The beginning of the wireless age 

Milestones in the history of Telefunken

Even more than 115 years after the founding of the company called Gesellschaft für drahtlose Telegraphie m.b.H. System Telefunken, the name Telefunken is still synonymous with the beginnings and the development of modern radio and communications engineering. Amplifier, radio and TV technologies would be unconceivable today without the achievements of Telefunken engineers. In 1941, Siemens withdrew from its role as one of Telefunken’s parent companies. The key milestones in the history of this telecommunications pioneer are outlined here.

AEG and Siemens drive advances in radio communications – As a counterweight to the United Kingdom

By the end of the 19th century, researchers were focusing intensively on the use of electromagnetic waves as a medium of wireless communication. When Guglielmo Marconi – supported by the British Navy – began to create a radio network, the UK was close to achieving a global monopoly in wireless telegraphy. Emperor Wilhelm II and military circles in Germany responded by urging Siemens & Halske and AEG to establish a united front as a counterbalance.


Following protracted patent disputes, the Gesellschaft für drahtlose Telegraphie mbH – System Telefunken was finally founded in 1903 with the aim of coordinating technical development, defining possible applications and marketing apparatus and systems. The new company’s stakeholders, Siemens and AEG, each held a 50-percent share; as the parent companies, they were responsible for production. 


Until World War I, Telefunken was primarily involved in constructing large transmitter stations. Colonial administrators and the admiralty supported the production of such transmitters because – for economic and political reasons – they were interested in exchanging information quickly with Germany’s colonies in Africa and other overseas possessions. 


As of 1906, a test transmitter that was located in Nauen near Berlin and later expanded to create a large transmitter station made it possible to bridge such great distances. In 1907, Telefunken put a coastal radio network into operation in Germany, subsequently establishing country-wide and overseas services for marine radio communications and enabling information to be exchanged in the shipping sector.

After World War I – On a successful course with “unity” television receivers and record players

After losing its overseas radio stations in the aftermath of World War I, Telefunken increasingly found itself being forced out of international business as of 1918. As a result, efforts were focused primarily on creating the technical prerequisites for introducing public radio in Germany (1923). Telefunken helped drive the successful development of the radio business in Germany by placing its patents and rights for amplifier tubes at the disposal of all companies, thus foregoing its monopoly position. 


In the 1930s, Telefunken radios shared the same technology as those built by Siemens; the only differences between the devices were in the design of their outward appearance. Telefunken also played a leading role in developing an electronic television system – which was first used in 1936 to broadcast the Olympic Games in public “TV rooms.” By 1939, Telefunken had developed a “unity” television receiver for Germany and prepared this device – known as the Einheitsempfänger – for series production.


Another notable achievement was the founding of Telefunkenplatte GmbH record company in 1932. Thanks to an innovative recording process, outstanding pressing quality and top-ranking performers, the company’s records were market leaders that enjoyed great popularity with the public.

Siemens divests – But the brand name remains

Siemens finally divested its Telefunken shares in 1941. As part of what was referred to as the Telefunken transaction, Siemens & Halske exchanged its stake in Telefunken for shares of Klangfilm GmbH, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft and other AEG companies – thus concluding Siemens’ role at Telefunken. In 1967, Telefunken lost its status as an independent entity when it merged with AEG. The world-famous name lived on in the name AEG-Telefunken until the company was dissolved in 1985. Even today, the brand name can still be found on some products – thus preserving the memory of a renowned company. 

Dr. Frank Wittendorfer

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Further information on this topic

Further reading

  • Telefunken nach 100 Jahren. Das Erbe einer deutschen Weltmarke, hrsg. von Erdmann Thiele, Berlin 2003 (in German only)