Siemens & Halske set up a Technical Bureau (TB) in Warsaw in the summer of 1896. Initially, however, this TB wasn’t part of the parent company in Berlin, but – owing to political circumstances – reported to Siemens & Halske Russian Electrotechnical Works in St. Petersburg. Both before and after 1896, the history of Siemens in Poland was very eventful. And it was not until the fall of the Iron Curtain that a period of continuous business activity could begin.
Politically dependent, but technically advanced – The construction of telegraph lines on Polish territory
In the late fall of 1852, when Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske (S&H) was only five years old, Werner von Siemens proposed to his younger brother Carl that he assume responsibility for the company’s business activities in Poland.
Poland was not an independent country at this point in time. Therefore, the Russian Empire orders the first projects that are carried out under Carl von Siemens’ management on the territory of the so-called Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland). These orders included the railroad telegraph line from Warsaw to the Prussian border (1853) and the telegraph line from Warsaw to St. Petersburg (1854), which also ran above ground. The Indo-European telegraph line, built between 1868 and 1870, crossed through Poland as well.
There’s still a lot to be done in Poland, and I believe it’s there that you’d most quickly acquire a proper range of activities that would secure your future.Werner von Siemens to his brother, Carl, November 21, 1852
Humble beginnings – First S&H representatives in Warsaw
S&H dispatched its first representative to Warsaw in 1879. This agent was responsible for the sale and installation of electrical lighting systems on behalf of the Berlin parent company. The S&H Regional Office in St. Petersburg – which had existed since 1855 – initially tolerated these activities despite its claim to be responsible for all of Siemens’ business in the Russian Empire, including that in Poland. At the instigation of the St. Petersburg Regional Office, however, S&H had to terminate the contractual relationship with its Warsaw representative in 1882.
In the early 1890s, S&H saw its business interests in Poland increasingly threatened by competitors, as can be witnessed by a letter from Wilhelm von Siemens in the Summer of 1893: “The business situation in Russian Poland means that we need to defend our interests there more strongly than ever. The Schuckert company – which previously had the upper hand there – has recently been surpassed by AEG, which has gained a foothold in Lodz and is now also trying to establish itself in Warsaw.”
Despite the competition, Wilhelm von Siemens didn’t think it advisable to set up a separate TB in Warsaw at this time because – among other things – “we do not have anybody available who is familiar enough with the conditions there.” Instead, he argued for Bronislaw Rejchmann from Warsaw be appointed general agent for S&H. Wilhelm von Siemens chose Rejchmann because the latter “has been in the most pleasant business relationship with us for ten years” and “has already been entrusted by us to represent our interests in individual cases.” To rule out internal competition from the outset, Bronislaw Rejchmann also acted as the general agent for S&H St. Petersburg and S&H Vienna. But calls for the establishment of S&H’s own TB in Warsaw become louder and louder in subsequent years – also and especially on the part of S&H’s St. Petersburg Regional Office.
If we establish an office in Warsaw, it will have to report to our company, so that the necessary authorization for the conclusion of business transactions with the authorities is facilitated and it is clear that this is a specifically Russian enterprise.Letter from S&H St. Petersburg, October 5, 1895
Under changing management – First TB in Warsaw
In the summer of 1896, the time had finally come: S&H opened its first TB in the Kingdom of Poland. Located in Warsaw and reporting to the S&H Regional Office in St. Petersburg, the TB was responsible for the installation of electrical equipment of all types and the sale of electrotechnical products.
Just two years later, in 1898, the parent company in Berlin took over responsibility for the Warsaw TB. Legally speaking, however, this TB continued to belong to the Regional Office in St. Petersburg, which in the same year became Siemens & Halske Russian Electrotechnical Works (REW S&H). After Siemens-Schuckertwerke (SSW) was founded in 1903, the Warsaw TB, which now operated as the so-called Warsaw Department of REW S&H, also represented SSW’s interests in Poland. In 1908, REW S&H reassumed complete management of the Warsaw Department and turned it back into a TB. REW S&H and the Russian branches of SSW were not merged until 1913.
