Siemens founded its first Norwegian company in December 1898 – the beginning of a successful technological partnership that has continued down to today. Whether in establishing a hydroelectric power supply or setting up modern information and communication networks, Siemens has made significant contributions toward the growth of an advanced, forward-looking country.
First steps in a new market – Siemens & Halske Norsk Aktieselskap is founded
On December 14, 1898, several men gathered at Siemens & Halske’s Charlottenburg plant to sign a contract: the founding document of Siemens & Halske Norsk Aktieselskap, headquartered in Oslo. The new Siemens company began operations the next month, with the task of “building and selling articles from the electric fabrication of the Siemens & Halske company and conducting and carrying out electric business in all forms, and participating in all enterprises in the field of applied electricity,” as the articles of incorporation stated. Siemens thus became one of the country’s earliest electric companies, and a pioneer in the electrification of Norway.
The managing director was engineer Peter Munch Meinich, who had been Siemens’ general agent in Norway since 1892, through his company Wisbech & Meinich. As was its standard practice at the time, Siemens first looked to establish a foothold in a new market through an agent before setting up a company of its own. Meinich, a young engineer – just 22 years old when he first became a Siemens agent in 1892 – proved to be the right choice. With his vigorous support, Siemens became an important component and reliable partner of Norway’s electrical industry within just a few years. Shortly after Siemens & Halske Norsk was founded in Christiania – as Norway’s capital Oslo was named from 1624 to 1924 – the company opened branch offices in Trondheim (1908) and Bergen (1910).
Restructuring ahead – Refocusing on the power and communications market
The Norwegian Siemens company experienced a major turning point in 1904 – it was disbanded. The reason: in 1903, Siemens & Halske had merged with Elektrizitäts-Aktiengesellschaft vorm. Schuckert & Co. (EAG). The resulting new Siemens-Schuckertwerke company focused on what was known as the “heavy-current business” (power technology), while Siemens & Halske concentrated on “light-current technology” (telecommunications). The restructuring had a direct impact on the Oslo office: the former Schuckert company had had a branch of its own in Norway, the Elektrisk Bureau in Trondheim, and was a direct competitor of Siemens.
To bring the now-united business activities under a single roof, the former Siemens & Halske Norsk was liquidated, and on April 1, 1904, a new company was founded, Norsk Aktieselskap Siemens-Schuckert, with the Elektrisk Bureau as one of its shareholders. The company’s name emphasized power engineering, and with good reason: in the first two decades of its existence, the Siemens branch in Norway concentrated on power technology. The Scandinavian countries were building a great many hydroelectric plants, and expanding electric power delivery on a grand scale. So Siemens operated primarily in the plant business; major orders for projects in telecommunications did not begin coming in until after World War I. That development was acknowledged in 1929, when the local branch was renamed Siemens Norsk Aktieselskap. The renaming also highlighted the Siemens name more sharply.
Milestones in the electrification of Norway until 1945
World War II disruption – A new start for Siemens in Norway
As in many other countries where Siemens had operated, company assets and installations in Norway were treated as enemy property after the end of World War II, and placed under domestic management. AEG and Telefunken, two other well-known German companies in Norway, suffered the same fate. On January 1, 1947, the share capital of Siemens Norsk was forcibly sold to a Norwegian company, Bergens Telefonkompagni. This company got 80 percent of Siemens Norsk’s value, while 20 percent went to the Norwegian state. The three companies that had belonged to Siemens in Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen operated under a new name, AS Proton.
Siemens was able to establish a good relationship with the new owner, and from 1954 onward AS Proton acted as Siemens’ representative in the Norwegian market, selling its products. Not until 1960, after wearisome negotiations, was Siemens able to reacquire its former companies. In 1962 they were named Siemens Norge Aktieselskap, and were brought together under the umbrella of the company in Oslo. The buy-back was in the best interests of both sides. Siemens was able to sell its products again under its own name in Norway, and could summon a greater investment volume than AS Proton could offer so as to expand its market position. By contrast, AS Proton’s parent company, Bergen Industrie-Investering, was finding it increasingly difficult to represent both AEG, another global corporation, as well as Siemens in the Norwegian market. So it now limited itself to representing Siemens’ competitor.
Back to full strength – Siemens expands in both size and market position
The buy-back proved to be the correct decision. From 1962 on, Siemens was able to steadily expand its presence in Norway. As early as 1963, it moved into a new administration building in Trondheim, with two adjacent production facilities for the Power Engineering and Electrical Installations groups. By the mid-1970s, this site had a workforce of some 800 employees. Headquarters in Oslo also expanded: in 1969, Siemens Norsk moved into a new headquarters building in Linderud, housing most of the company’s administrative and sales functions. That the company was flourishing is evident from the revenue and staff figures – by 1978, revenues had risen from DM 65,000 to DM 357,000 since the time of the buy-back, while the workforce had doubled to 2,300. By the end of the seventies, Siemens was the biggest electrical equipment firm in Norway.
The traditional business in power engineering and electrical installations continued to be the emphasis for Siemens in Norway for the second half of the 20th century. As the seventies drew to a close, these still accounted for about two-thirds of the company’s total business. But semiconductor and data technologies were gaining importance during this era. What was unusual here is that for both of these lines, as well as the Communications unit, Siemens produced a considerable portion of its products – about 40 percent of total volume in 1978 – in Norway.
Even today, the Norwegian electrical industry would be inconceivable without Siemens. Here as elsewhere, the company has turned its focus to electrification, automation and digitalization, and is making an important contribution toward the sustainable modernization of the country’s electric power system, industry and infrastructure. Siemens thus remains a reliable partner in shaping Norway’s future – just as it has been for more than a century.
The era after 1945 – Milestones in electrifying Norway
Dr. Ewald Blocher