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Werner von Siemens

1847–1892

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A dynamic, visionary entrepreneur

Werner von Siemens was a visionary entrepreneur who played a crucial role in the advance of the electrical industry. The pointer telegraph he built was the foundation of the “Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Company,” founded in 1847, which quickly evolved into an international operation. In 1866, Werner discovered the dynamoelectric principle, laying the groundwork for the spread of electric power throughout the world.

“There is powerful magic in the words ‘I want,’ if they’re meant in earnest and if there’s conviction behind them! Of course, one mustn’t shy away from obstacles and detours, and one must never lose sight of the objective for a moment.”

Werner von Siemens
to his wife Mathilde, March 20, 1854
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1816

1816

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The date, December 13, 1816; the place, Lenthe, a village some ten kilometers west of Hanover. Werner von Siemens is born, the fourth of what would eventually be 14 children. Growing up among a large family would shape his entire life.

After his parents’ early death, Werner had to learn to take responsibility for others while still young.

  • Ludwig

  • Mathilde

  • Werner (dies shortly after birth)

  • Click

    (Ernst) Werner

  • Hans

  • Ferdinand

  • Sophie Henriette

  • Wilhelm

  • Friedrich

  • Carl

  • Franz

  • Walter

  • Sophie

  • Otto

1820er

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Success as a soldier: In the summer of 1837, Werner passed his examinations for an officership in the Prussian Artillery.

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Werner’s later success as a businessman was in part the product of strong family ties. He especially benefited from the significant support of William (seated, born 1823) and Carl (2nd from left, born 1829).

1847

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Joining forces to found a company has an impact: On October 1, 1847, Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske formed the “Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Company.” Werner contributed his technical knowledge and nose for business; Johann Georg contributed his skills as a precision mechanic.

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Cooperation yields success: Johann Georg Halske helped his partner Werner von Siemens perfect his new type of pointer telegraph. Only a few days after the company was founded, Werner received a Prussian patent for the telegraph. Now production could begin.

From a workshop in a rear courtyard to a global corporation: The impressive success story of the House of Siemens began at Schöneberger Strasse 19, very close to the Anhalter Bahnhof (Anhalt Train Station). The company’s reach would soon extend well beyond the Berlin city limits.

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From a workshop in a rear courtyard to a global corporation: The impressive success story of the House of Siemens began at Schöneberger Strasse 19, very close to the Anhalter Bahnhof (Anhalt Train Station). The company’s reach would soon extend well beyond the Berlin city limits.

1866

Werner’s technical intuition and inventive mind would lead him to a revolutionary application of the dynamoelectric principle. His design of the dynamo machine rang in the era of power technology.

A milestone in technology: The dynamoelectric principle made it possible for the first time to convert mechanical energy cost-effectively to electrical energy. The technique laid the cornerstone for the first large-scale electric lighting systems, electric motors and power plants.

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The technique would later make it possible to illuminate entire streets.

Werner’s technical intuition and inventive mind would lead him to a revolutionary application of the dynamoelectric principle. His design of the dynamo machine rang in the era of power technology.

A milestone in technology: The dynamoelectric principle made it possible for the first time to convert mechanical energy cost-effectively to electrical energy. The technique laid the cornerstone for the first large-scale electric lighting systems, electric motors and power plants.

“The value of an invention lies in its practical implementation.”

Werner von Siemens to his wife Mathilde, March 20, 1854

1868

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An international breakthrough: In the spring of 1868, Siemens joined the project to build the Indo-European Telegraph Line. The line from London to Calcutta would transmit messages halfway around the world in less than half an hour.

1872

Responsibility for the team: To celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary in October 1872, Siemens established a company retirement plan, the “Pension, Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.”

A pioneer in corporate social responsibility: Now employees would be entitled to a pension – a benefit that few other companies offered at the time. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck would not introduce national social security legislation for another eleven years.

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25th Company Anniversary

Responsibility for the team: To celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary in October 1872, Siemens established a company retirement plan, the “Pension, Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.”

A pioneer in corporate social responsibility: Now employees would be entitled to a pension – a benefit that few other companies offered at the time. Otto von Bismarck would not introduce national social security legislation for another eleven years.

1881

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A self-propelled car could carry up to 26 passengers at 20 kph.

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One of many firsts: Siemens & Halske built a ground-level streetcar line in the Berlin residential suburb of Lichterfelde. It was the world’s first electric tram line. The electric drive was based on the dynamoelectric principle. The line started operations on May 12, 1881.

1888

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Too much of an honor: Werner von Siemens was raised to the hereditary nobility by Kaiser Friedrich III – an honor that pleased Werner not at all, because the only awards he truly appreciated were those that recognized him as an inventor and researcher, not merely as an individual.

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He was not asked whether he wanted to be given a title; he found out about it from the newspaper. But once it had been granted, it would have been poor form to decline.

Friedrich III was aware that he did not have long to live. So he hurried to leave his mark. Within a short time, he ennobled 60 commoners that he admired. He died after reigning for only 99 days.

1890

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Among the extended family: The future of Siemens & Halske as a family firm was secure. Following Werner’s 65th birthday, his son Arnold became a partner in 1882; Wilhelm followed suit two years later. Of course, their father still held the reins. Werner von Siemens would not step down as a partner until early in 1890, at the age of 74.

The life of a significant technological pioneer draws to a close: Werner fell ill, with pneumonia further complicating the picture. On December 6, 1892, a few days before his 76th birthday, Werner von Siemens died peacefully, surrounded by his family, at his home in Charlottenburg. But the company he founded would always be associated with his name.

“I have always lived more in the future than in the present; as long as the future smiles on me, I can readily bear the rough sides of the present, which is seldom entirely attractive!”

Werner von Siemens, 1856
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Discover the Siemens History

Those who study the history of companies are witnesses to exciting developments; they delve into a succession of highs and lows, successes and failures, economic and social changes. And they become acquainted not only with the founders but also with the people who successfully develop the companies, who guide and lead. This is exactly what unfolds in the new book from the Siemens Historical Institute. Through 13 detailed portraits, the book relates how the more than 170-year history of Siemens is interwoven with the history of Germany, Europe, and the world. From the founder, Werner von Siemens, to Carl Friedrich von Siemens to Joe Kaeser, it is clear that the company needs people at the top who lead with courage, drive, and a sense of responsibility, who are not afraid to face the challenges of the times and to shape the future.

1816

From modest circumstances: Childhood and youth

1868

Nothing ventured, nothing gained:
The Indo-European Telegraph Line

1872

A responsible businessman

1881

The world's first electric tram line

1888

A noble against his inclinations

1890

The end of the journey: Later years and arrangements for succession

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