⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Product promotion is one thing – company promotion is another. The history of Siemens marks starts with labeling the company’s own products with a maker’s identifier. But over time that came to be too little to keep pace with the competition. So the company’s advertising would be established under the “Siemens” name.
A succession of changes – Siemens & Halske’s first company mark
Back in the days when the Telegraphen Bau-Anstalt von Siemens & Halske (S&H – the “Telegraph Construction Company of Siemens & Halske”) was founded, crafts businesses, handcrafting manufactories and machine construction shops merely identified themselves to the public with signs on their buildings and letterheads on their business correspondence. The young S&H fell in with that tradition, though without any allegiance to any uniform appearance. Over the subsequent decades it used a considerable variety of company signs and letterheads, and the typography of the company name varied on all kinds of printed matter.
We can assume that S&H consistently applied a manufacturer’s identifier on all its products from the very beginning. In the 1880s at the latest, the company began identifying its smaller products with a monogram composed of the artfully interlaced initials of the founders’ last names together with an “&” symbol. Later these were also joined by simpler configurations of the monogram, minus the “&” sign. Since S&H did not use the monogram on its letter paper, price lists or printed publications, the symbol probably enjoyed only limited awareness among customers and the public.
Geometric design – The first S&H trademark
Germany’s “Act for the Protection of Goods Identifiers” went into effect in May 1894. Companies took an immense interest in getting legal protection for their word, design and word-and-design marks to identify their own products: 10,000 trademarks and product designations were applied for in the first three months alone. But we search in vain for any sign of S&H in the long list of applicants.
Not until August 1897, two months after the family firm changed its form into a stock company, or Aktiengesellschaft (AG), did S&H management take up the question of a trademark. In contrast to competitors, who got their marks designed by major-name artists, the company itself took on the task, and called upon its plants in central Berlin, Charlottenburg and Vienna to submit suggestions. And the firm stayed true to past practice: out of the 19 submitted designs, 15 applied an aesthetic similar to the first company symbol by joining or interlacing the letters S and H or S, H, A and G into a design.
The declared favorite was a geometrically conceived monogram submitted by the Charlottenburg Plant, with the extra refinement that the “H,” rather than standing upright like the “S,” was rotated 45 degrees to the left.
The proposal was accepted, and the trademark was recorded in the register of the Imperial Patent Office on February 2, 1899, under number 35800. Registration in other countries followed within months.
It was established from the outset that the trademark should appear on all the company’s products. The same year, in 1899, a recommendation was made that the mark should also be included on price lists, invoices and letter forms – but the idea was not formally adopted and thus not consistently applied.
A fine artist is generally not especially keen on the aesthetic aspect of this symbol, simply because it is a mathematical construction. But I am of the opinion that the creation of this company symbol was a stroke of genius.Friedrich Heintzenberg, 1930
An original with potential for variation – The S&H-trademark as a model
Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH (SSW), founded in 1903, based the design of its trademark on the S&H monogram, simply replacing the “H” for Halske with a similarly geometric “S” for Schuckert, in a form that was distinctly different from the “S” for Siemens. That trademark was entered in the Patent Office’s register on September 20, 1904, under number 72277. The two trademarks were officially considered house marks – identifiers for the whole company – though there was no commonly used term for the concept at the time.
In the early 1920s, the Siemens parent companies increasingly began surrounding the monogram with a circle. But the application to trademark the new design was not filed until 1926, and official registration did not take place until the following year.
Over the course of the 1920s, further legally independent Siemens companies came into being in the aftermath of various acquisitions, mergers and other equity investments. In designing their trademarks and house marks, they too followed the example of S&H and SSW by adopting a monogram with a dominant S in combination with an “identifier letter” for their own firm. But since outsiders could not decipher the monograms without help, they became a matter of controversy within company walls.
The monograms suggest that the parent companies and subsidiaries had agreed on a shared concept for house marks. But in fact these marks were only the least common denominator among an otherwise vast diversity of designs, which were not always surrounded by a circle and also might be set on other basic geometric shapes, like a triangle or pentagon.
