Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,103 pages of information and 233,633 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Leaders of Modern Industry by G. Barnett Smith: Sir William Siemens

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

Note: This is a sub-section of Leaders of Modern Industry by G. Barnett Smith

CHARLES WILLIAM SIEMENS

Charles William Siemens or, as his name was given before his naturalisation in England, Carl Wilhelm Siemens - was the fourth son of Christian Ferdinand Siemens, who was horn at Wasserleben, on the northern edge of the Harz Mountains, 1789. Ferdinand married early Eleonore Deichmann, a lady belonging to a North German family residing near Hanover. The young couple settled down at a small place called Lenthe, a few miles from Hanover, and here Ferdinand Siemens farmed and cultivated certain Government lands which had been assigned to him.

William Siemens has left it on record that his father was healthy in body; of an energetic and restless disposition; passionate, yet tender-hearted; fond of historical studies and gifted with a receptive mind; independent in judgment; distinguished for a high moral standard, and his hatred of humbug and formalism; a fair classical scholar, but with no bias towards those scientific branches of enquiry in which his sons became famous. Madame Siemens is described as having been of somewhat delicate health; possessed of a high-minded and self-sacrificing nature; gentle and amiable in character; strongly devoted to her children; refilled and poetical in her tastes; and imbued with deep religious principles.

Ferdinand and Eleonore Siemens had no fewer than fourteen children — eleven sons and three daughters, of whom three sons and one daughter died in infancy. Ernst Werner von Siemens, the eldest son, was the founder of the fortunes of the family. Born at Lenthe in 1816, he was educated at the Lubeck Gymnasium, and entered first, in 1834, the Prussian Artillery Service at Magdeburg, proceeding in the following year to the Military School of Berlin. Here he studied closely chemistry, mechanics, and mathematics. He gained his commission as lieutenant in 1838, and, after some experience in other capacities, in 1844 he was appointed Superintendent of the Artillery workshops at Berlin. He had already developed scientific tastes, and taken out his first patent for galvanic silver and gold plating. He rendered valuable service in developing the telegraphic system in Prussia, and discovered the important insulating property of gutta-percha for underground and submarine cables.

Being somewhat hampered by his duties as a military officer, he left the army in 1849, and shortly afterwards quitted the service of the state altogether. He now devoted himself to the construction of telegraphic and chemical apparatus of all kinds. The eminent firm of Siemens and Halske was established at Berlin in 1847; and branches were subsequently formed at St. Petersburg, London, Vienna, and Tiflis — these being managed by Werner's younger brothers.

In addition to devising various useful forms of galvanometers and other electrical instruments of precision, Werner von Siemens was one of the discoverers of the principle of the self-acting dynamos. He further made valuable determinations of the electrical resistance of different substances, one of his discoveries being known as the Siemens Unit. Scientific and technical papers by Siemens were published in the Proceedings of the Berlin Academy, in Poggendorff's ‘Annalen’, in Dingler's ‘Polytechnische Journal’, etc., and these papers were republished in collected form in 1881. The munificent sum of 500,000 marks was given by Siemens in 1886 in order to found an imperial institute of technology and physics. The University of Berlin made Werner von Siemens a Doctor in 1860; in 1874 he was elected a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Berlin; in 1886 he was created a Knight of the Prussian Order of Merit; and finally, in 1888, the Emperor Frederick III. conferred upon him a patent of nobility.

Hans Siemens, the second son, born in 1818, after pursuing various avocations, established a large glass factory at Dresden, where he successfully applied in his undertakings the regenerative furnace invented by his brothers Frederick and William. He died nearly thirty years ago.

Ferdinand, the third son, eventually settled as an agriculturist on a large estate which he purchased near Konigsberg, in East Prussia.

