Even before Werner von Siemens founded “Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske” in Berlin in 1847, he began marketing his inventions in the United Kingdom. As early as 1843, he sent his brother Wilhelm (officially William as of 1859) to London with instructions to patent an electrolytic method of gold and silver plating he had patented in Prussia. One year later, in 1844, Wilhelm settled permanently in London as a “civil engineer” and opened a sales agency for Siemens & Halske on March 16, 1850.
First steps in London
Knowing how important English patents would be for the development of his business, Werner von Siemens sent his younger brother Wilhelm to England as his agent to patent and market his electrolytic process. Following his scientific studies at the University of Göttingen in Germany, Wilhelm first traveled to London in March of 1843 to sound out patent and marketing possibilities. A short time later, in 1844, he permanently moved to England and worked as a “civil engineer.”
Together with his brother Friedrich, also living in London, he initially concentrated on developments in the field of mechanical and thermal engineering beginning in 1848. His own interests, however, were increasingly pushed into the background after Wilhelm took over the Siemens & Halske agency in London on behalf of his brother Werner on March 16, 1850.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained – Entry into the submarine cable business
Thanks to the development of new business fields such as the laying of submarine cables, the new sales agency quickly became highly successful. Helped by contacts with R. S. Newall & Co., the uncontested market leader in this field, Siemens risked entering this market segment. Werner von Siemens then devised a cable-laying system that gave his company a decisive advantage and helped it achieve a breakthrough in the English market. He succeeded in breaking the commanding position of the competition.
London outperforms Berlin – but family ties remain strong
The construction of the Indo-European telegraph line (1867-1870) and the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1874 by Siemens Brothers were outstanding technical achievements. Such successes ushered in a period when the London business actually eclipsed the parent Siemens operations in Berlin. Nevertheless, Werner von Siemens implemented his concept of an “universal business” through reorganization and continued operating the globally-based company on a family basis.
England, incidentally, remained the second, if not the true home for Wilhelm Siemens: He became British in his life style and world view without disowning his German heritage. In 1859, he married Anne Gordon of Scottish descent and in the same year took the name William which he signed with and used in the family tree. He became Sir William when he was knighted by Queen Victoria shortly before his death in 1883.
Siemens makes its mark in infrastructure – As it still does today
Today no traces remain of the Victorian era. The markets and environments in which companies like Siemens operate have been completely transformed over the many decades since then. What remains is that Siemens still offers infrastructure solutions marked by innovative ideas and new technologies that meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Dr. Frank Wittendorfer