Powerhouse Museum

Last updated

Powerhouse Museum
New South Wales Government Locomotive No. 1.jpg
Locomotive No. 1 in Powerhouse Turbine Hall
Location map Australia Sydney.png
Red pog.svg
Location within Sydney
Location Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Coordinates 33°52′40″S151°11′58″E / 33.877898°S 151.199573°E / -33.877898; 151.199573 Coordinates: 33°52′40″S151°11′58″E / 33.877898°S 151.199573°E / -33.877898; 151.199573
Type Technology museum
Public transit access
Website powerhousemuseum.com

The Powerhouse Museum is the major branch of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney, the other being the historic Sydney Observatory. Although often described as a science museum, the Powerhouse has a diverse collection encompassing all sorts of technology including decorative arts, science, communication, transport, costume, furniture, media, computer technology, space technology and steam engines.

Sydney City in New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

Sydney Observatory astronomical observatory in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The Sydney Observatory is a heritage-listed meteorological station, astronomical observatory, function venue, science museum, and education facility located on Observatory Hill at Upper Fort Street, in the inner city Sydney suburb of Millers Point in the City of Sydney local government area of New South Wales, Australia. It was designed by William Weaver (plans) and Alexander Dawson (supervision) and built from 1857 to 1859 by Charles Bingemann & Ebenezer Dewar. It is also known as The Sydney Observatory; Observatory; Fort Phillip; Windmill Hill; and Flagstaff Hill. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 22 December 2000.

Science museum museum devoted primarily to science

A science museum is a museum devoted primarily to science. Older science museums tended to concentrate on static displays of objects related to natural history, paleontology, geology, industry and industrial machinery, etc. Modern trends in museology have broadened the range of subject matter and introduced many interactive exhibits. Many if not most modern science museums – which increasingly refer to themselves as science centers or "discovery centers" – also emphasize technology, and are therefore also technology museums.


It has existed in various guises for over 125 years, and is home to some 400,000 artifacts, many of which are displayed or housed at the site it has occupied since 1988, and for which it is named – a converted electric tram power station in the Inner West suburb of Ultimo, originally constructed in 1902. It is well known, and a popular Sydney tourist destination.

Power station facility generating electric power

A power station, also referred to as a power plant or powerhouse and sometimes generating station or generating plant, is an industrial facility for the generation of electric power. Most power stations contain one or more generators, a rotating machine that converts mechanical power into electrical power. The relative motion between a magnetic field and a conductor creates an electrical current. The energy source harnessed to turn the generator varies widely. Most power stations in the world burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity. Others use nuclear power, but there is an increasing use of cleaner renewable sources such as solar, wind, wave and hydroelectric.

Ultimo, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Ultimo is an inner-city suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Ultimo is located 2 kilometres south-west of the Sydney central business district in the local government area of the City of Sydney.

The Powerhouse Museum may be relocated to Parramatta in the future. [1]

Parramatta Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Parramatta is a prominent suburb of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia, 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of the Sydney central business district on the banks of the Parramatta River. Parramatta is the administrative seat of the City of Parramatta and is often regarded as the second Central Business district of Sydney.


The Whitbread Engine steam engine designed by Boulton & Watt, England, 1784 SteamEngine Boulton&Watt 1784.png
The Whitbread Engine steam engine designed by Boulton & Watt, England, 1784

The Powerhouse Museum has its origins in a recommendation of the trustees of the Australian Museum in 1878 [2] and the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 and Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. Some exhibits from these events were kept to constitute the original collection of the new Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum of New South Wales. [3]

Melbourne International Exhibition (1880) exhibition held in 1880

The Melbourne International Exhibition is the eighth World's fair officially recognised by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) and the first official World's Fair in the Southern Hemisphere.

The museum was intended to be housed in the exhibition buildings known as the Garden Palace, which were destroyed by a fire in September 1882. A temporary home at the Agricultural Hall in the Domain served until relocated to new, purpose-built premises in Harris Street as the Technological Museum in August 1893. It incorporated the Sydney Observatory in 1982. The museum moved to its present location (the old Ultimo Power Station at 500 Harris Street) in March 1988, and took its present name (The Powerhouse Museum) from this new location. In February 2015, the State Government controversially announced that the museum would be relocated to Parramatta, [4] [5] however this plan is now under review. [6] On 18 July 2017, the Nine Network reported that the Powerhouse Museum would stay in its current location, [7] [8] and an announcement from the NSW government in April 2017 suggested that the Powerhouse Museum may stay in its current location. [9]

Garden Palace

The Garden Palace was a large, purpose-built exhibition building constructed to house the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879 in Sydney, Australia. It was designed by James Barnet and constructed by John Young, at a cost of ₤191,800 in only eight months. This was largely due to the importation from England of electric lighting, which enabled work to be carried out around the clock.

