Wilhelm von Siemens
Wilhelm von Siemens, the company founder’s second son, entered the ranks of the company’s management in 1890. During his 30-year tenure, he shaped Siemens’ development through a number of far-sighted business decisions. It was through his initiative that a modern industrial campus was built on the outskirts of Berlin in 1897. In addition, Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH was founded, and the company’s research and development work was centralized. Wilhelm guided his historic firm into the modern era.
In 1873, ill health forced Wilhelm, affectionately called “Willy” by his father, to leave secondary school early without a diploma.
Wilhelm von Siemens was born in Berlin in 1855. From an early age, he felt the weight of the expectation that he would walk in his eminent father’s footsteps. At the age of 18, he confessed to his diary the fear of being “merely inept, the small son of a great father.” Yet his years at the university and his first professional experiences at Siemens & Halske built his self-confidence. Hungry for action, he now wrote to his father: “I believe my shoulders can bear a good deal, and I yearn for a position of responsibility.”
Revenues from the incandescent lamp business had already exceeded a million marks by 1890.
Wilhelm was a passionate researcher. Even while still a student, he was a constant visitor to the Siemens & Halske labs. His specialty: lighting technology. In the “Light Room,” he worked on further developing the incandescent lamp. He showed a knack for technology – in 1882, Siemens in Berlin built Germany’s first light bulb factory, making the first mass-produced carbon-filament lamps in the company’s history and thus tapping an important market.
In 1890, Wilhelm von Siemens and his elder brother Arnold joined the company’s top management. While Arnold mainly handled public-relations duties, the responsibility for running the business itself soon fell entirely to Wilhelm. In their early years at the head of the firm the two brothers also benefited from the support of their uncle, Carl von Siemens.
Power technology was the business of the future. Accordingly, electrification steadily gained importance both in industry and in public and private life. Wilhelm von Siemens turned out to have placed a long-term bet on the right horse: following the invention of the three-phase motor, he pushed the concept’s further development at the company, and in Erding, Upper Bavaria, Siemens built Germany’s first municipal power plant based on three-phase technology.
By 1900, 1,200 people were already working in Siemensstadt. In 1914, the Siemens plants employed almost 32,000 people.
Siemens was growing dynamically at the end of the 19th century – both revenues and staff were burgeoning. But Berlin itself was running short on space. So Wilhelm von Siemens decided to buy more than 200 hectares of buildable land on the Nonnenwiesen, an outlying district between Charlottenburg and Spandau. By 1913, a modern industrial campus would rise here: Siemensstadt. The first plant at the new site was already in operation by 1899.
EAG contributed its Nuremberg plants to the new Siemens-Schuckertwerke company.
Competition for contracts to build and run municipal power plants, lighting systems and electric tram systems had become tough by 1900. To hold its own in this environment, Siemens had to keep growing.
Wilhelm von Siemens made the momentous decision to merge Siemens & Halske’s energy business with Elektrizitäts-Aktiengesellschaft vorm. Schuckert & Co. (EAG), which the company had previously taken over. The new Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH opened for business on April 1, 1903.
Wilhelm von Siemens took a special personal interest in the evolution of the incandescent lamp and in building electric tramways.
So far as Wilhelm von Siemens was concerned, research and development were a cornerstone of successful corporate management. It was at his initiative that basic research at Siemens was centralized in 1905. This decision laid the groundwork for Siemens to be able to maintain and expand its technological lead and innovation for the long term.
Wilhelm von Siemens’ last years in office were dominated by World War I. He was able to guide the company through the war years, but into an uncertain future. Siemens had lost nearly 40 percent of its assets, including almost all its patent rights abroad. The loss of most foreign subsidiaries and sales offices, along with the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war, made the situation even more difficult. When Wilhelm von Siemens died on October 14, 1919, it was left to his younger brother Carl Friedrich to keep the family legacy a success – under the most difficult conditions imaginable.
Carl Friedrich von Siemens was the company founder’s third and youngest son. He was appointed Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Siemens & Halske AG and Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH on November 21, 1919.
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.
An inquisitive mind – The competition for the incandescent lamp
“A great father’s small son” – Wilhelm von Siemens’ youth and apprenticeship
Change and continuity – The succession at Siemens is settled
Electricity for everyone – The expansion of power technology
En route to “Electropolis” – Building Siemensstadt
Becoming an industrial giant – Growth through consolidation and cooperation
“Good is never good enough”– Research as the foundation of success
World War I – Survival in hard times
It looks like you are using a browser that is not fully supported. Please note that there might be constraints on site display and usability. For the best experience we suggest that you download the newest version of a supported browser: