In 1894, the “Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske” (S&H) established a small construction office in Switzerland to coordinate and supervise work on the Wynau run-of-the-river hydroelectric plant in the Canton of Bern. Today, 125 years after Siemens opened that first small office in Switzerland, the company has about 5,700 employees at more than 20 locations in the Helvetian Confederation, making it one of the country’s largest and most important employers.
Slow but successful – Siemens products take off in Switzerland
The history of Siemens in Switzerland, like the history of Siemens in Germany, begins with the pointer telegraph. The Swiss Army ordered several examples of this technical innovation from Siemens & Halske in 1864, and put them successfully into operation a year later. But more than ten years would pass before the next product made by Siemens & Halske would be introduced in Switzerland.
In November 1877, the Swiss telephone directorate joined the ranks of those who ordered telephones from Siemens & Halske. Delivery was prompt, so that by December of the same year, the first telephone calls were being placed between Bern and Thun, Thun and Interlaken.
Siemens & Halske supplied the signaling equipment for the 15-kilometer Gotthard Tunnel, which opened in 1882. The system, with its total of 150 signal bells, was the first rail safety system to be operated in Switzerland.
Germany has now gone completely telephone-mad, and I have to say we’ll never again be rid of the spirits we’ve conjured up. Today about 100 letters came in demanding telephones, and that’s been happening dailyWerner von Siemens to his brother Wilhelm (William) in London, November 19, 1877
Operating here for 125 years – Siemens in Switzerland
Between November 1894 and January 1896, Siemens & Halske built Switzerland’s first run-of-the-river power plant, in Wynau, on the Aare River in the Canton of Bern. At the start of the project, the company set up a construction office to support the Siemens engineers on location – the beginnings of Siemens in Switzerland. But it would still be a few years before Siemens opened its first full-fledged branch office in the country.
In 1903, the heavy-current department of Siemens & Halske merged with Nuremberg-based Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft vormals Schuckert & Co. (EAG) to form Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH (SSW). As part of the merger operation, EAG’s Technical Office, which had been located on Löwenstrasse in Zürich since October 15, 1900, was renamed Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH, Zürich Branch Office.
In 1909 the Branch Office was joined by a Technical Office for low-voltage systems. Additional offices were added in Lausanne in 1913 and in Bern in 1920.
The next step in Siemens’ becoming an institution in Switzerland came on July 25, 1921, with the founding of Siemens AG in Zürich.
The Shareholders’ Meeting declares that […] ‘Siemens’ A.-G. in Zürich has been duly established in compliance with the law, and authorizes the Managing Board to have the company recorded in the Commercial Register of the Canton of Zürich […]Notarized Minutes of the constituting Shareholders’ Meeting of “Siemens” A.-G in Zürich, July 25, 1921
Early in 1922 the company was renamed Siemens Elektrizitätserzeugnisse AG (SEAG), and at the same time the Technical Offices already in place were integrated into it. That same year, Siemens & Halske acquired Protos Telephonwerke AG, located in Albisrieden, together with its 60-member workforce, and thus gained its first production site in Switzerland. In 1924, Protos Telephonwerke AG was renamed Telephonwerke Albisrieden AG, and in 1935, after Albisrieden was incorporated into the City of Zürich, it became Albiswerk Zürich AG. By that time the workforce had grown to 1,500 employees.
In 1969 SEAG – both a sales organization for all the technical products offered by all of Siemens, and also an agency for Albiswerk Zürich AG – took on a new name, Siemens AG Zürich. Two years later, Siemens AG Zürich and Albiswerk Zürich AG merged to form Siemens-Albis AG, headquartered in Albisrieden. The final name change took effect on January 1, 1996, when Siemens-Albis AG became Siemens Schweiz AG.