Harris Street street in Ultimo, Sydney

Harris Street is the main thoroughfare in the inner western suburbs of Ultimo and Pyrmont in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It runs from Broadway in the south to the northern tip of the Pyrmont peninsula. Harris Street was formerly lined by industrial sites such as the Ultimo Power Station, Ultimo Tram Depot and the Government Printing Office. However, redevelopment of Pyrmont from a largely industrial suburb to a more residential and commercial precinct has seen the University of Technology, Sydney and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation call Harris Street home. Until the late 1950s electric trams ran down the length of Harris Street, when they were replaced by a government bus service.

The Ultimo Power Station, or Ultimo Powerhouse, was an electricity generating plant located in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Ultimo, New South Wales. Commissioned in 1899, it was the first major power station in Sydney and was originally built to supply power for the electric tram network. Prior to this, a small installation had existed at Regent Street, which was brought into use on 15 June 1882. Additionally, experimental electric tram operations powered by small generators had been in intermittent use in Sydney since 1890.

Key attractions

The Powerhouse Museum houses a number of unique exhibits including the oldest operational rotative steam engine in the world, the Whitbread Engine. Dating from 1785, it is one of only a handful remaining that was built by Boulton and Watt and was acquired from Whitbread's London Brewery in 1888. [10] This engine was named a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1986. [11]

Whitbread Engine

The Whitbread Engine preserved in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, built in 1785, is one of the first rotative steam engines ever built, and is the oldest surviving. A rotative engine is a type of beam engine where the reciprocating motion of the beam is converted to rotary motion, producing a continuous power source suitable for driving machinery.

Boulton & Watt was an early British engineering and manufacturing firm in the business of designing and making marine and stationary steam engines. Founded in the English West Midlands around Birmingham in 1775 as a partnership between the English manufacturer Matthew Boulton and the Scottish engineer James Watt, the firm had a major role in the Industrial Revolution and grew to be a major producer of steam engines in the 19th century.

Another important exhibit is Locomotive No. 1, the first steam locomotive to haul a passenger train in New South Wales, built by Robert Stephenson & Company in 1854. [12] The most popular exhibit is arguably "The Strasburg Clock Model", built in 1887 by a 25-year-old Sydney watchmaker named Richard Smith. It is a working model of the famous Strasbourg astronomical clock in Strasbourg Cathedral (which at that time was called Strassburg or Strasburg). Smith had never actually seen the original when he built it but worked from a pamphlet which described its timekeeping and astronomical functions. [13]

Permanent exhibitions

The museum hosts a number of permanent exhibitions, including many concerning different modes of transport and communication.


Locomotive 1243 in Transport Hall Powerhouse Museum Locomotive 1243.jpg
Locomotive 1243 in Transport Hall

The transport exhibition looks at transport through the ages, from horse-drawn carts through steam engines, cars and planes to the latest hybrid technology. On display is Steam Locomotive No. 1243, which served for 87 years, oldest contractor built locomotive in Australia. It stands beside a mock-up of a railway platform, on the other side of which is the Governor of New South Wales's railway carriage, of the 1880s. Also in this exhibition is the original Central railway station destination board, relocated to the museum in the 1980s when the station was refurbished.

Powerhouse Museum restored the locomotives 3830, restored to operational order in 1997 and 3265, restored in 2009 after 40 years off the rails. Sydney's last Hansom Cab was donated to the Museum by its driver, who left it at the gates of the Harris Street building. There is also a horse-drawn bus and collection of motorbikes. Suspended aeroplanes, which can be better viewed from balconies, include the Catalina that Sir Patrick Gordon Taylor flew on the first flight from Australia to South America and in which he brought home 29 soldiers from New Guinea in 1945. There is also a Queenair Scout, the first Flying Doctor Service plane. Among the cars is a 1913 Sheffield Simplex, one of only 8 in the world. A four-minute film shows old footage of public transport. [14]

The Powerhouse Museum also has Sydney trams C11 (1898), O805 (1909), R1738 (1938. 1st of its type), steam tram motor 28A, hearse car 27s and Manly horse car 292.

