A short history of CIGRE

This article has been published for the first time in June 1951, Edition ELECTRA N.9.
Written by J. Tribot-Laspière, General Delegate of the CIGRE

On several occasions some Cigreans expressed the wish that a "short history" of CIGRE be written. "This history", they said, "Will recall to the old Cigreans a number of pleasant memories. As for the new ones, it will show them that an International Body like CIGRE has not been organized within a few months or even within several years. And everyone will better realize the value of an Association like ours".

It is true that, however imperfect it may still be, the present organization of CIGRE is the result of long experience. Nothing was improvised: the full use of both English and French translations, interpretations, papers, organization of meetings, discussions, National Committees, Study Committees, receipts and expenses, each of them has given rise to numerous problems which have had to be solved little by little and the solution of which has been a joint task in which many people have co-operated and still co-operate.

Such information is not needless and the following pages are a token of gratitude to the founders of CIGRE and to those who have so willingly assisted them: presidents and Members of the Administrative Council; general, special and individual reporters; translators and interpreters, Members of the National Committees and of the Study Committees and also Members of Congresses who came often from afar - in short to all those who, cordially attached to CIGRE, have given it a little or much of themselves.

The foundation

It was on March 21, 1921, at 2.30 p.m. that I conceived the idea of founding CIGRE after having talked with a friend of mine who, Chief Engineer of a very important Society, was complaining of the difficulties encountered from the technical point of view in the relations between various countries.

Jean Tribot-Laspière, General Delegate of the CIGRE

I immediately contemplated the means of carrying out this idea which pleased me very much. Alone I could do nothing. But as I was the General Secretary of "Union des Syndicats de l'Électricité", and had a certain number of friends in foreign countries, I asked my President to be permitted to find out from these friends their opinion concerning the possible organization of a Congress. I was given permission easily enough and wrote to some Associations or various bodies in several countries. As I received from all favourable answers, I was authorised to call, under the auspices of the "Union des Syndicats de l'Électricité", an International Congress in Paris for the end of November: that is how CIGRE started.

I was very much assisted in my task by two very dear friends, Messrs MAILLOUX and LE MAISTRE, who were respectively President and General Secretary of the International Electrotechnical Commission and who realized immediately the utility which a Congress of free discussions might have for electrical Engineers in general and especially for I.E.C. They had full confidence in me and authorised me to write on their behalf and with their recommendation to the various Electrotechnical Committees on condition that the future Congresses would deal in no manner with standardization, which was exclusively reserved to I.E.C. an agreement which was easy to undertake and to carry out.

Thus, 231 high voltage Engineers, 187 French and 44 foreign from 11 countries met from November 21 to 26, 1921, at 7, rue de Madrid, where the Head Office of the "Union des Syndicats de l'Électricité" was situated.

One of its features is that, since the beginning, it gathered together: on the one hand, manufacturers of electrical machines and apparatus and builders of generating plant and high tension electrical systems and on the other hand, producers and suppliers of electrical energy who are the normal customers of the former - not to mention professors, consulting engineers and engineers of large public authorities.

Manufacturers and builders are informed by the CIGRE Conventions of the trends of technique, of the needs of their customers and of the means of guiding them.

Producers and suppliers of electrical energy can on their part be directly informed of the latest improvements carried out by the manufacturers of all countries and of the various solutions given here or there to the problems which are of interest to them.

The representatives of the third category are also numerous: professors, consulting engineers and engineers of electrical departments of Public Authorities.

It is to be noted that, from one Session to another, the respective proportions of each of the three categories are constant in spite of the ever increasing number of delegates at each Session. These proportions are the following since 1935:

Conventions Manufacturers 
& erectors (%)
Producers and distributors
of electrical energy (%)
consulting engineers etc. (%)
Total (%)
1935 36 44 20 100
1937 35 44 21 100
1939 35 42 23 100
1946 37 44 19 100
1948 37 45 18 100
1950 38 43 19 100

That is a permanent characteristic of CIGRE which is to be noted in this short history.

