September 08, 2009

Franz Gsellmann, Weltmaschine/World Machine

all pictures (Flickr, may 2008) courtesy of gernotp

In retrospect, the Atomium, symbol and landmark of the Brussels 1958 World Exposition, can be seen as marking the beginning of an era of unbelievable technological development.

Life and works

For Franz Gsellmann (1910-1981) the image of the Atomium must have been an eye-opener. He was born in the small community of Edelsbach, in the Steiermark-area in Austria, and since 1939 he took care of the family farm. As a young man he may have dreamed about a job of a more technological nature, fascinated as he was by electricity and electrical devices, but he had to succeed his father on the farm.

However, when in 1958 in a journal he saw a picture of the Atomium, without any hesitation he took the train to Brussels to see it in reality. He came back with a model of the Atomium, emptied a room of the farm, situated the model there and started constructing a kinetic art environment around it.

The first eight years he kept secret what he was doing. Even his family did not know about his  constructive activities and they must have wondered about his whereabouts when he was away from home visiting junk yards, second-hand dealers and flee markets to obtain devices he could use in his installation.


Gsellmann has been working for more than twenty years on his creation. It ultimately became a 6 m long, 3 m high and 2 m wide construction, with 25 electric motors to make devices turn around, a lot of lamps to illuminate the construction, and whistles that blow at will.

Painted in bright colors, the installation all together presented a happy, cheerful merry-go-round world

In 1968 Gsellmann for the first time put his machine into operation, but it used so much power that all supply of electricity to the village collapsed, putting all villagers in the dark.

In 1972 the installation got publicity in the local and regional press and from that moment on visitors began to flock.

Gsellmann died in 1981. It has been reported (by the family) that shortly before Gsellmann said he considered his creation as being completed

The site nowadays

Currently the site is well maintained. Gsellmann's grandson, who also is named Franz and who is in his 30's, takes care of the environment and he is doing fine. A number of sponsors contribute to its maintenance and occasional restoration, there is a nice website and interesting adjacent activities take place.

So, for example, it's just fascinating to learn that in 2008, when it was celebrated that fifty years earlier Gsellmann began his creation, a music composition by Peter Lackner was executed named Kanon für A, O & Gsellmanns Weltmaschine (A and O standing for alpha and omega, see picture above)

Festivities galore: in 2010 it was commemorated that Gsellmann was born a 100 years earlier..

Currently this kinetic art environment has become a touristic attraction, visited by some 10.000 people yearly and the number is growing.

* Official website
Klaus Ferentschik, Weltmaschinen Roman, Berlin (Matthes & Seitz), 2008, kind of a biography.
* Article (2008) in Spiegel online (in German)
* Article (2012) on SPACES website 
* The Weltmaschine in action on a video by Christian Eich (You Tube, 7'50", uploaded june 2014)

first published aug 2009, last revised june 2019

Franz Gsellmann
Kaag 12
8332 Edelsbach, Steiermark, Austria
can be visited daily, 10-17, except Tuesdays


  1. Dear henk:
    I have been very busy, but finally got the time to visit your blog, and what a good luck i have to find another extraordinary post. What a beautiful machine, a non purpose machine, since a practical or industrial point of view, a machine for producing colors, would be the way i would name it. What is better is to hear either that Mr. Gsellmann managed to end his work and thathis grandson is looking after his grandfather legacy. What a romantic history lies behind the making of that device, it is not rare to know that have been the source of inspiration for some others. Maybe it was not intended to produce any kind of merchandise, but it was success in producing something more valuable, joy for its creator and for those like who stare at it working right, as an adult toy, a childhood dream came true. Regards.

  2. Hi Alberto OLiver,
    Doing the research for this post I came alomg comments of people who asked what the meaning of this machine would be, beacsue in their opinion it would not produce anything.... so they thought it to be useless.
    Well, from a point of view of capitalist ecnomy the machine indeed produces "nothing" (really No Thing).
    But for me, the machine is there as a creative construct, producing colours, sounds, good feelings, even moments of happiness, like you say: a dream come true.
    Thanks for the comments, have a good weekend.