Agricultural steam engine in Steam Revolution Exhibition Powerhouse Museum Horse-drawn fire engine, 1895.jpg
Agricultural steam engine in Steam Revolution Exhibition

The steam revolution

This exhibition is remarkable in that nearly all of the engines on display are fully operational and are regularly demonstrated working on steam power. Together with the Boulton and Watt engine, and the Museum's locomotives, steam truck and traction engines, they are a unique working collection tracing the development of steam power from the 1770s to the 1930s. Engines on display include an 1830s Maudslay engine, a Ransom and Jeffries agricultural engine and the Broken Hill Fire Brigade's horse-drawn pump-engine. The museum owns a collection of mechanical musical instruments, of which the fairground barrel organ is located in the steam exhibition, where it is powered by a small fairground engine. [15]


NASA Space suit Sydney PowerHouse Museum 06.JPG
NASA Space suit

The Space exhibition looks at space and discoveries relating to it. It includes a life size model space-shuttle cockpit. It has a feature on Australian satellites and joins the Transport exhibit through an underground temporary exhibit walkway and two side entrances. [16]

"EcoLogic": Creating a sustainable future

The "EcoLogic" exhibition focuses on the challenges facing the environment, human impact, and ways and technologies to stop this effect. There is a house setup called Ecohouse where people toggle light variables to see the outcome as well as other energy use simulators and a 'ecological footprint' game. The exhibition includes a section of a tree with a time line marked on its rings, dating back to the 17th century. [17]

Cyberworlds: computers and connections

The Cyberworlds exhibition is about computers and connections through them, and looks at the very first computing machines to the latest designs at the time of launch. [18]


"Experimentations" is a science exhibition and contains interactive displays demonstrating aspects of magnetism, light, electricity, motion and the senses. These include a machine that explains how chocolate is made and lets one taste four 'stages' of chocolate. There is a full-sized model of the front of a firetruck that measures the pedal-power used to sound its horn and lights, and a hand-powered model railway using a magnetic system to provide electric current to the track. One of the most popular features is a plasma ball that shows the electric current through the glowing gas inside it, and changes when touched. [19]

Temporary exhibitions

Various exhibitions have paid tribute to Australian popular culture. Some of these have included On the box: great moments in Australian television 1956-2006 [20] tribute to 50 years of Australian television and The 80s are back [21] which looks back at life in Australia in the 1980s.


Arts oriented exhibitions have included the Fabergé exhibition, the Treasures of Palestine [22] exhibition, the "Strictly Mardi Gras" exhibition, the Christian Dior exhibition, the Audrey Hepburn exhibition, Kylie: an exhibition [23] – a tribute to Kylie Minogue and her contribution to music, stage and screen, featuring many of her costumes. An exhibition about Diana, Princess of Wales, called Diana: a celebration [24] included items from the collection at her ancestral home, Althorp, including her wedding gown, family jewellery and movies of Diana as a child.

A Harry Potter: The Exhibition began on 19 November 2011. This exhibition has real costumes and sets from the eight Harry Potter movies including the golden snitch, Nimbus 2000 and the Firebolt broomsticks, and various artefacts from all of the main characters. It was a massive attraction and had to be extended. The exhibition closed on 9 April 2012.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Wiggles, The Wiggles' General Manager, Paul Field and Powerhouse Museum curator, Peter Cox created "The Wiggles Exhibition" and the exhibition opened in 2011 and was originally supposed to close in late 2013, however the exhibition has been renewed as one of the 'permanent exhibitions' of the Powerhouse Museum. The exhibition exhibits Wiggles memorabilia and merchandise, alongside some of The Cockroaches memorabilia, due to the fact that Anthony and Jeff were part of The Cockroaches before The Wiggles. The exhibition also features Wiggles costumes (for example, old skivvies) and props and items used in videos (for example, Jeff Wiggle puppet from various videos and TV episodes). There are also activities young children can enjoy such as, interactive painting, dancing, making roses and having a ride on the Big Red Car.