Today, Siemens has 5,740 employees in Switzerland, along with nearly 300 apprentices, at a total of 23 locations distributed across the German, French and Italian-speaking parts of the country. By far the biggest locations are Zürich, home to the Siemens Schweiz regional company, and Zug – headquarters for the Smart Infrastructure operating unit at the Siemens Campus, which opened in 2018 after two years of construction. This is the first Siemens project in the world to be built using Building Information Modeling (BIM).
Fascinating, pioneering technical innovations – A selection
Whether yesterday or today, products made and projects conducted by Siemens for and in Switzerland have long represented milestones in technical history. The list of “firsts” along these lines in Switzerland, in Europe and in the world is considerably longer than the selection presented here.
In 1912, the Zürich-based Technical Office for low-voltage systems produced Switzerland’s first fully automated interoffice communication system for Basler Leben, the life insurance branch of the Bâloise insurance group. Two years later, Siemens was engaged by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) to automate interoffice telephone service at Zürich’s central train station and surrounding stations.
In 1920, in a project headed by the Technical Office in Lausanne, Siemens laid a 60-kilometer cable equipped with loading coils between the Lausanne telephone center and the Geneva headquarters of the newly established League of Nations. This cable, with its enhanced voice transmission quality and higher transmission capacity, was the first underground long-distance cable in Switzerland.
Power generation and distribution
Between 1951 and 1954, the Birsfelden low-head run-of-the-river hydroelectric plant was built in the Canton of Basel-Landschaft. SSW delivered two generators with specifications that ran into superlatives, each weighing 390 metric tons. The rotor, 11 meters in diameter, accounted for 250 tons of this total weight – a behemoth that could not be transported whole, but had to be carried in pieces. Each generator had a capacity of 28.6 megavolt amperes.
The Siemens 1956 publication on generators for the Birsfelden hydroelectric plant describes the plant’s operation like this: “The power plant dams the Rhine River a short distance upstream from Basel to a drop height of 4.6 to 9.45 meters […] The water flow volume for which the overall construction of the power plant was designed is about 1200 m³/sec, and the average power generated amounts to some 440 million kWh per year.”
In 1997, Siemens Schweiz AG began as a general contractor for turnkey power installations. The first customer was the St. Gall municipal utility, which got two transformers for a new substation. Three years later, in Geneva, Siemens inaugurated the world’s first underground gas-insulated high-voltage line.
Siemens & Halske’s involvement in Switzerland has also extended to projects for urban transportation infrastructure ever since the 1880s. The company provided the catenary line for Switzerland’s first electric tram, which began regular operation on the Vevey-Montreux-Chillon route in June 1888.
As the 19th century drew to a close, Siemens & Halske produced several motorized cars for the electric tram system in Basel. While Basel has adhered to this mode of transportation ever since, Lucerne abandoned it in the early 1960s in favor of trolley buses.
The first trolley buses with a Siemens motor began traveling the city’s streets in 1965. Over time, more than 70 Siemens-driven trolleys have come into use. Major projects from the recent past include delivering 60 double-decker multiple-unit train cars for the Zürich suburban train system between December 2005 and July 2009.
In 1973, Siemens in Switzerland made medical technology history when the Lausanne Cantonal Hospital applied the Cardoskop x-ray system for the first time in Europe. The innovation in this apparatus was that the imaging system could rotate freely around a patient’s heart.
In the mid-1980s, Siemens installed the first magnetic resonance tomography units at Basel’s Biozentrum and the Brunnhof Institute in Bern.
In 2005 the Pourtalés hospital in Neuchâtel reopened after several years of remodeling. Siemens supplied not just the latest medical technology, but also the building automation and security systems.
Transportation and safety technology
In the recent past another Gotthard Tunnel has been making headlines: early in June 2016 – 134 years after the original tunnel was commissioned – the first train traveled through the new 57-kilometer Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Today some 170 trains a day traverse this, the world’s longest rail tunnel, at speeds of 250 kilometers per hour. The trains pass through the Alps in safety thanks to Siemens, which supplied the railroad instrumentation and control systems and the fire protection system.
Dr. Claudia Salchow