The Technical Bureau’s scope of activity includes the Kingdom of Poland, but the Regional Office in St. Petersburg reserves the right, subject to approval by the Central Office, to change this scope at its discretion.Briefing for the Warsaw office, 1896
Wide-ranging involvement – Foundation of Siemens companies in Poland
In 1912, Siemens founded a company for the first time in the Kingdom of Poland: the “Aktiengesellschaft Polnische Elektrotechnische Werke Siemens (PEW)”. Initially headquartered in Warsaw, PEW moved its head offices to Lodz in 1914 and then back to Warsaw in 1919. After the First World War, additional Siemens companies with their own TBs, sub-offices and/or Regional Offices were founded in the Republic of Poland – which had been independent since 1919. This expansion reflected the country’s changed political situation as well as its new borders. The PEW, which still existed, was liquidated in 1922 and replaced by Polnische Siemens-Schuckertwerke AG. Again headquartered in Warsaw, this company was renamed Polnische Siemenswerke Aktiengesellschaft (Polskie Zaklady Siemens Spólka Akcyjna – PZS) in 1923.
Difficult times – Siemens in Poland in the interwar years
The conflict-ridden relationship between Germany and Poland after the First World War was not without consequences for Siemens’ business development in Poland. In the early 1920s, the ban imposed by the Weimar Republic on exports to the neighboring country hindered successful business activities. In the mid-1920s, a customs dispute between the two countries proved detrimental to business. In addition, no German-Polish trade treaty was ever ratified. The situation continued to deteriorate until, in 1933, the ties between the PSZ and the Berlin headquarters of S&H and SSW were finally severed altogether. From then on, Siemens’ business in Poland was handled by S&H Vienna and Österreichische Siemens-Schuckertwerken (ÖSSW).
Dark chapter – Siemens in Poland during the Second World War
During the Second World War, S&H Berlin and SSW Berlin again set up TBs in Poland. In addition, the two parent companies entrusted PZS with the management of their sales interests. In 1940, PZS became Polnische Siemens-Aktiengesellschaft, which was renamed Warschauer Siemens Aktiengesellschaft in the same year. In the fall of 1942, Warschauer Siemens Aktiengesellschaft was relocated to Kraków and renamed Siemens Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft Kraków.
In Germany, Siemens faced a double dilemma. On the one hand, its day-to-day business was increasingly hampered by a shortage of raw materials, transportation problems, and a shortage of labor and skilled workers. On the other hand, the company had to meet the demands of the military authorities to expand production capacities in areas classified as vital to the war effort. In order to maintain production in its plants despite increased conscription, Siemens expanded its use of forced laborers, among them many Poles. From 1943 to 1945, SSW also operated a machine tool factory in Bobrek near the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Around 200 of the camp’s prisoners worked at the factory.
Business stagnates – The Cold War period
After the Second World War, Siemens’ business in the People’s Republic of Poland entered into a long period of stagnation. Compared to the pre-war years, business activities between 1950 and 1990 weres at a very low level. The Iron Curtain, splitting Eastern and Western Europe, divided the two blocs not only politically but also economically. Companies in the West had very few opportunities to do business with the state-run economies in the East. Siemens struggled to gain a foothold in the Polish market. Initially, access to this market was only achieved through cooperation and agency agreements, which were generally limited to individual orders such as a contract in 1960 to supply turbines and electrical equipment for the 360-MW steam power plant operated by the Warsaw-based electrical trading company Elektrim.
It was not until the early 1970s that business activities were expanded as part of the beginning modernization of Poland’s industrial plants. The intention was to extend current cooperation to the fields of automation technology, data processing, telecommunications and healthcare. However, trade restrictions and economic difficulties in Poland hindered the desired development; government modernization plans were repeatedly postponed. Only the medical devices business proved to be stable, accounting for about half of Siemens’ activities in Poland by the end of the 1980s.
