Siemens & Halske (S&H) had made its first contacts in Spain as early as 1851, with the idea of building up a telegraph production operation there. But it was only later that the company became truly established on the Iberian Peninsula – considerably later than in other European countries. It was not until 1895 that the first Technical Office was set up in Madrid, with responsibility for Spain and Portugal. Fifteen years later, the first Siemens plant opened in Cornellá de Llobregat.
A risky venture, and a loss – Laying the submarine cable from Cartagena to Oran
In 1856, Werner von Siemens’ younger brother William had founded Siemens, Halske & Co. in England as an extension of the German company. In 1863, this London branch won a contract from the French government to produce and lay a submarine cable from Cartagena, in southern Spain, to Oran in northwestern Algeria.
Preparations for the project took months – including fabricating the cables in Woolwich and William’s developing a new cable-laying machine.
By the end of December 1863, everything was ready. Werner von Siemens and William met up in Madrid, and traveled from there to Cartagena, arriving on January 5, 1864.
It was an ambitious project, and from the very outset the brothers differed significantly on the details of how to handle it. They did not meet with success. The cable-laying machine did not work as hoped. Capricious weather almost capsized the ship, which was not designed for heavy seas; the crew feared for their lives. The cable split, broke, and was lost – losing a bitterly large amount of money because it was the first submarine cable connection for which Siemens was solely responsible for.
As Werner’s memoirs show, his memories of the effort included not just the dramatic events of the attempt to lay the cable, but also the warm reception he received from the residents of the southern Spanish town of Almeria: “We […] enjoyed the hospitality of the local residents, who insisted on receiving us festively, and improvised a party in our honor at the theater.”
A second attempt at laying a cable, with William alone in attendance, began again early in September 1864. Laying the cable itself was a success, but after the first exchange of telegrams between Oran and Paris, the cable broke again and was again lost.
Off to an arduous start – S&H slowly finds a foothold in Spain
S&H appointed its first agent in Spain in 1890, but he served other companies as well in the same capacity. During his tenure, S&H’s deliveries included dynamos and electric motors for the city of Eibar in the Basque country. On April 1, 1895, S&H in Berlin founded a technical office in Madrid to serve all of Spain and Portugal. It was headed by an engineer named Dr. Arthur Lietke, who had been with the company for five years.
The S&H home plant in Berlin primarily delivered dynamos and cables to Spain, especially to Madrid and Barcelona. By 1897 the country had already become the electrical equipment manufacturer’s most important market outside Germany. Yet just a year later, the Spanish-American War caused business to plunge. Headquarters responded by cutting back the technical office. On May 27, 1902, the technical office was converted to a Spanish stock corporation named Siemens y Halske Compañía Anónima Española de Electricidad, Madrid.
But even founding a new company didn’t revive business, as we can see from a November 1903 letter from an engineer to S&H Berlin plant management. He thought one reason was that the company had limited its activities to parts of northern Spain, while ignoring important regions like Catalonia, Valencia, Andalusia and Galicia – in stark contrast to S&H competitor AEG, which was as firmly established in southern Spain as it was in Germany.
Focusing on the South – SSW gets established in Spain
One year after Siemens-Schuckertwerke GmbH (SSW) was founded, the Siemens subsidiary in Madrid was renamed Siemens-Schuckert, Compañía Anónima Española de Electricidad. This new company merged on June 21, 1910, with La Industria Eléctrica, which had been founded in Barcelona in 1897, to form Siemens Schuckert Industria Eléctrica, Sociedad Anónima (SSIE), again headquartered in Madrid. From the very outset, SSIE had six technical offices – four in northern Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao and Gijon) and two in the south (Seville and Valencia).
Although S&H initially maintained a low-voltage current department at SSIE, in the summer of 1910 it founded a dedicated independent agency, Siemens & Halske Compañía Anónima Española de Electricidad, headquartered in Madrid.
While SSW and S&H reorganized in Spain, the Molinar power plant gradually went into operation on the Jucar River in the eastern part of the country, with plans to supply electricity to Madrid, Valencia, Alcoy and Cartagena. The installation attracted attention – first because of its location, because the Madrid and Cartagena substations were each more than 200 kilometers from the main plant, and second because for the first time in Europe, the electricity would be distributed not at the usual 50,000 volts, but at 67,000. The generators at the Molina plant and all the electric installations came from SSW, while S&H was involved in providing the telephone equipment for communications between the main plant and the substations.