Cinema themed

Since 1988 the Powerhouse has hosted a number of large temporary exhibitions, including ones based on popular cinema franchises such as Star Trek , The Lord of the Rings , [25] and the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination [26] exhibition, showing models, props and costumes from all six Star Wars films, together with recent advances in technology that are turning fantasy into reality.

Museums Discovery Centre

Kookaburras from Tyrrell Photographic Collection Powerhouse Museum Collection - Kookaburras (pd).jpg
Kookaburras from Tyrrell Photographic Collection

Ninety five percent of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences collection is maintained in storage at any one time. Sixty percent of this was moved from late 2004 to a new three hectare site in the northwestern Sydney suburb of Castle Hill. Built at a cost of A$12 million, this facility consists of seven huge sheds, including one the size of an aircraft hangar, within which are housed such recently rediscovered artifacts as a section of the mast of HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the spare wheel from Bluebird, the car Donald Campbell drove to break the world land speed record on Lake Eyre in the 1960s. The Museums Discovery Centre at Castle Hill opened to the general public on 10 March 2006.

Merz Telescope

The Powerhouse Museum has a 7 1⁄2-inch Merz Telescope that was manufactured in 1860-1861. [27]

Related Research Articles

National Railway Museum Railway museum in York, England

The National Railway Museum (NRM) is a museum in York forming part of the British Science Museum Group of National Museums and telling the story of rail transport in Britain and its impact on society. It has won many awards, including the European Museum of the Year Award in 2001. It is the home of the national collection of historically significant railway vehicles, as well as a collection of other artefacts and both written and pictorial records.

Science and Industry Museum Science museum in Liverpool Road, Manchester

The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, England, is a large museum devoted to the development of science, technology and industry with emphasis on the city's achievements in these fields. The museum is part of the Science Museum Group, a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, having merged with the National Science Museum in 2012.

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Railroad museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is a railroad museum in Strasburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is a traveling exhibition created by the Museum of Science, Boston, featuring props and costumes used in the Star Wars films, but focusing primarily on the science behind George Lucas' science fiction epic. Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination was developed by Boston's Museum of Science, in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd., with the support of the National Science Foundation, under Grant No. 0307875. This exhibit is presented nationally by Bose Corporation.

Locomotive No. 1

Locomotive No. 1 hauled the first passenger train in New South Wales, Australia. It was built by Robert Stephenson and Company. In 1846 the Sydney Railway Company was formed with the objective of building a railway line between Sydney and Parramatta. No. 1 was one of four locomotives that arrived by sea from the manufacturer in January 1855. The first passenger train hauled by No. 1 was a special service from Sydney Station to Long Cove viaduct on 24 May 1855, Queen Victoria's birthday.

NSW Rail Museum Railway museum in New South Wales, Australia

The NSW Rail Museum is the main railway museum in New South Wales, Australia. A division of Transport Heritage NSW, it was previously known as the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum (NSWRTM) and Trainworks.

John Beard is a Welsh artist and painter born in Aberdare, Wales, he is now based in Sydney, Lisbon and London.

3830 preserved New South Wales C38 class locomotive

3830 is a 4-6-2 steam locomotive operated by the New South Wales Government Railways between 1949 and 1967. It has been preserved by the Powerhouse Museum and is based at the NSW Rail Museum, Thirlmere. It was operational from 1997 until 2009 and was scheduled to return to service in 2016 before the need for more extensive boiler repairs was discovered.

Augsburg Railway Park railway museum

The Augsburg Railway Park is a railway museum in Augsburg on part of the former Augsburg locomotive shed owned by the Deutsche Bahn. Following reconstruction work, the park officially reopened on 13 April 2009. In the future, 29 historic locomotives from the EU member countries and also Switzerland will be exhibited in the roundhouse and on the turntable, the so-called Europa Roundhouse, which are protected historical buildings. In addition to the roundhouse there are also three historical steam locomotive halls with a workshop atmosphere and a historical smithy.

The Powerhouse Museum's origins date to 1879, when the Sydney International Exhibition was held in the Garden Palace, a purpose-built exhibition building located in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens. At the conclusion of the Exhibition the Australian Museum appointed a committee to select the best exhibits, with the intention of exhibiting them permanently in a new museum to be sited within the Garden Palace. The new museum was to be called The Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum of New South Wales, and its purpose was to exhibit the latest industrial, construction and design innovations, with the intention of showing how improvements in the living standards and health of the population might be brought about.

