Yesterday an interesting post popped up on Facebook from a German electrician. He actually stumbled across an FPE StabLok unit complete with German (as well as English, French and Italian) factory label, rated 220/380 V 3ph and the MCBs labelled with European trip curves (L and H from what I can decipher). Today there was another post on an American-style box in the same area, this one without the cover, clearly showing an aftermarket main switch and an incoming mains cable with old (pre-1965) German colours. None of the buildings were linked to US facilities in any way.
I wonder if those are just as bad as the ones for the US market! Obviously they must have been produced separately as H and L trip curves didn't exist in the US so they might be more reliable but who knows?
There seems to be an "FPE Schaltgeräte GmBH" in Karlsruhe, Germany listed on the label but no indication of the actual production. It's a bit hard to read since the picture is so small. I googled that name and actually found an extract from a 1962 address directory that includes an ad for FPE. According to that full-page ad the Stab Lok MCBs were actually produced in Germany for the entire European market, production began in 1959.
Despite their claims on successful marketing FPE was never actually common in Europe. In fact I've only ever seen two FPE Stab Lok panels in Europe! According to the electrician who posted the picture on Facebook FPE was for some odd reason popular in a small area of Germany a few hundred kilometres north of the FPE factory. Maybe a local wholesaler there was in touch with FPE and got good prices!
We had Federal Electric breakers and panels here in the UK in the 1980s - I installed a good few at the time. I assume this is the same company as FPE, as they used the Stab Lok system. They were not that popular and vanished pretty quickly. I think the main distributor was City Electrical Factors. It's now almost impossible to find breakers it seems.
Maybe there was a US military base in that area? But that would imply that someone imported FPE stuff into Germany, not the stuff having been made in Germany...
Well the ads clearly claim that they actually manufactured in Germany so I don't think there's any direct relation to the US military. The buildings where those pictures were taken weren't related to the army either.
I wonder where the equipment for the UK market came from!
The second picture seems to show "half-size" ones, these are two different boards. The second one has obviously been modified to accept a standard DIN-rail main switch.
If you google "Federal Electric UK" you'll find plenty of pictures. Apparently they had a plant in Telford well into the mid-1990s when production was taken over by/renamed to Square D and then Schneider.
Reports on the internet seem to indicate that the UK MCBs might not suffer from the same issues as the US-made 2-pole ones but partial or total bus meltdown appears to be very common.
And yes, there is an essential difference in the distribution systems used in the US and most of Europe. The majoritiy of European countries uses single-phase two-wire (derived from three-phase four-wire systems) or three-phase four-wire systems operating at nominal 230/400 V or back in the days of FPE/Federal Electric at 220/380 V on the continent and in Ireland and 240/415 V in the UK. Two-pole MCBs were essentially useless in Europe but three-pole ones fairly common, especially in Germany where even everyday loads such as domestic cookers are three-phase loads (usually two rings per phase and the third phase for the oven, all heating elements connected L - N).
FPE Germany (or another yet unknown branch) not only produced MCBs and enclosures though. Yesterday I rummaged through an old box with plugs and trailing sockets and stumbled across a big metal three-phase plug made of die-cast aluminium (15 A/380 V) with the FPE logo! Interestingly the only approval mark is ÖVE, i.e. either this specific type of connector was only standardised in Austria or it was made by a yet unknown Austrian branch of FPE.