Biography of Ernst Werner von Siemens



Ernst Werner von Siemens was a German electrical engineer who played an important role in the development of the telegraph industry. Siemens Company was founded in Berlin by Werner von Siemens in 1847.

As an extraordinary inventor, engineer and entrepreneur, founder of electrical engineering, Werner von Siemens made the world’s first pointer telegraph and electric dynamo, inventions that helped put the spin in the industrial revolution. He was the man behind one of the most fascinating success stories of all time – by turning a humble little workshop into one of the world’s largest enterprises.

The leading electrician of Germany Dr. Ernst Werner Siemens was born on December 13, 1816, in Lenthe, near Hanover, Germany. He was the second child and oldest son of a distinguished family. The father Christian Ferdinand Siemens and his wife Eleonore had 14 children from whom two girls and eight boys reached the adult age. Werner Siemens spent his first eight years in Lenthe before the family moved to Menzendorf in Mecklenburg.

A monument in honour of Werner von Siemens in the village where he was born.

Werner von Siemens, Lieutenant of artillery, 1842

After attending grammar school at Lubeck in Maine, Siemens joined the Prussian artillery at age 17 as a volunteer for the training in engineering that his father could not afford. Physics and chemistry were his favourite studies. He pursued his scientific studies at the Artillery and Engineers’ School in Berlin, and in 1838 obtained an officer’s commission.

While in prison briefly at Magdeburg for acting as second in a duel between fellow officers, he carried out chemistry experiments in his cell. During the detention he invented a gold and silver electroplating process for which he was granted his first patent in 1842.

The first page of this Prussian patent for the galvanic procedure of electroplating is shown at left. The following year he, in conjunction with his brother William, took out another patent for a differential regulator. In 1844 he was appointed to a post in the artillery workshops in Berlin, where he learned telegraphy, and in 1845 patented a dial and printing telegraph, which is still in use in Germany.

When Siemens saw an early model of an electric telegraph, invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1837, he realized at once its possibilities for international communication and invented improvements for it.

Werner differed from other inventors of the era. Whilst most tried to research, develop and market their products alone, the Siemens’ clan saw another, more efficient way of working. His family, especially brothers Wilhelm and Carl, looked after business from offices in London, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Berlin, leaving Werner to concentrate mostly on research.

He broadened his theoretical knowledge of mathematics and physics and became a member of the Physical Society, where he met and formed a partnership with Johann Georg Halske. The beginnings of Siemens AG, as we now know it, was the Siemens and Halske Telegraph Construction Company, based in Berlin, and was formed in 1847.

Werner von Siemens in 1845

Staffed by a handful of workers, the small enterprise flourished. In 1846, Werner Siemens became a member of a commission organised in Berlin to introduce electric telegraphs in place of the optical ones hitherto employed in Prussia, and he succeeded in getting the commission to adopt underground telegraph lines. In 1847 Werner Siemens laid an underground line for the Prussian army. In 1848, during hostilities with Denmark at Kiel, Siemens won the first government contract for setting up a 600 km government telegraph line from Berlin to the National Assembly of Frankfurt am Main. Then he supervised the laying of lines to other parts of Germany.

Werner von Siemens, a young man

When Werner’s “Pointer Telegraph” quickly ticked out the eagerly awaited message about the German Assembly’s vote in favour of a German Emperor for Prussia, Siemens could celebrate a major technical success. The firm of “Telegraphenbauanstalt Siemens & Halske” prospered rapidly, carrying out large telegraphic projects and expanding into other electrical fields as new applications of electricity were developed. Werner and his brother Carl (1829-1906) established subsidiary factories in London, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Paris.

The pointer telegraph serves for the transmission
of messages, ” letter for letter “.
It possesses a high functional safety
and it is simple to serve.

The Russian national telegraph network was designed and put in operation by Siemens & Halske between 1852 and 1855.

Werner’s continued research efforts and his inventions in electrical engineering resulted in many new products. His use in 1847 of gutta-percha to insulate telegraphic cables against moisture was later widely applied to electric-light cables and also made the first underground and submarine telegraph cables possible. In the following year he constructed a machine for covering copper wire with the melted gum by means of pressure; and this machine is substantially the same as that now used for the purpose in cable factories.