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The programme of CIGRE

It is not everything to organize International Meetings, they must be given also a programme. The programme of CIGRE has no history. When prepared by the founders of the first Conventions, it was unanimously improved by the latter and has never been changed since then.

It is so clear, so complete and so rational that when International Associations were founded later than CIGRE, it was relatively easy to maintain exactly the situation and the objects of CIGRE and thus to leave other Organizations free to develop fields of activity quite different from that of CIGRE which neither overlap nor has ever overlapped any other.

Also since 1921, papers and discussions were divided as they still are, into three sections and between a certain number of "groups" (the third section was doubled in 1946 to as to reserve a fourth section for the problems concerning extra high voltages).

This division of the subjects to be discussed and of the papers is always the basis of the organization of CIGRE Conventions.

There are 25 headings out of which 7 for the first section, 7 for the second, 8 for the third and three for the fourth. 17 International Study Committees exist for 17 of these 25 headings. The detailed programme of CIGRE is given hereafter.


The 1921 Convention, as we have just said, was held from November 21 to 26, 1921.

It was not at all foreseen that it would be followed by others, but its organization however imperfect it was when it is compared with the present organization, was considered rather satisfactory, not to speak of the interest of the matters which were discussed for its Members and it was decided unanimously to hold a new meeting two years later and again in Paris: that is the origin of two other characteristics of CIGRE, that is to hold Conventions every two years and to have these Conventions meet always in the same city which has no doubt some serious advantages.

Since that beginning, there has been among the 231 delegates, that spirit of confidence and of cordial simplicity which has become known as the Cigrean spirit.

Also from that beginning, the following resolution defined the relations between CIGRE and I.E.C.

"The International Conference on Large Electric Systems, whereas its work may supply very interesting and useful information to I.E.C. in its work of standardization and may facilitate this work, begs the General Secretariat of the Conference to transmit to I. E.C. the result of its work."

1923 Convention

This Convention which was held from November 26 to December I brought together 357 delegates from 20 countries and confirmed by the number the success of the first meeting. It was held again in rue de Madrid.

"Our first Convention, Mr MAILLOUX said at the Closing Ceremony, was an inauguration Conference, the present one has been a consecration Conference.

"There open a series of Congresses, the end of which none of us here will see."

And he added: " I shall pass the presidency of I.E.C. to Mr SEMENZA: we have realized a full agreement when having discussed this afternoon, the past, the present and the future of the I.E.C. and of our Conference."

It was this Convention which decided that the future Conventions would be held in summer. On the other hand it confirmed the 1921 decision to hold CIGRE Congresses in Paris.


This third Convention gathered 530 Members who came from 27 countries. As the rooms at rue de Madrid had become quite insufficient for such a great number, the Convention was held at Foundation Rothschild, rue Berryer, and respecting the 1923 decision, it was held in summer from June the 16th to the 25th. It was decided that the future Conventions would be held every two years and in Paris.


Owing to the ever increasing number of Delegates, there was no longer any question of the Foundation Rothschild in spite of the charms of its beautiful garden. The fourth Convention was held in Salle Hoche where the five following Conventions took place.

544 Delegates from 28 countries assembled at this 1927 Convention. It was decided to maintain the Head Office and the permanent Secretariat of CIGRE in Paris and to orgarnize in this city all future meetings.


The membership of this Convention, which was held from June the 6th to the 15th reached 703 persons as compared with 544, that is to say a very important increase over the preceding Session of 1927. It was like the previous one held in Salle Hoche.

1931 - Foundation of the Association

The 1931 Session was held in Salle Hoche and gathered 738 Members who came from 36 different countries. A new era was then opened for CIGRE as it was on that occasion that it was transformed into a permanent Association.

How did it work previously? - Until then, it had neither Headquarters nor Offices, nor even its own Staff or offices in France, but those of the "Union des Syndicats de l'Électricité", whose General Secretary was also its own, its Staff was that of some friendly groups which also like "Union des Syndicats de l'Électricité" had one and the same General Secretary.