Passing by for the present William, the fourth son, we come to Friedrich, the fifth son. He was born in 1826, and became famous as an inventor, etc. In early life he was a sailor, but in 1848 he joined his brother William in England, studying under him, and remaining in this country for some years. On the death of his brother Hans, he became manager of the glass-works at Dresden, and so great was his success that he was able to found similar factories in Bohemia and Saxony, which ultimately gave employment to 2,000 workmen. Friedrich Siemens invented a continuously working glass furnace, and also discovered a new method of cooling which produced toughened glass of extraordinary resistance. He further constructed gas-burners with a greatly increased power of illumination. Upon the death of his brother William, Friedrich succeeded him in the management of that portion of the business associated with furnaces and heat applications.

Carl Heinrich Siemens, the sixth son, born in 1829, was more known for his practical than inventive skill, and he had much to do with the success of the commercial undertakings founded by the brothers. In 1855 he took charge of a large branch factory established at St. Petersburg, which had the great telegraphic system of Russia within its control. He proceeded to London in 1869, and some years afterwards was engaged in the laying of the Direct United States Cable; but in 1880 he returned to Russia, where he continued to reside.

Walter Siemens, the seventh son, born in 1832, was Prussian Consul at Tiflis. From here also he directed the extensive mining works in the Caucasus belonging to his brothers Werner and William. He likewise assisted in the management of the telegraph manufactory works at Tiflis, and in the establishment of the Indo-European Telegraph. Unfortunately, to the great grief of his family, he was killed by the kick of a horse in 1868.

Otto Siemens, the eighth son, born in 1836, succeeded to his brother Walter's position, but he died prematurely in 1871.

Two daughters of Ferdinand and Eleonore Siemens lived to the age of maturity. One, Mathilde, the eldest of the family, married in 1838 Herr Himly, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Gottingen, and afterwards at the University of Kiel. She died in 1876. The other daughter, Sophie, married Dr. Carl Crome of Litheck, who in 1875 was called to be one of the Reihsgerichtstrath, or Supreme Court of Appeal, in Leipzig. It will be seen from this brief summary, that the Siemens family has been gifted as well as numerous.

I now turn to the main subject of this biographical sketch, Sir William Siemens, who was born at Lenthe, on April 4, 1823. Although after his naturalisation in England he retained the names of Charles William, he preferred to be known as William only. It is said that as a child he was fairly strong, though of a delicate and sensitive organisation. He was a great pet, and made music in the house; but when he was supplanted by the birth of a new baby his song was heard no more. He gave no indication in youth of a bias towards those pursuits which rendered his name famous. Educated first by a resident tutor at Menzendorf, he was next sent to a commercial academy at Lubeck. In 1838 he went to an industrial school at Magdeburg, where he was under the eye of his brother Werner, and where he studied the principles of natural science. In the early morning hours, before beginning his school duties, he studied mathematics under Werner's tuition.

Young William had a severe trial in 1839, when he lost his mother, whom he passionately loved, Soon afterwards - in January, 1840 — came the death of his father, upon which Werner, who was only then twenty-three years of age, assumed with noble courage and devotion the guardianship of the family.

At Easter, 1841, William Siemens left the Magdeburg School, with an excellent record in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and physical and technical subjects. He had a fluent command of his own language, and some knowledge of French. The opportunities for real scientific training at Magdeburg, however, had been very limited. Siemens now went for a year's study at Gottingen University, where he attended lectures on physical geography and technology, the higher mathematics, and theoretical and practical chemistry and physics. He seems to have worked very earnestly during this short university experience.

In the year 1843, being then only twenty years of age, young Siemens visited England, and succeeded in introducing a process for electro-gilding invented by his brother Werner and himself. It was in Birmingham that he did this, and thirty-eight years afterwards he described the circumstances in his inaugural address as President of the Midland Institute. That address was delivered in the Town Hall, Birmingham, on October 28th, 1881, and I quote from it the following autobiographical passages, as being both interesting and instructive:-

That form of energy known as the electric current was nothing more than the philosopher's delight forty years ago; its first application may be traced to this good town of Birmingham, where Mr. George Richards Elkington, utilising the discoveries of Davy, Faraday, and Jacobi, had established a practical process of electro-plating in 1842. It affords me great satisfaction to be able to state that I had something to do with that first practical application of electricity; for in March of the following year, 1843, I presented myself before Mr. Elkington with an improvement on his processes which he adopted, and in so doing gave me my first start in practical life. Considering the moral lesson involved, it may interest you, perhaps, if I diverge for a few minutes from my subject in order to relate a personal incident connected with this my first appearance amongst you.

