A short history of CIGRE - part 3

This article has been published for the first time in December 1951, Edition ELECTRA N.11.
Written by J. Tribot-Laspière, General Delegate of the CIGRE


The interpretation during the meetings is at the same time a capital and terribly difficult problem. It was kindly done during the first two Conventions by some members of the Convention, but since 1925 there appeared on the platform a man appreciated and admired by all Cigreans : I mean Mr R.A. Mc MAHON, who, thanks to his exceptional competence and qualities, took on himself the interpretation during all the meetings and thus performed with an extraordinary perfection one of the hardest and more essential duties of the Convention. It is not too much to say here that Mr Mc MAHON contributed more than any other to the growing success of the CIGRE. 

In the course of 9 Conventions he carried out the growing task of the interpretation, sometimes at the expense of his own health: the CIGRE and all Cigreans desire to express here once more their deepest and most sincere gratitude. 

But there are limits ta devotedness and a time comes when the task exceeds a man's strength. The CIGRE then appealed to other friends who took their part in this difficult duty in 1948 and 1950. The gratitude of CIGRE is also extended to them. 

The problem has become more arduous as the number of simultaneous meetings during a Convention is continuously increasing hence the necessity of having more interpreters than in the past. Frankly the CIGRE is not quite sure to be able to solve it. 

There were two interpreters from 1921 to 1925, only one (Mr McMAHON) from 1925 to 1946 and nine in 1948 and 1950. For 1952, because of the great number of simultaneous meetings, 16 interpreters will be necessary to insure a perfect interpretation, and in any case 12 at least, if 3 of them would accept such a heavy burden. 

Will it be possible to find these 16 or even these 12 interpreters upon whom the efficiency of the Convention will depend? The question is put: the friends of the CIGRE alone can answer it.

Simultaneity of the meetings

Until the 1946 Convention there had been one meeting at a time: any member of the Conven­tion who wished, could then attend all the meetings, take part in all the discussions and have a general idea of all the technique in a few days.

Such was the wish of the founders of the CIGRE. It was exactly complied with in the course of the first 11 Conventions.

But in this case of one meeting at a time, it had become necessary to limit strictly the number of the hours devoted to each great subject, so that no meeting could overlap the following, a thing which sometimes happened. There came a day when, owing to the abundance of the questions to be discussed, it became impossible to devote half-a-day only to each great question. A whole day had to be consecrated to each of these questions and, since the duration of a Convention was obligatorily fixed at 10 days, simul­taneous meetings became a necessity.

A first trial was made timidly at the 1948 Convention: two simul­taneous meetings were held on June 26 and two others on July 1.

More extensive trials were made at the 1950 Convention : during six half-days there were two simultaneous meetings, so that a full day, not a half-day only as previously, was devoted to network stability, to the E. H. V. alternative current power transmission, to circuit breakers, to overhead lines, and a half-day was devoted to some questions to which half-a-meeting only was previously consecrated.

Such trials were considered conclusive and it has been decided that in 1952 there will be at the same time two discussion meetings during almost the whole Convention.

This organization of simultaneous meetings, which has become inevitable and which certainly improves the organization of the Conventions, presents for CIGRE very serious difficulties, not only as regards the bilingual staff which is rather difficult to be obtained and whose number must be increased, but more especially as regards the interpreters : this latter difficulty is such that one wonders how it can be solved. 


The number of papers presented before the CIGRE Conventions has grown as follows: 

1921 64
1923 49
1925 99
1927 77
1929 75
1931 100
1933 131
1935 176
1937 119
1939 116
1946 107
1948 125
1950 144

The diminution of 1927 and 1929 was due to the world crisis at that time and the 176 papers of 1935 formed a peak which the Council decided should be avoided in future. It seems desirable that the number of the papers presented before a Convention should not, in any circumstances, be higher than 100. 

The printing and the translation of the papers as well as their distribution to the Delegates is one of the heaviest duties of CIGRE. For the 1950 Convention, for instance, its was necessary to print, to translate and to distribute within less than 6 months 2 648 pages in French and as many in English, all of them abundantly illustrated.

For the very early Conventions and as no fixed rule existed, the greatest liberties were taken by the authors and at such Convention it happened that a certain number of manuscripts - 18 out of 99 in 1925 - was brought to the CIGRE Secretariate by the authors when they arrived at the Convention. 

The members of the 1923 and 1925 Conventions made justified complaints to those negligent colleagues and the 1925 Convention in its second resolution directed the "Bureau" to prepare without delay some Rules "which would be rigorously applied so that too great a number of authors be prevented from sending their papers so late as to make it impossible for CIGRE Secretariate to print and distribute them in due time".

But this decision was not of great effect and the 1927 Convention was obliged to state "that in spite of the insistence of CIGRE, the authors sent their papers so long after the closing date for receiving them that the already difficult organization of the work was uselessly complicated". 

