displaced by displacement bodies, swing wings, pistons or air pressure. A gap in the lower part of the pool then pushes the water into the bathing area. This is where the waves are formed, which run out to the shallower part of the basin and produce the surf noises known from seacoasts through the wave overrun.

Although no images are available of the actual wave bath, it shared similar steam powered wave technology of later wave facilities on the shores of lakes. An explanation of how it worked:

The drive gears for the crankshafts (two crankshafts per shaft box) of the two shaft boxes differ in one tooth. As a result, the drive only has to push both shaft boxes down at the same time every three minutes. If both shaft boxes are moved in the opposite direction, the waves are highest on the outside.

The original wooden wave box from Undosa which was similar to the ones used in Berlin.


Original Undosa Wooden Wave Box Similar to 1847 Model

Learn more about the Undosa Wave facility here.

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