Back in Poland at last – The founding of Siemens’ Regional Company in Poland
The situation changed fundamentally when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989/1990. Siemens was one of the first companies to benefit from the relaxation of political tensions with Poland in the late 1980s. To quickly establish its own sales companies and service branches, exploratory talks were held with the Polish government starting in October 1989. A first success was quickly achieved: at the end of 1990, Siemens was awarded a contract to expand the digital telephone line in the city of Katowice in Poland’s Upper Silesian Industrial Region. A few months earlier, Siemens and the largest Polish telecommunications company, ZWUT, had founded the CEWIS joint venture, whose purpose was to produce the EWSD (Elektronisches Wählsystem Digital – Electronic Digital Switching System) telephone systems and launch a digital telephone switching system.
This joint venture and Poland’s great investment potential prompted Siemens to establish its own Regional Company in the country. On March 1, 1991, the Polish Siemens GmbH, headquartered in Warsaw, started operation. By 1992, the company had set up branches in Gdańsk, Poznan, Wrocław and three other Polish cities.
However, reentering the Polish market didn’t come without risks. By 1991, the general politicalsituation had taken a turn for the worse. The Gulf War and the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union had created an unstable political climate that impacted the global economy. In addition, there were acute foreign exchange problems in Poland, and the condition of the country’s infrastructure was poor. But Siemens still counted on the opportunities offered by a long-term commitment:
Siemens is determined to seize these opportunities, even if they’re currently still associated with considerable upfront investments and risks.Karlheinz Kaske, former President and CEO of Siemens AG, July 5, 1991
Successful modernization projects – A representative selection
With its products and solutions, Siemens has significantly contributed to the development and modernization of Poland’s industry and infrastructure. In 1994, the company’s Automation Systems Group received an order from Poland’s environmental protection authorities for around 50 transportable measurement systems for monitoring emissions. From 1998 to 2007, the electrical company expanded Poland’s mobile phone network. In 2006, Siemens won a contract from Mittal Steel Poland to construct one of Europe’s biggest high-performance steel rolling mills in Kraków.
Siemens has also been a welcome partner when it comes to rail freight. At the start of 2011, the company won a contract from Warsaw’s metro operator to deliver 35 six-carriage Inspiro metro trains, which generate around 88 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per passenger compared to cars with internal combustion engines. The first train’s premiere journey took place in October 2013. High-performance, interoperable Vectron locomotives from Siemens have also been in service in the network of Polish rail operator PKP Cargo since 2016.
Made by Siemens – Environmentally-friendly energy production in Poland
In 1998, Siemens was commissioned by RWE to deliver 33 wind turbines to Suwałki in Masuria and to Tychowo in West Pomerania. In 2013, the company was awarded a contract by Polish power company PGE GiEK S.A. to construct a turnkey natural gas-fired combined cycle power plant in Gorzów Wielkopolski in western Poland.
At the end of 2014, Siemens was awarded a contract from PKN Orlen – Eastern Europe’s largest oil company – to build a turnkey combined cycle power plant in Plock. The core of the plant, an H-class gas turbine, was the world’s largest and most powerful gas turbine at the time.
As these projects impressively demonstrate, Siemens has been successfully building on its long tradition in Poland since 1991. And the Siemens story in Poland continues. To take just one example, Siemens Digital Industries’ combination technology plant in Chemnitz, Germany, which develops and manufactures customer-specific electrical equipment for mechanical and plant engineering, has been operating a production facility in Mirków near Wrocław since 2020.
We’ve opted for the solution from Siemens, because the plant will be very efficient and therefore generate electricity very cost-effectively.Jacek Kaczorowski, CEO at PGE GiEK
Dr. Claudia Salchow | Dr. Ewald Blocher