It is for this reason that at the 1929 Convention, some simple pres­criptions, very simple but very firm, were laid down, which have been since then the basis of the Rules concerning papers. 

Since that time there have existed Rules concerning the papers, but patience was necessary before these Rules were applied. The situation became better and better and the proportion of the papers which could be sent in advance to the members of the Convention, a proportion which was 58% only in 1933, reached 80% in 1939. It reached 100% for the first time in 1948, that is to say after 25 years of efforts, and for this Convention, thanks to the diligence and the willingness of the authors and of the National Committees, the full number of the papers, the number of which reached however 125, were sent out on May 20, in English as well as in French, to all the Delegates registered by that date.

This proportion of 100% was reached also in 1950, a year in which the full set of the 144 papers was forwarded on May 15 in English as well as in French. 

It seems only right to thank not only the authors and the National Committees but also the translators and the printers for the efforts which they too were obliged to make on these two occasions. 

It is to be hoped that the forwarding of 100% of the papers 5 or 6 weeks in advance will continue to be maintained in the future, perhaps it is possible to hope that it will be improved, such a result depends only upon the authors. 

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Regular participation in the Conventions

In 1948, a reckoning was made of those of the members of the Convention who had previously attended one or several Conventions of CIGRE and it was stated that out of 1 144 delegates 68% had already attended one or several of the previous Conventions. 

Another reckoning had been made for the 1933 Convention and had shown that out of 751 delegates 73% had already attended one or several previous Conventions: 

Attended the Convention for the first time 204
Having previously attended 1 Convention 130 547
Having previously attended 2 Conventions 118
Having previously attended 3 Conventions 107
Having previously attended 4 Conventions 84
Having previously attended 5 Conventions 69
Having previously attended 6 Conventions 39

The CIGRE is consequently formed of an important part of cons­tant participants who are desirous of maintaining their personal acquaintances, who appreciate the unchanging traditions and orga­nization of the Conventions, who take part in a continuous work, in a methodical and permanent study of the same questions : that must certainly be one of the reasons which have made, and will ever guarantee the well-known efficiency and value of the CIGRE Con­ventions. 


At present the use of English and French is absolutely general in CIGRE. No document is published in one of the two languages without being published also in the other. The papers and documents of the International Study Committees, the papers presented before the Conventions, and the Proceedings of the latter, are printed also in both languages. The whole corres­pondence is received or written in that of the two languages which the correspondent prefers. During the meeting a speaker is free at will to speak either in English or in French and the whole Secre­tariate is also bilingual. 

But it has not always been so, and to reach this end, a certain length of time was necessary. 

In 1921 and 1923 almost all the papers had been presented in French only and the 1923 Convention expressed the wish that for future Conventions the papers be written both in English and in French.

The situation was improved little by little and from 1927 it became possible to publish in both languages the full set of the papers pre­sented. Since that time it has always been so. 

But the full Proceedings of a Convention in three volumes, such as they are at present, have been published both in English and in French only since the 1946 Convention as it was from that year that the number of the subscriptions received for the English version made it possible to cover the enormous expenses which such an edition entails. The subscriptions for the French version have always been numerous enough to guarantee this edition regularly. 

If we compare the above lines with the fore-going information concerning the translation and the interpretation difficulties, we can form some idea of the problems to be solved in order to obtain the complete bilingualism in an International Organization like CIGRE. Those who have had, and still have, to solve these pro­blems daily can alone appreciate the importance of these problems (not to speak of the financial difficulties). 


I did not think on March 21, 1921, when I "invented" CIGRE, that it would reach its present state. It is formed of 1600 permanent members from 40 countries, 32 National Committees and 17 Study Committees. More than 3000 engineers from the five continents took part in its Conventions and it counts among its members a number of the most prominent high tension specialist. 

As conclusion, I think it is possible to say that CIGRE, thanks to its special organisation, leads us further than the most ordinary congresses, and that it constitutes a wide international technical commission having a permanent activity. 

Thanks to its strictly limited and defined programme, thanks to the short interval between its Conventions (other congresses meet generally every 3 or 4 years at least), it is fit to follow as closely as possible the improvements of the high tension technique, whatever may be the rapidity of these improvements.

Thanks to its special organisation, 70% of the attendants at one of its Conventions are the same as those at the previous meetings, as they desire not only to maintain their personal acquaintances but also to pursue private discussions or exchange of views and information with their colleagues from various countries. 

The CIGRE Conventions, which require one year's preparation and one year's liquidation, are not only valuable and enjoyable occasions to meet together. They are also the international centre where technical problems are periodically solved and which diffuses all over the world the improvements of the H. V. Technique.

CIGRE then has contributed, contributes and will continue to contribute powerfully to the advancement of the electrotechnical science and industry throughout the world and fully justifies what a 1948 Cigrean said about it: "If CIGRE did not exist, it would have to be created".

J. Tribot-Laspière
General Delegate and Vice-President of CIGRE

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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