A gutta-percha press developed by Siemens for covering telegraph cables

Under Werner’s direction, the firm of Siemens & Halske laid cables across the Mediterranean and from Europe to India. In 1866 he invented the self-excited generator, a dynamo that could be set in motion by the residual magnetism of its powerful electromagnet, which replaced the inefficient steel magnet.

Siemens’ dynamo-machine that was used to power his telegraph system

Later, Siemens’ 1866 discovery of the dynamo-electric principle solved the problem of needing DC batteries to generate continuous current and high voltage. The construction of the dynamo established the new age of electricity and clearly charted the course of the company toward a position of world standing.

Soon Werner would apply himself to an intensive study of scientific measurement in telegraphy. He believed that careful measurement during manufacture and laying of cables was the only means whereby telegraphy could attain technical perfection and guarantee trouble free operation. In October 1845 Siemens developed a machine for the measurements of small intervals of time. He applied this machine to measure the speed of electricity by means of electric sparks, and later in 1875 for measuring the speed of the electric current in overland lines.

In 1848, when the war broke out with Denmark, he was sent to Kiel where, together with his brother-in-law, Professor C. Himly, he laid the first submarine mines, fired by electricity and thus protected the town of Kiel from the advance of the enemies’ fleet.

In January 1850 he published a paper on telegraph lines and apparatus in which he discussed the theory of electrostatic charges in insulated wires, as well as the method of localising faults in underground wires. In 1851, the firm erected the first automatic fire telegraphs in Berlin, and in the same year, Werner Siemens wrote a treatise on the experience gained with the underground lines of the Prussian telegraph system.

The difficulty of communicating through long underground lines led him to the invention of automatic translation, which was afterwards improved by Steinheil, and, in 1852, he furnished the Warsaw-Petersburg line with automatic fast-speed writers. The messages were punched in a paper band by means of the well-known Siemens’ lever punching apparatus, and then automatically transmitted in a clockwork instrument.

In 1854 Siemens discovered simultaneous transmission of messages in opposite directions (in the same time as Frischen did it), and multiplex transmission of messages by means of electromagnetic apparatus. The ‘duplex’ system which is now employed both on land lines and submarine cables had been suggested however, before this by Dr. Zetsche, Gintl, and others.

In 1856 he invented the Siemens’ magneto-electric dial instrument giving alternate currents. From this apparatus originated the well- known Siemens’ armature, and from the receiver was developed the Siemens’ polarised relay, with which the working of submarine and other lines could be effected with alternate currents; and in the same year, during the laying of the Cagliari to Bona cable, he constructed and first applied the dynamometer, which has become of such importance in the operations of cable laying.

In 1857, he investigated the electrostatic induction and retardation of currents in insulated wires, a phenomenon which he had observed in 1850, and communicated an account of it to the French Academy of Sciences. In these researches he developed mathematically Faraday’s theory of molecular induction, and thereby paved the way in great measure for its general acceptance.

His ozone apparatus, his telegraph instrument working with alternate currents, and his instrument for translating on and automatically discharging submarine cables also belong to the year 1857. The latter instruments were applied to the Sardinia, Malta, and Corfu cable.

In 1859, he constructed an electric log; he discovered that a dielectric is heated by induction; he introduced the well known Siemens’ mercury unit, and many improvements in the manufacture of resistance coils. He also investigated the law of change of resistance in wires by heating; and published several formulae and methods for testing resistances and determining ‘faults’ by measuring resistances. These methods were adopted by the electricians of the Government service in Prussia, and by Messrs. Siemens Brothers in London, during the manufacture of the Malta to Alexandria cable, which, was, we believe, the first long cable subjected to a system of continuous tests. In 1861, he showed that the electrical resistance of molten alloys is equal to the sum of the resistances of the separate metals, and that latent heat increases the specific resistance of metals in a greater degree than free heat. In 1864 he made researches on the heating of the sides of a Leyden jar by the electrical discharge.