When the electrotype process first became known it excited a very general interest; and although I was only a young student of Gottingen, under twenty years of age, who had just entered upon his practical career with a mechanical engineer, I joined my brother, Werner Siemens, then a young lieutenant of artillery in the Prussian service, in his endeavour to accomplish electro-gilding, the first impulse in this direction having been given by Professor C. Himly, then of Gottingen.

After attaining some promising results, a spirit of enterprise came over me so strong that I tore myself away from the narrow circumstances surrounding me, and landed at the East End of London with only a few pounds in my pocket and without friends, but an ardent confidence of ultimate success within my breast.

I expected to find some office in which inventions were examined into, and rewarded if found meritorious, but no one could direct me to such a place. In walking along Finsbury Pavement I saw written up in large letters "So-and-So," (I forget the name), "Undertaker," and the thought struck me that this must be the place I was in quest of at any rate I thought that a person advertising himself as an "Undertaker " would not refuse to look into my invention, with the view of obtaining for me the sought-for recognition or reward. On entering the place I soon convinced myself, however, that I came decidedly too soon for the kind of enterprise there contemplated, and finding myself confronted by the proprietor of the establishment, I covered my retreat by what he must have thought a very lame excuse.

By dint of perseverance I found my way to the Patent Office of Messrs. Poole and Carpmael, who received me kindly and provided me with a letter of introduction to Mr. Elkington, Armed with this letter, I proceeded to Birmingham to plead my cause with your countryman.

In looking back to that time, I wonder at the patience with which Mr. Elkington listened to what I had to say, being very young, and scarcely able to find English words to convey my meaning. After showing me what he was doing already in the way of electro-plating, Mr. Elkington sent me back to London in order to read some patents of his own, asking me to return if, after perusal, I still thought I could teach him anything. To my great disappointment I found that the chemical solutions I had been using were actually mentioned in one of his patents, although in a manner that would hardly have sufficed to enable a third person to obtain practical results.

On my return to Birmingham I frankly stated what I had found, and with this frankness evidently gained the favour of another townsman of yours, Mr. Josiah Mason, who had just joined Mr. Elkington in business, and whose name as Sir Josiah Mason will ever be remembered for his munificent endowment for education. It was agreed that I should not be judged by the novelty of my invention, but by the results which I promised, namely, of being able to deposit with a smooth surface thirty pennyweights of silver upon a dish cover, the crystalline structure of the deposit having theretofore been a source of difficulty.

In this I succeeded, and I was able to return to my native country and my mechanical engineering a comparative Croesus. By dint of a certain determination to win, I was able to advance step by step up to this place of honour, situate within a gunshot of the scene of my very earliest success in life, but separated from it by the time of a generation. But notwithstanding the lapse of time, my heart still beats quick each time I come back to the scene of this, the determining incident of my life.


A patent was taken out by the Elkingtons on the 25th of May, 1843, in the name of Moses Poole, embodying the discovery. The title was for 'Improvements in the deposition of certain metals, and in apparatus connected therewith.' The invention consisted in the employment of certain new solutions of gold, silver, and copper, for the purposes of electrical deposition, and in the application of a thermo-electrical battery for depositing the same. This battery was also included in the patent, and it was described as being used ‘for the purpose of generating electrical currents applicable to the deposition of metals.' Mr. Pole, Siemens's biographer, states that Messrs. Elkington paid the young inventor the sum of £1,600 for his rights, less £110, the cost of the patent. Not bad that for the first work upon which he was engaged. When the triumphant inventor returned to Germany he was looked upon by his family as quite a Croesus.