On top of that, there were registered trademarks in the form of a coat of arms-like shield with the individual maker company’s identifier in the upper field, and an encircled corporate monogram below. It was not uncommon for several different trademarks of a single Siemens company to appear on a product, an advertisement, or the title page of a publication.
No longer coherent – The group gets too many different trademarks
The founder’s principle had been that works were better advertising than words, and that maxim did not finally lose its primacy until after World War I. Now product advertisements, for example in the daily press, were not just legitimate – they went to excesses.
The largely uncoordinated spread of advertising activities, in which every Siemens company ultimately went its own way in terms of both content and form, went hand in hand with the fact that the two parent companies and their subsidiaries registered a steady stream of word marks, word-and-design marks and manufacturer’s marks for their products. By 1927 the inflationary registration of marks had endowed the corporate group with nearly 400 registered trademarks. The broadest brand recognition went to the PROTOS word mark, under which SSW had been selling and advertising its consumer goods since 1925.
The Protos mark was designed by SSW commercial artist Ernst Semmler. He combined two established design elements – the encircled SSW company mark and the basic geometric shape of a pentagon – and supplemented it with the word mark PROTOS placed below. This use of familiar visual motifs was intended to keep Protos products identifiable as coming from Siemens even if the "Siemens" name itself was absent. Another novelty in the history of Siemens marks was the color design for the new mark – the pentagon was red, while the trademark and word mark were white.
Criticism from within the ranks – The "Siemens" name should define branding policy
Since some within the company believed word marks like PROTOS deserved greater weight than house marks or manufacturer’s marks, the Literary Department at S&H warned of the need for a course correction in branding policy at the end of the 1920s:
We have something better than a word mark – we have a good name, the name SiemensLiterary Department, 1928
The Literary Department argued that the Siemens name was at risk of vanishing if the company’s products continued to be promoted with word marks that were mere invented names. They felt the current practice of associating only selected products with the name of the company founder first of all narrowed the existing product diversity down to a mere segment, and furthermore robbed all products outside that segment of their identification with the manufacturer and its associated guarantee of quality. The Siemens name, they pointed out, was also and especially valuable for advertising in other countries, since it didn’t have to be translated. Last but not least, advertising at the house level was needed because it wasn’t possible to promote each product individually.
Looking for unity – Introduction of the corporate trademark
On July 11, 1930, under the leadership of Carl Friedrich von Siemens, a discussion of “Questions of Company Propaganda” was held. This concerned the design of advertising not on an individual basis, but at a higher level, entirely along the lines of the Literary Department’s plea to focus all the company’s advertising activities on the Siemens name. As a result of the discussion, “a uniform trademark for the corporation” was to be introduced. But that wording was misleading – because what emerged was not just one trademark for the whole group, but seven: two for the parent companies, four for legally independent subsidiaries, and one for joint activities by S&H and SSW.
The design of the seven marks was standardized. Analogously to the Protos trademark, they were a combination of components that were already familiar. The required basic shape was now the pentagon, with the word mark SIEMENS in its lower area, and the house mark of the maker firm above – in other words, the monogram in a circle.
There were no rules set for the trademarks’ coloring, just a recommendation: “In addition to the red and white used at Protos to date, where possible the good, effective pairing of blue and yellow should be used.” In product promotion practice, in fact several color combinations came into use, including blue and white, white and yellow, black on white, and white on black.
Ernst Semmler (July 30, 1888 – March 8, 1970) trained at the teaching institute of the Berlin Museum of Arts and Crafts, in a curriculum that also included the graphics class taught by Emil Orlik. Semmler joined the Literary Office of SSW in September 1911, and for several years was the company’s only commercial artist. When he was assigned to create the PROTOS trademark in 1925, he had already designed countless title pages for SSW publications, as well as posters and advertisements. Semmler is thought to have remained a permanent employee at Siemens until the spring of 1945. After that he lived and worked as an independent artist in Falkensee, near Berlin.