Hunter Valley Steamfest

Hunter Valley Steamfest is one of the major events in the New South Wales steam locomotive season and also one of the major events held in Maitland, in the Hunter Region. Held over two days in April, it is usually attended by steam locomotives from the Canberra Railway Museum, Powerhouse Museum and Trainworks Railway Museum and railmotors from the Rail Motor Society.

White Rabbit Gallery Contemporary art museum in New South Wales, Australia

The White Rabbit Gallery is a contemporary art museum located in the inner city Sydney suburb of Chippendale, New South Wales, Australia, which exhibits selections from the White Rabbit Collection of 21st-century Chinese contemporary art. The collection, one of the largest of its kind in the world, is owned by Judith Neilson. The gallery was established by Neilson and her now-estranged husband, Kerr, to share the Collection with the public, and opened in 2009.

New South Wales X10 class locomotive

The X10 class is a class of steam locomotives previously operated by the New South Wales Government Railways of Australia.

Z1243 preserved Australian 4-4-0 locomotive

Locomotive 1243 is the oldest surviving locally built locomotive being one of the "Australian eight wheeler" locomotives built at the Atlas Engineering Company Works, Sydney for the expanding New South Wales Government Railways express passenger services.

New South Wales Z23 class locomotive class of 12 Australian 4-6-0 locomotives

The Z23 class was a class of steam locomotives built for the New South Wales Government Railways in Australia.

Sydney Steam Motor Tram

The Steam tram motors were built for and operated by the New South Wales Government Tramways of Australia.

Workshops Rail Museum Railway museum in North Ipswich Railway Workshops

The Workshops Rail Museum is a railway museum in Ipswich, Queensland located within the former North Ipswich Railway Workshops.

The Goods Line

The Goods Line is a linear park and pedestrian pathway approximately 800 metres long in the Sydney suburb of Ultimo. The corridor connects Railway Square to Darling Harbour and passes both the University of Technology Sydney and Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It terminates at the corner of Sussex and Hay Streets, Sydney.


  1. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-28/powerhouse-museum-to-open-in-parramatta-in-2023-with-planetarium/9706974
  2. "TECHNOLOGICAL MUSEUMS AND INSTRUCTION". The Sydney Morning Herald . National Library of Australia. 29 September 1880. p. 8. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  3. "The TECHNOLOGICAL, INDUSTRIAL, and SANITARY MUSEUM". The Sydney Morning Herald . National Library of Australia. 22 October 1880. p. 3. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  4. Fitzgerald, Deborah (26 November 2014). "Powerhouse Museum to move to Parramatta". Parramatta Advertiser . Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  5. "NSW election 2015: Sydney's Powerhouse Museum to move to Parramatta under Coalition plan". ABC News . Australia. 26 February 2015.
  6. Robertson, James (19 April 2017). "Government hints Powerhouse Museum may stay at Ultimo site". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  7. OKeefe, Chris (18 July 2017). "Parramatta to get two new arts venues in NSW government deal". Nine Network website. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  8. Taylor, Andrew (19 February 2016). "Culture wars: Powerhouse debate pits east against west". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  9. Robertson, James (19 April 2017). "Government hints Powerhouse Museum may stay at Ultimo site". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  10. "The Boulton and Watt engine". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  11. "Boulton & Watt Rotative Steam Engine (1785)". Landmarks. American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  12. "Locomotive No. 1". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  13. "Strasburg Clock". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  14. "Transport". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  15. "The steam revolution". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  16. "Space". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  17. "Ecologic: Creating a sustainable future". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  18. "Cyberworlds: computers and connections". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  19. "Experimentations". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  20. "On the box: great moments in Australian television 1956–2006". Powerhousemuseum.com. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  21. "The 80s Are Back – ended on 27 March 2011". Powerhouse Museum. 27 March 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  22. "Treasures of Palestine". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  23. "Kylie: An Exhibition". powerhousemuseum.com.
  24. "Diana: A Celebration – exhibition open 29 September 2007 to 4 May 2008 – Sydney, Australia". Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  25. "The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  26. "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination | closed on 26 April 2009". Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  27. "The Powerhouse Museum has a 7 1/2 inch Merz Telescope that was manufactured in 1860-1861" (PDF). Exhibitions. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.

Further reading