The brothers Werner and William now took a third person into their confidence, a clever mechanic named Leonhard, who assisted them in perfecting their inventions. In 1844 William Siemens paid a second visit to England, and patented his differential governor. In describing this new invention, Mr. Pole remarks that 'steam-engines for turning machinery have always been liable to irregularities in their velocity of motion, arising partly from variations in the steam-pressure, and partly from variable resistances in the work done.' Various contrivances were tried at different times to equalise the motion, Watt's governor up to this period having been the most successful. Siemens's invention, however, was a great advance. Its novel feature, 'the added uniform motor, acted as a timekeeper, with which the motion of the engine could be compared, and this gave to the invention the name of the Chronometric Governor.' In bringing it forward Siemens associated with himself a civil engineer of repute named Joseph Woods.

An attempt to dispose of the patent for a large sum failed, and it became necessary for the inventors to supply the manufacturers with machines for the purpose of trying them. Mr. Woods read a paper on the Governor before the Institution of Civil Engineers, and Robert Stephenson, John Penn, and others spoke warmly of its merits. A model of the machine was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1851, and it was awarded a prize medal.

Another invention introduced by Siemens in 1844 was that of anastatic printing. Its originator was a Mr. Baldamus of Erfurt, but the brothers Siemens took it up and perfected it, and William produced the first roller quick printing press that had been used in the trade. A patent was taken out for the new process, entitled, ‘Improvements in producing and multiplying copies of designs and impressions of printed or written surfaces.' The patent embraced two objects: first, a mode of obtaining on metallic surfaces reversed facsimiles of typography, engravings, designs, writings, etc.; and secondly, mechanical presses for printing impressions from such reversed facsimiles. Great efforts were made to push the invention, and Faraday lectured upon it at the Royal Institution; but the experiments proved so costly and unremunerative that Siemens abandoned the thing altogether, and it was ultimately superseded by other processes.

Meantime, even the inventions of proved value already described caused William Siemens great concern. Large sums of money subscribed by his family and others, as well as amounts of his own, kept going out in a constant stream, while no return came in. This led in time to recriminations and dissensions, so that the future which had once seemed so bright began to wear another hue. But by the aid of some railway work, Siemens was able to return to Germany in 1845, and settle certain urgent private affairs. In 1846 the brothers resolved to abandon the joint working of the patents. William relieved his brother of all responsibility, and took the whole matter upon his own shoulders. His difficulties just at this time were enough to crush almost any man. Yet he went on inventing, and brought out an improvement in the manner of exhausting air by mechanical power. Although it did not yield him any profit, it was used afterwards with success.

Having paid a visit to the manufacturing districts of Lancashire in the autumn of 1846, Siemens took a place in Manchester early in the following year. He entered upon various engineering matters, and had also an engagement at the large print works of Messrs. Hoyle & Sons, but his main investigations were into the nature of steam-power He had already studied the theory of heat and the conservation of energy, and had kept up with all the recent discoveries in connection therewith. As the result of experiments now made by Siemens, he was enabled to take out a patent in December, 1847, for 'Improvements in engines to be worked by steam and other fluids.'

Negotiations were set on foot with an eminent manufacturing firm, Messrs. Fox, Henderson & Co. of Smethwick, near Birmingham. Trial was made of a new engine constructed by Siemens, and in the end the inventor entered the manufactory of Fox, Henderson and Co, receiving not only his interest in the patents, but a fixed salary of £400 per annum. He was now relieved from pecuniary anxiety, and forthwith took up his residence in one of the suburbs of Birmingham. His brother Frederick afterwards joined him as assistant under the same firm. The chief engineering manager of the firm, Mr. Edward Cowper, remained the firm friend of William Siemens all through life, 'and gave him essential support in his later heat-inventions.'