Each Convention elected during its Opening Ceremony a General Secretary and some persons who formed its "bureau" and who re-elected from convention to Convention, were maintained permanently in Office and organized the Congresses.

The finances were also very imperfectly established. The expenses of a Convention were never covered by the receipts and the deficit was only made up by subsidies granted by some Associations in various countries.

Such a situation could not last and since it was the common desire to make CIGRE a permanent Institution, it was necessary to give it an organization likewise permanent.

It was for this reason that on June the 18th, 1931 in the course of the 7th Convention, there was founded an Association having a legal existence and governed by the French Act of July the 1st, 1901.

The 13 friends of CIGRE who thus met on that 18th of June, 1931 and who were all members of the 1st Convention were: Messrs BAKKER, BARBAGELATA, BAUER, BROCK, DREWNOWSKI, DUQUESNE, LIST, NORBERG SCHULZ, PERROCHET, TRIBOT-LASPIÈRE, ULRICH, WILCZEK and WOODHOUSE. They were the first 13 permanent Members of CIGRE and who were joined on the same day by Messrs ATTWOOD, BORGQUIST, BUDEANU, DEL BUNONO, BUSILA, MONTANES.

The President of the Association was immediately and unanimously elected in the person of Mr ULRICH who had presided over the two preceding Conventions, 1927 and 1929, and who was to be in this Office until his sudden death on the first August of 1933.

The Association

The Statutes of the Association have not changed since 1931:

It is an Association of persons and not a Federation of National Groups, still less a Federation of Countries. Every political question is thus eliminated: each Member represents himself only, acts and discusses in the meetings with full independence and, full liberty. He is only requested to be competent.

It is governed by the General Assembly of all its Members, who meet every two years and who, between two successive Conventions, elect an Administrative Council which acts through its President and its General Delegate. A very simple organization.

All powers are vested in the Council. It is the Council which draws up the Rules of the Convention and of the Study Committees, appoints the Chairmen and Members of these Committees. lt is the Council which administers the funds of the Association, the accounts of which, according to the French Law and custom, are controlled by the General Assembly itself, which appoints for this object three Honorary Treasurers (Commissaires aux Comptes), responsible only to it.

Nothing of this has been changed since 1931. The only modification which has been applied concerns the categories of the Members of the Association. In the beginning there were three categories : personal (individual), ordinary (industrial or commercial societies) and collective (Associations, Public Authorities and other groups). But practically speaking, two categories only seem sufficient and the category of ordinary Members was suppressed by the General Assembly of 1948.

The rate of the membership fees which was in the beginning of 1931 75 and 250 f. respectively for the personal and collective members has had to be increased several times and it is at present 1 000 and 10 000 f. respectively. 
The General Assemblies of July the 3rd, 1946, June the 28th, 1948 and July the 5th, 1950, have moreover given the council, all powers for modifying them again if necessary. 

Utility of the Association - Number of permanent Members

The main object of the Association is to obtain for CIGRE the resources which are necessary. The CIGRE has absolutely no other resources than the annual membership fees of its Members and receives no subsidy of any kind whatever. It is then completely independent and exists only by its own means alone. But on the other hand, it is indispensable for it to have as high a number of permanent members as possible. This necessity has been very well recognized: the number of its permanent Members which reached 500 in 1939 has increased progressively from 510 on December 1945 to 1 598 on December 31, 1950.


1933 Convention

This Convention was the last one presided over by Mr Marcel ULRICH who died suddendy on August 1, that is to say some weeks after the Convention had concluded. Mr Marcel ULRICH who had in France an industrial standing of the first order, had begun in May 1932, when he was elected deputé, a political carrier which, by common opinion, was to lead him rapidly towards a higher destiny. He was for the CIGRE a remarkable President who deserved the esteem and affection of all by the personal charm of his manners. 
In 1933, the existence of CIGRE was solidly established. Its relations with the other International Organizations were comple­tely clear and its internal structure was practically completed. 
The Convention was held from June 16 to 24 in the Salle Hoche. 

