The shoulders of giants

The shoulders of giants

ABB Review is one of the world’s oldest corporate publications. First published in 1914, the publication pre-dates Time Magazine by nine years. Now reaching its 900th ­edition, ABB Review reflects on its remarkable journey.

Subscribe to ABB Review

Andreas Moglestue ABB Review Zürich, Switzerland

ABB (and its predecessor companies) have been involved in, if not lead, many groundbreaking developments stretching far beyond the company’s core area of activity. This spirit of pioneering and curiosity is reflected in achievements as diverse as creating the first synthetic diamonds [1], pioneering mobile communications [2], or advancing LCD displays [3].

Despite these salient illustrations of the company’s broad thinking and curiosity, most of the articles published in ABB Review cover fields of research and achivement that are closer to the company’s core business interests. The journal has documented how, over the years, successive innovations and breakthroughs transformed and reshaped technologies and products. The archives of ABB Review provide a unique window documenting these journeys. To strengthen this record and make it more accessible, most back issues of the journal have been scanned and are available online in a fully searchable format­ ( The editorial staff hope to make the remaining issues available shortly.

109 years of continuous publication
ABB Review was launched in 1914 by one of ABB’s predecessor companies, Brown, Boveri & Cie (BBC). The journal was initially published as “BBC Mitteilungen” (for the German-language version) and “Revue BBC” (for the French). English was added as a third language in 1922, and initially branded “The Brown Boveri Review”. This was later shortened to “Brown Boveri Review” →01.

01 ABB Review has regularly updated its design and layout. Here we see the first of every new design.

The very early issues were principally distributed to sales representatives across the globe to inform them of new products and ongoing developments. Already by the early 1920s there was a significant external readership driven by public interest in technological progress. The scope and style of articles developed to accommodate this interest, with research and technology-based content displacing pure product announcements.

In 1988, ASEA and BBC merged to form ABB. ASEA had its own technology journal, ASEA Review, which had been in publication since 1924 [4] →02. The two journals were consolidated to form ABB Review.

02 ASEA Review was first published in 1924 and was merged with Brown Boveri Review in 1988. It was not, however, ASEA’s only publication. It is predated by ASEA Egen Tidning (later renamed ASEA Tidning), which was first published in 1909, and featured a mix of technical and more generalist articles. Here is the cover of the 50th anniversary edition.
02 ASEA Review was first published in 1924 and was merged with Brown Boveri Review in 1988. It was not, however, ASEA’s only publication. It is predated by ASEA Egen Tidning (later renamed ASEA Tidning), which was first published in 1909, and featured a mix of technical and more generalist articles. Here is the cover of the 50th anniversary edition.

Now entering its 110th year of continuous publication, ABB Review is, as far as its staff can ascertain, the world’s oldest surviving corporate publication. Its launch is predated by other corporate publications, but as far as could be identified, none of these is still in production. Even in the world of newsprint in general, while far from ranking among the oldest, ABB Review still predates many great names. It was already nine years old, for example, when Time Magazine was launched, and predates Reader’s Digest by eight years.

ABB Review prides itself as being written “by engineers, for engineers”. Authors, are for the most part, engineers and scientists from the forefront of research. Readership ranges from staff in customer organizations to the press and academia, as well as technologically interested members of the public at large. Many engineers presently working for ABB first learnt of or became interested in the company by reading the journal as a student. Numerous articles are reprinted in the trade press and even used as course material in universities.

In line with trends in aesthetics and typography, the journal underwent several visual changes over the years →01. ABB Review was also an early adopter of color printing, with the first color cover appearing in 1951. Color was gradually adopted in the inside pages later.

Throughout its history, the main appeal of ABB Review has arguably been that although it obviously serves corporate interests, the style and tone has always been objective and deeply informative. The journal has always placed scientific integrity and satisfying the curiosity of its readers before direct marketing interests. The appropriateness and success of this policy is reflected in the interest and support of readers. It is a compliment to the journals’ appeal that the most frequent readership query received by the editorial team is “when will I receive the next edition?”

The languages in which ABB Review has been offered have fluctuated over the years. At times there have been French, Spanish, Russian and Swedish editions. Today the journal is offered in English, German and Chinese (the Chinese edition is presently distributed in electronic form only, whereas English and German are available in both print and electronic formats).

03 Every 100th edition from edition 1 to edition 500. Please click here to see the entire issues in the ABB library: 
1st edition ABB Review 1/1914 
100th edition ABB Review 2/1923
200th edition ABB Review 6/1931
300th edition ABB Review 1/1942
400th edition ABB Review 10/1954
500th edition ABB Review 6-7/1966

The frequency of publication has also varied over the years. In the early decades, twelve editions were published per annum. In later years this varied between three and twelve. The present rate of four annual editions has been maintained since 2000. In the days of 12 editions per year, it took a little over eight years to publish 100 issues →03-04. A recent readership survey [5] confirmed that the vast majority of readers are happy with four editions per year which, if that continues, the 1,000th edition will be published in 2048.

