Werner von Siemens (1816–92)

Siemens was the imaginative founder of an electrical company that came to be the largest in Germany, and that from its beginnings was an international concern.

Born at Lenthe near Hanover, he trained as an engineer while undertaking military service. He patented a pointer telegraph, that enabled messages to be sent by telegraph without using Morse code, and an electro-plating process for which his brother, Carl Wilhelm Siemens, sought markets in England. In 1847 he founded the ‘Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens und Halske’ to manufacture his pointer telegraph.

His younger brother Carl von Siemens (1829-1906) developed a subsidiary company in Russia from 1855, and C W Siemens founded a British branch in 1858. Siemens was responsible for the laying of long distance cables that enable inter-continental telegraphic communication, that between London and Calcutta being one of the first. He discovered the principle of the dynamo in 1866, and played a significant role in the development of electric traction, building a locomotive, now in the Duetsches Museum, Munich, that pulled passengers along a 277 m long track at the Berlin exhibition of 1877, and building the first trolley bus in 1882. His moving coil transducer, patented in 1877, was adopted as a loudspeaker in the Bell telephone system in the 1920s.

He was succeeded in the management of the company by Carl Siemens, and subsequently by other members of the family. The company’s principal base was in Berlin, where a new manufacturing, research and administrative complex was built from 1898 on a site subsequently named Siemenstadt, between Charlottenburg and Spandau. The works museum, founded in 1922, moved with the company after the Second World War to Munich, where company archives can be studied at the Werner von Siemens Institute of Siemens Corporate and Technical History.