Cornellá de Llobregat – Siemens’ first production site in Spain
The merger that formed SSIE put the company in possession of a two-and-a-half hectare site, only a fifth of which had buildings, which La Industria Eléctrica had acquired in 1907 in the small town of Cornellá, ten kilometers from Barcelona. Within a short time, the site received additional buildings, and by 1911 the plant began operations with a staff of some 650, making only products that were difficult or impossible to import because of the laws and customs regulations in force. Primary attention turned at first to making DC and three-phase AC motors, along with small and medium-sized generators. The facility also began gearing up to build transformers and control panels.
Growth in difficult times – Fábrica de Cornellá expands production
In the spring of 1913, Carl Friedrich von Siemens became Chairman of the Board at SSIE, and a year later he visited Spain, touring several technical offices and the plant in Cornellá. A report of his visit stated that the small sales business would need considerably more attention, “as A.E.G. is far ahead of us.”
When World War I broke out a few months later, the Spanish Siemens agencies and the Cornellá plant were cut off from Berlin headquarters because Spain remained neutral. The order books were well filled and demand for motors and electrical equipment was on the rise. But on the other hand, suppliers for the semifinished products and accessories urgently needed for production, such as the Siemens companies in Germany, were no longer available. Raw materials were harder and harder to find. So employees needed to be resourceful, and production had to expand to include products that had originally been procured from outside. The effort was a distinct success: “It is remarkable that for the full 4½ years of the war, not a day of work was lost because of a shortage of materials.”
Admired by millions – the Tranvía de Sóller and Tren de Sóller
On September 22, 1913, the first trial runs were held for the first electric tram system on Mallorca. The route, barely five kilometers long, went from the railroad station in Sóller, a small town in the northwestern part of the island, to the town’s harbor on the Mediterranean. This was a joint German and Spanish Siemens project. SSW supplied the bogie and drive, while SSIE built the small power plant at the Sóller rail station, whose equipment included an SSW generator. The line officially went into operation on October 4, and initially carried both passengers and freight. The tram, today a world-famous tourist attraction, has been the only tram on the island for more than sixty years now, just as it was in its earliest years.
When it was first built, the Tranvía de Sóller was conceived as an extension of the Palma – Sóller rail line, which had opened in 1912. This 27-kilometer line, with a track gauge of only 914 millimeters, runs through 13 tunnels, from which steam engines’ smoke could scarcely escape. SSIE remedied that by electrifying the route in 1927.
Cooperation replaces coexistence – Founding Siemens Industria Eléctrica S. A.
In the mid-1930s, Carl Friedrich von Siemens resigned from heading the Board of SSIE. He was succeeded by Gabriel Maura, a Spaniard who had been the Board’s Vice-President for years.
I am delighted that as a Spanish citizen takes over as President, this will give even stronger expression to the company’s national character – a development I have long desired.Carl Friedrich von Siemens, 1930
The change at the head of SSIE coincided with the founding of Siemens Industria Eléctrica S. A. (SIE), which absorbed both of the Spanish SSW and S&H companies. Five years later, SIE had some 1,000 employees, and maintained 14 technical offices and agencies all over Spain and in North Africa as well, plus the management and headquarters in Madrid.
The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) put the country into an economic crisis that then persisted through World War II. From the Civil War onward, a liaison office in Berlin-Siemensstadt maintained the connection between corporate headquarters and SIE.
First expansion, then consolidation – Siemens regroups in Spain
After the war ended, the Siemens companies in Spain were expropriated as German foreign assets. In the early 1950s, Siemens was able to buy back a majority of the stock in its Spanish companies; on top of that, in 1955 SIE again began identifying itself as an official Siemens sales company. That same year, Siemens Electromedica Española S. A. was founded, whose forerunner companies in medical technology had a history reaching back to 1917. And the production of x-ray and diagnostic equipment, originally situated in Barcelona, was relocated to the town of Getafe, near Madrid. In 1958, Getafe also saw the opening of S&H and SSW workshops to build measuring instruments and control panels, and for repairing motors and transformers. Ten years later, Siemens in Spain took over a production site for components like capacitors that had been operating in Malaga since 1955.
In 1970, SIE was renamed Siemens S.A. Madrid. At this point, Spain had three other Siemens companies – two making and selling medical technology, and one building components. In June 1972 the four companies had a total of almost 4,400 employees, 3,000 of whom were working at the Cornellá, Getafe and Malaga production sites. In 1974, finally, Siemens S.A. Madrid merged with the other three Siemens companies. Two years later, the Siemens workforce in Spain reached a new high, with 5,000 employees.
