In India, Siemens is responsible for eight centers of competence, eleven research facilities, 22 plants and more than 9500 employees. The company founded its first branches in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1922. But Siemens’ history in India goes back a lot farther – to 1867, when Werner von Siemens and his brothers laid the groundwork for the Indo-European telegraph line from London to Calcutta.
A worldwide sensation – From London to Calcutta in 28 minutes
Siemens’ history in India started more than 150 years ago. During the 1860s, new telegraph networks were gradually being built up all over Europe to provide fast communication among the most important cities. The idea of building a line from England to India was a subject of repeated debate, until a young company named Siemens & Halske (S&H) decided to take on the massive challenge – laying a landline 11,000 kilometers long in just a few years, across multiple countries, from London to Calcutta (Kolkata). In 1867, Werner von Siemens and his brothers drew on their international connections to get the ambitious project funded. In April 1868 came the founding of the “Indo-European Telegraph Company,” headquartered in London, which would manage the construction and operation of the new line. After careful planning and an allocation of the work, construction on the Indo-European telegraph line began in June of that same year. Despite extensive difficulties, after just two years of construction the Siemens brothers were able to transmit the first message across the line on April 12, 1870. The telegram traveled the distance from London to Calcutta in just 28 minutes – a worldwide sensation.
[…] I thus conceived the bold plan of calling into existence a special telegraph line between England and India by way of Prussia, Russia and Persia – the Indo-European line.Werner von Siemens, 1892
A slow start – SSW gradually gets a foothold in India
After the Indo-European Telegraph line was completed, India remained a promising but hard-to-tap market for Siemens. The country presented the company with an immense challenge, especially at the start: a land nearly as big as Europe and considerably more populous; a land where many peoples of different ethnicities mixed, and with a geography that ranged from the highest mountain range in the world to desert and jungle as well.
Siemens-Schuckertwerke (SSW) did not begin gradually gaining a foothold in India until a good many years after the telegraph line had been built. It began by engaging the import-export firm Schröder, Smidt & Co in 1903 to represent SSW in India. This agency, formed by German traders in India in 1862, imported and sold SSW products in India for several years. To organize business abroad better, in 1908 S&H and its British branch, Siemens Brothers Ltd., founded the “Central Overseas Administration” together. This organization enabled Siemens to land and carry out bigger orders in India.
One of these early orders was to supply SSW turbogenerators for the Tata Iron & Steel power plant around 1910. More generators were produced for various Indian power plants in subsequent years, including the Khopoli hydroelectric plant, whose electricity was carried to Bombay over a line some 70 kilometers long. Successful orders like this consolidated SSW’s reputation throughout the land as a reliable, high-quality supplier.
A reliable company gets its start – Siemens (India) Ltd.
World War I disrupted any expansion of the India business, but in 1921 SSE regained its agency in Calcutta. Chief Engineer Edmund von Rziha was enlisted to handle all in-country preparations and decisions for establishing a Siemens company in India.
Just a year later, on November 8, 1922, von Rziha founded the new Siemens (India) Ltd., headquartered in Calcutta. Several branch offices in Bombay, Karachi, Delhi, Madras, Colombo and Lahore followed shortly afterwards. Noteworthily, several of these offices were staffed entirely by Indian personnel, and many young Indians were trained on site.
The golden age of power generation and production
Siemens was involved in the development of India’s power supply from a very early stage, especially in power generation. The company built several power plants in the early 1950s that still represent milestones in the country’s autonomous capacity for power generation. In January 1954, for example, the Pathri hydroelectric plant was built on the Upper Ganges Canal near the city of Hardwar (Haridwar). Here, at the foot of the Himalayas, the sacred river branches out, flowing at more than 270 cubic meters per second. To make use of that force, in 1955 India opened its first large hydroelectric plant here, running with mechanical and electrical equipment planned jointly by SSW and J. Voith GmbH.
Other major power generation projects were also completed in India in the 1950s: Siemens supplied the electrical equipment for another hydroelectric plant at Hirakud, in the eastern part of the country, as well as one at Maithon northwest of Calcutta, and also for several steam power plants – Chola near Bombay (Mumbai), Mau, Sohawal and Gorakhpur in the North.
Siemens India also expanded its production sharply in the 1950s. To begin with, in 1955 a small workshop opened under an arch of the Mahalaxmi Bridge in Bombay, assembling and repairing switchgear. Since that unit was soon unable to meet the rising demand for electrical equipment, in 1957 Siemens founded a switchgear plant at Worli near Bombay: Siemens Engineering & Manufacturing Co. of India Private Ltd. Subsequent years saw several production sites established all over the country, making motors, switchgear, transformers, cables and other electrical components.
From apprentice shop to showcase of sustainability – The electric motor plant in Kalwa
The large production facilities also included the electric motor plant in Kalwa, opened in 1966. Two years before it opened, a training facility had already been opened for Indian apprentices to ensure that the new factory could start up production with a well-trained workforce as soon as it opened.
After the first motor rolled off the line in April 1966 at the multi-hall factory, already ranging across 290,000 square meters of land, the site continued to grow steadily. Today, it’s well known as a “green,” sustainable production facility. The world’s largest solar installation on a Siemens factory roof and a sophisticated recycling system make it a showcase of sustainability.
Local partners and years of cooperation – Siemens India’s concept for success
Siemens signed multiple cooperation agreements with Indian companies. It began working in 1958 with Bharat Bijlee Ltd., primarily a maker of motors and transformers. Shortly after that, Cable Corporation of India Ltd. was founded, a Siemens affiliate that mainly makes high-voltage cables, signaling cables and other electric lines. Both companies sell both their own products and Siemens products, in the Indian market and other countries.
In 1977 Siemens launched an extensive cooperative arrangement with the state-owned electric company Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL). This, the largest German-Indian cooperation project up to that point, constituted an all-inclusive production venture between a large western corporation and a highly capable state-owned enterprise.
Special events stabilize business
In honor of Siemens’ 100th anniversary of doing business in India, in 1967 the subsidiary was renamed Siemens India Ltd. As part of the celebrations, the company introduced a pension plan for its roughly 4000 employees. The steady expansion of industry into the early 1970s kept Siemens’ business in India stable for several decades. In 1971 the company went public on the Bombay Stock Exchange. Siemens India then began getting major domestic orders, like the one to equip multiple railroad stations in and around Bombay with the latest signaling equipment, some of which was produced at the nearby plant in Worli.
In 1981, Siemens opened a plant in Nashik (Nasik) for the latest electronic components, covering more than 140,000 square meters of land. Nashik is around 170 kilometers from Bombay, in the northwestern part of the state of Maharashtra; the Siemens plant there grew steadily. Today it has more than 300 employees, and production has multiplied. Producing signaling equipment and custom equipment cabinets for automation systems and frequency converters has made the Siemens Nashik Works one of the most important production facilities in India.
Siemens India highlights in the new millennium