04 Every 100th issue from issue 600 to issue 900. Please click here to see the entire issues in the ABB library:
600th edition ABB Review 9/1976
700th edition ABB Review 7/1986
800th edition ABB Review 3/1998
900th edition ABB Review 1/2023

At the service of research
Scientific curiosity almost always builds on the hard work and achievements of earlier researchers. Sir Isaac Newton, arguably one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, humbly admitted “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” 1).

In order to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants, we must be able to access what they wrote in their own words – independently of whether they were, scientifically-speaking, right or wrong, or whether their contributions are still valid or have since been eclipsed or disproven. This is true in engineering and applied sciences as much as it is in purely theoretical research. Contrary to the narrative at times promoted in the popular press, science is not about blindly trusting expertise. Science is about logical discourse, questions, and objectively challenging one’s own work and that of others. A written and unchangeable record of previous contributions is paramount to creating the framework for such a discourse. Scientific results can be refuted at any time and theories challenged or adapted in the light of later research and interpretations, but if the claims and results these theories build on have not been recorded for posterity, any comments, observations or derivative research is without context, and in many cases, meaningless.

Newton’s mechanics, for example, have long ago been superseded by Einstein’s. Just as Newton could humbly admit to standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, Einstein undeniably stood on Newton’s shoulders. Nevertheless, Newton’s theories are still relevant and used today, and without them it would be much more challenging to understand Einstein.

Thinking digital
The digital world makes it easier than ever before to disseminate and find information. An Internet search engine can, in fractions of a second, throw up documents that previously might have evaded years of combing through libraries. The Internet has been an unprecedented driver in the democratization of knowledge. ABB Review is today very much part of the digital world, having been available online since 2001.

That said, online records lack the permanence of written records. How many web links of 20 or even 10 years ago still work today? Some of those sources may have been relocated to other addresses, and – given enough patience – can be located through further searches. Many web pages, on the other hand, may be lost forever as the sites that hosted them are orphaned or deleted.

Underlining the authority and reputation that the journal enjoys, articles from ABB Review are frequently cited in scientific and technical literature. Figures and diagrams are also regularly re-used in books and other publications. ABB is always pleased to approve such requests, recognizing that they underpin the authority of the journal.

To facilitate such citations, the online pdf edition of ABB Review has identical content, pagination and page layout to the print edition. Citations thus do not need to differentiate between the print and pdf versions.

Despite its committal to the authoritative print (and pdf) edition, ABB Review is equally committed to more fully embracing the opportunities and possibilities of digital communication. The most recent readership survey [5] confirmed that readers are overwhelmingly satisfied with the journal’s content and quality. It also revealed there is demand for more digital material. ABB Review is responding to this and will be testing various digital features and formats over the next few issues.

Change and evolution
The upcoming modifications will be far from the first time ABB Review adapted in the course of its long history. The company has undergone many changes in direction, portfolio and emphasis. ABB has lived through and played an important role in driving three of the four industrial revolutions – the second, electrification, the third, digitalization, and the presently ongoing fourth revolution being interconnectivity and artificial intelligence. Each of these revolutions has fundamentally changed the way industry operates. ABB Review has accompanied and evolved with these changes and looks forward to continuing to support researchers, industry and all those with an interest in technology over many more years to come. 

1) When Newton wrote this in 1675, he was probably quoting the French philosopher, Bernard de Chartres, who according to John of Salisbury, said as early as 1159, “we are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants.” See also. “The meaning and origin of the expression: Standing on the shoulders of giants.” Available: [Accessed October 27, 2022]

[1] A. Johnson, “Brainforce one, 100 years of ABB’s first Corporate Research Center”, ABB Review 3/2016, pp. 13 – 15.
[2] D. Dzung, A. Moglestue, “Wireless but connected”, ABB Review 4/2017, pp. 64 – 65.
[3] A. Moglestue, “The wristwatch connection, BBC’s contribution to the LCD”, ABB Review 2/2014, p. 12.
[4] A. Moglestue, “From the ASEA archives, Looking back on more than a century in print”, ABB Review 1/2015, pp. 62 – 66.
[5] A. Moglestue, “Readership trends, Results of the 2022 readership survey”, ABB Review 4/2022, pp. 66 – 67.
Title picture p. 09: ©Andrea Izzotti/, ©Hayati Kayhan/ Composing by Publik. Agentur für Kommunikation GmbH


Contact us


Share this article

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter WhatsApp