Fábrica de Cornellá – A key player in the economic upswing
Things had also been looking up at the Cornellá production site since World War II ended. Between 1945 and 1950 the workforce grew from 755 employees to nearly 1,330. A vocational school opened in 1946, and a new administration building and technical laboratories were inaugurated in 1951. There were also further land acquisitions, so that the site measured ten hectares by 1956, and 15 hectares by 1972.
Besides meters and motors, during the 1960s and 1970s the plant delivered more and more powerful generators for power plants and transformers, along with circuit breakers, switchgear, pumps, relays and resistors. With roughly 2,000 employees, in the mid 1970s the Cornellá plant was one of Siemens’ biggest production sites outside Germany.
Unhesitating dedication – Showcase projects in the days of the recession
During the first half of the 1970s, Spain’s vigorous economic growth was without parallel in Europe. But during what is known as the transición – the transitional phase from Francoism to a parliamentary democracy between 1975 and 1982 – and Spain’s accession to the European Economic Community in 1986, market conditions changed radically. All the same, showcase projects continued.
Fast as flight from A to B – Spain a pioneer in high-speed trains
From April to October 1992, La Cartuja island in Seville saw the unfolding of Expo 92, where Siemens appeared in its own pavilion for the first time. The infrastructure projects built for this world’s fair included Spain’s first high-speed rail line, built under Siemens’ leadership – a 474-kilometer route from Madrid to Seville that the trains sped across at 300 kilometers per hour, cutting the previous travel time between the two cities in half. More headlines were made 15 years later by the Siemens-developed Velaro E, built in Krefeld, Germany, and in Cornellá. This train reached peak speeds of 404 kilometers per hour in test runs, making it the world’s fastest series-production multiple-unit train. Since 2007 it has connected Madrid to Seville and to Tarragona near Barcelona. More projects of the same kind followed, so that by 2014 Spain had the biggest high-speed rail network in Europe, more than 2,600 kilometers.
Other rail projects are also worth mentioning. In 2002, Siemens and Renfe, the Spanish state railway, founded a subsidiary named NERTUS to maintain and repair regional trains in the Greater Barcelona area. That same year, the Catalonian capital also began building Spain’s first fully automated subway system. Siemens supplied the train controls, switching technology and control tower for the roughly 41-kilometer route.
Siemens and Spain have a successful partnership dating back well over one hundred years. In this country, we see ourselves as a Spanish company and an integral part of the economy.Heinrich von Pierer (CEO Siemens AG from1990 until 2005), 2002
Braving the elements – Renewable energy production on the advance
After supplying all the electrical equipment for the solar farms in Beneixama, Mahora, Bonete and Alconchel, in 2009 Siemens got a full-service and maintenance contract for these four photovoltaic plants, with terms of 23 or 24 years. Over the next few years, Siemens repeatedly landed contracts to supply equipment to solar farms in Spain. For the Lebrija solar thermal power plant in southern Andalusia, Siemens supplied not just either the steam turbine or the solar field, as it had done in the past, but both. The power plant, commissioned on December 27, 2011, had a capacity of 50 MW and supplied environmentally friendly electricity to some 30,000 homes.
In June 2016, Siemens and the machine construction firm Grupo Auxiliar Metalúrgico, SA (Gamesa) decided to merge their wind power businesses, and less than a year later, on April 3, 2017, a new listed company was formed, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE), headquartered in Zamudio, near Bilbao in the northern Spanish province of Vizcaya.
Today we begin a new era, and together with Siemens are establishing one of the world’s leading vendors to the wind power industry.Ignacio Martin, CEO Gamesa, 2016
Very successful – 125 years of collaboration between Siemens and Spain
From a technical office in Madrid to a modern local company, Siemens S.A. in Madrid in its present form, was a 125-year journey marked by a considerable number of organizational changes – not least of all because of mergers and spin-offs. Not all of the new lines of business that were tried over the decades have stayed the course. Out of the first three production sites, today only the historic Fabricá de Cornellá remains; it has been making products like traction engines and converters for high-speed trains for over 20 years now, evolving into a trailblazer of Industrie 4.0. And what applies on the small scale at this site also goes for the large scale: Siemens in Spain has become the country’s go-to address for industry-related digitalization processes.
Dr. Claudia Salchow