It gathered 751 Members who came from 31 countries. 131 papers were presented and the second General Assembly of the Association took place on June 18.

1934 - Election of Mr Mercier

It was in 1934 at the begin­ning of the year that the Administrative Council elected as President, Mr E. MERCIER as the successor to Mr Marcel ULRICH. 

A remarkable technician, Mr MERCIER had carried out several great achievements especially the Union d'Électricité. He was one of the founders of the French E.H.V. Network. He brought to the CIGRE not only an incomparable personal prestige but also numerous international connections which greatly helped the CIGRE. The latter will remain deeply grateful to him for having given to it a 14 years' presidency which is considered of exceptional value.

1935 and 1937 Conventions

The 1935 and 1937 Conventions saw the ever increasing success of CIGRE. They gathered respec­tively 834 and 871 Members who came from 46 and 41 countries and from the five continents. The number of papers reached 176 in 1935: the authors showed thus the importance which they attached by reserving for the CIGRE the first fruit of their work but such a number was much too high: it made the discussions insufficiently complete or even impossible and caused very considerable printing expenses which severely shook the financial basis of the Association. It is for this reason that the Administrative Council decided after the Convention to accept henceforth only about 100 papers, which was not respected subsequently. 
On July 3, 1935 and June 25, 1937, the 3rd and 4th General Assemblies of the Association were held.

1939 Convention

It was in 1939 that the CIGRE met for the first time at Fondation Berthelot, 28 bis, rue Saint-Dominique as the Salle Hoche had became in its turn too small for the increasing number of Delegates. The number of delegates was for the first time slightly smaller and was only 814 as compared with 871 for the previous Convention, this decrease being due to the world economic crisis and to the growing threat of war. It was with a visible feeling of anguish that the members of the Convention took leave of one another on July 8, wondering whether it would be possible to hold a next Conven­tion in 1941 and if they would ever meet again. Less than two months later, the second world war broke out.


During the War 1939-1945, the CIGRE was naturally obliged to suspend its activities. The Proceedings of the 1939 Convention were drawn up as usual and published at the beginning of 1946, then all activity ceased.. 
This war period might have been fatal to the CIGRE but its Pre­sident, Mr E. MERCIER watched over it. Thanks to him and to generous assistance given to him by Cigrean friends, the CIGRE obtained during each of the years 1941 to 1945 the subsidies neces­sary to enable it to keep the principal Members of its Staff and thanks to them it could resume its work without difficulty imme­diately after the war had ended. The only loss it suffered was the destruction of part of its archives during a  bombardment in the course of which a lady typist was injured.


The war ended on May 8, 1945. From the early days of June two telegrams followed by a number of letters asked the President to resume the work of the CIGRE. One might wonder whether seven years of war would not have put an end to the CIGRE: nothing of the sort since its revival was asked for by certain of its Members as soon as the hostilities had ceased. 
Complying with the wish expressed to him, Mr E. MERCIER called a meeting of the Administrative council as soon as interna­tional connections were re-established and a stay in Paris was made possible. He suggested to call together at the same time a certain number of experts  who were capable of giving the Council useful advice on the resumption of the work. Mr MERCIER was expecting some Members of the Council only but 15 were present or represented. He was expecting a dozen experts... 64 came. 

The meetings of the Council were held on November 14 and 16, 1945, and that of the experts on November 15. AIl these meetings were held at the Cercle Interallié and led to a certain number of decisions, thanks to which, it was possible to prepare, although within a very short period, the 11th Convention, that of 1946. 

Thus, of all the great International Associations the CIGRE was the first to resume its pre-war activities. 

To be continued...

Centennial Celebration

During the celebration of CIGRE’s centennial, each issue of Electra will feature a short article on our organization’s history and development.

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