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Wilhelm von Siemens

1903–1919

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A mediator between tradition and modernity

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.

“[...] the task of a company’s top management is to watch and give the necessary directives so that a healthy, fruitful evolution of technology takes place in the firm, new advances are attempted, and fields that have lagged somewhat behind receive new impetus.”

Wilhelm von Siemens, cited from Richard Fellinger, in the journal “Nord und Süd”, 1920
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1855

1855

Wilhelm young
Wilhelm's family

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.”

1882

Gluehlampenproduktion

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.

1890

Carl Bilderrahmen
Wilhelm Portrait

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.

1892

Machine
Info three-phase power plants

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.

1899

Siemensstadt Gebäude
Mitarbeiter Siemensstadt

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.

1903

Elektrizitätswerke

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.

1905

Weiterentwicklung der Glühlampe Weiterentwicklung der Glühlampe

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.

1919

Carl von Siemens
Wilhelm von Siemens
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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.

Shaping the future book cover
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.

Wilhelm von Siemens

A mediator between tradition and modernity

1882

An inquisitive mind – The competition for the incandescent lamp

1885

“A great father’s small son” – Wilhelm von Siemens’ youth and apprenticeship

1890

Change and continuity – The succession at Siemens is settled

1892

Electricity for everyone – The expansion of power technology

1899

En route to “Electropolis” – Building Siemensstadt

1903

Becoming an industrial giant – Growth through consolidation and cooperation

1905

“Good is never good enough”– Research as the foundation of success

1919

World War I – Survival in hard times

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