In 1866 he published the general theory of dynamo-electric machines, and the principle of accumulating the magnetic effect, a principle which, however, had been contemporaneously discovered by Mr. S. A. Varley, and described in a patent some years before by Mr. Soren Hjorth, a Danish inventor. The reversibility of the dynamo was enunciated by Werner Siemens in 1867; but it was not experimentally demonstrated on any practical scale until 1870, when M. Hippolite Fontaine succeeded in pumping water at the Vienna international exhibition by the aid of two dynamos connected in circuit; one, the generator, deriving motion from a hydraulic engine, and in turn setting in motion the receiving dynamo which worked the pump.

The Siemens’ factory yard,
Margrafenstrasse, Berlin, ca. 1870

In 1874, Dr. Siemens published a treatise on the laying and testing of submarine cables. In 1875, 1876 and 1877, he investigated the action of light on crystalline selenium, and in 1878 he studied the action of the telephone. Other major Siemens’ successes included the first electrically driven railway (1879) and the illumination of the most famous Berlin boulevard using differential arc lamps (1882).

The first electric train made by Siemens was used as an attraction on the industrial show in Berlin in 1879. The miniature locomotive of a 3 HP carried passengers over 300 m long rail distance.

Siemens’ Berlin streetcar, Sapandauer Berg line,
1882

In 1882 Werner von Siemens constructed the first trolleybus line on Kurfurstendamm street. Siemens named it ‘Elektromote’.

In 1882 Siemens and Halske gets the order to install the first constant electric road lighting in the Potsdam place.

In 1885 Siemens supplied the dynamos for the first German direct current steam head office in Markgrafenstrasse, Berlin.

Honours were heaped on Werner. He was regarded by his contemporaries as the father of electricity. In 1888 Siemens was raised to the rank of nobility by Kaiser Friedrich III (with the addition of von to his name).

Werner von Siemens died in 1892 after a life filled with achievements.

Perhaps his best memorial is the company he started, which now employs 376,000 people in more than 150 countries, with A$74 billion in sales per year. As Werner had envisioned, the company he started grew from strength to strength in every field of electrical engineering. From constructing the world’s first electric railway to laying the first telegraph line linking Britain and India, Siemens was responsible for building much of the modern world’s infrastructure. Siemens is today a technology giant in more than 190 countries, employing some 440,000 people worldwide.

It works in the fields of energy, industry, communications, information, transportation, healthcare, components and lighting that have became essential parts of everyday life. While Werner was a tireless inventor during his days, Siemens today remains a relentless innovator. With innovations averaging 28 a day, it seems like the revolution Werner started is still going strong.

Today, “Siemens” is the international unit for electrical conductivity. The siemens (symbolized S) is the Standard International (SI) unit of electrical conductance. The archaic term for this unit is the mho (ohm spelled backwards). Siemens is also used, when multiplied by imaginary numbers, to denote susceptance in alternating current (AC) and radio frequency (RF) applications. Reduced to base SI units, 1 S is the equivalent of one second cubed ampere squared per kilogram per meter squared (1 s3 . A2 . kg-1 . m-2). The siemens is also the equivalent of an ampere per volt (A/V). In a direct current (DC) circuit, a component has a conductance of 1 S when a potential difference of one volt (1 V) produces a current of one ampere (1 A) through the component. Thus, one siemens is the equivalent of one ohm.

But mathematically, resistance and conductance are reciprocals of each other. If R is the resistance of a component in ohms and G is the conductance in siemens, R = 1 / G. In AC and RF circuits, conductive siemens behave the same as they do in DC circuits, provided the root-mean-square (rms) AC voltage is specified. In AC and RF circuits, susceptance exists only when there is a net capacitance or inductance. Capacitive susceptances have positive imaginary number values; inductive susceptances have negative imaginary-number values.

The susceptance of a particular capacitor or inductor depends on the frequency. Conductances and susceptances are sometimes expressed in units representing power-of-10 multiples or fractions of 1 S. A kilosiemens (1 kS) is equal to one thousand (103) siemens. A megasiemens (1 MS) is equal to one million (106) siemens. A millisiemens (1 mS) is equal to one-thousandth (10-3) of a siemens. A microsiemens (1 mS) is equal to one-millionth (10-6) of a siemens.

German post stamps memorizing Werner von Siemens.

Portrait of Werner von Siemens appeared on a German bank note: 20 Reichsmark, 1930.


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