This regenerative steam-engine, as Siemens's machine was called, was ingenious and remarkable, but the difficulties attending the invention prevented its commercial introduction. In 1850, however, the Society of Arts awarded Siemens a gold medal for his regenerative condenser. In a paper read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1851, the inventor gave a short historic sketch of the steam-engine condenser generally, explaining his new arrangement, and its mode of application to different forms of engine. At the close of 1852 Siemens's relations with Fox, Henderson and Co were terminated, the losses and difficulties sustained by the firm having led to friction with the inventor.

William Siemens now took up the electrical work which afterwards developed so rapidly. He began by making known in England the telegraphic inventions of Siemens and Halske, whose works in Germany had already become of an extensive character. In 1849 he read a paper at the Society of Arts descriptive of his brother's telegraphic achievements, and in the following year an English agency was successfully established. An agreement was signed between the two brothers. In March, 1850, William Siemens introduced his brother's gutta-percha wire covering to the British Electric Telegraphic Company, and soon afterwards he carried out an arrangement for working the manufacture in Great Britain. He next induced Fox, Henderson and Co to take up the work and under his direction large contracts were executed by that firm and Siemens and Halske for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, etc.

In March, 1852, Siemens went to London, establishing himself as a civil engineer in John Street, Adelphi. He undertook this year an important series of experiments on the total heat of steam, and its expansion when in an isolated state. But improvements in his regenerative steam-engine soon began to occupy him once more, and to carry out these he returned to Birmingham, the old firm with which he had been connected still taking an interest in the work. Shortly afterwards he wrote an elaborate treatise with the object of explaining the scientific principles on which his invention was based, as well as expounding the doctrines and practice affecting heat as a source of mechanical power. This composition, entitled 'On the Conversion of Heat into Mechanical Effect,' was read at the Institution of Civil Engineers on May 17, 1853. The paper was divided into three sections, which dealt respectively with the Relations between Heat and Mechanical Effect, the Performances of Actual Engines, including Heated-Air Engines, and the Necessary Characteristics of a Perfect Engine. This paper gained for Siemens the Telford premium and silver medal awarded by the Institution. It was subsequently translated into Italian.

The inventor undertook to produce one of his improved engines, and this was finished in March, 1854. It was of fifteen horse-power, and had a satisfactory trial in January, 1855. Several engines were afterwards constructed for England, France, and Germany, which varied in size from five to forty horse-power. Two were shown and worked at the Paris Exhibition of 1855, where the invention was awarded a first class medal. The inventor claimed by this machine to provide a motive force at one-third or one-fourth part of the cost and encumbrance of the existing steam-engine. A company was formed in Genoa for the purpose of manufacturing the engine, and it had branches in Paris, Vienna, Liege, and other continental cities. Accidents and ill-fortune, however, attended the construction of the machines, and the enterprise was abandoned in 1859.

Siemens continued to make further experiments in heat, but the practical difficulties in connection with his machines ended in discouragement. This was also the case with his invention for regenerative evaporation. Mr. Pole observes with regard to these experiments:

The regenerative principle was undoubtedly sound, and he had devoted ten or twelve of the best years of his life to its application, during which time he had the support of many eminent engineers, the practical aid of two of the best manufacturing firms in the country, and the funds of a powerful commercial association. Neither theoretical knowledge, nor practical experience, nor ingenuity, nor skill, nor money, nor perseverance, nor influence, was wanting. But in spite of their promised advantages, the regenerative steam-engine would not supplant the simple machine of Watt, nor would the regenerative evaporator supersede the old- fashioned sugar and salt pans.

It is hard now to explain these failures. Probably they arose from the aims being too high, and from the introduction of more complication than the nature of the machines would bear.

In the steam-engine, for example, instead of the simple plan of evaporating and re-condensing water, in which the most ordinary machine could hardly go astray, there was substituted the alternate heating to a very high temperature, and re-cooling, with the aid of the regenerator, of a permanent elastic fluid, which introduced not only a more elaborate construction, but new difficulties in the management, in consequence of the more intense heat applied in the working parts of the machine.

And with the regenerative evaporator the more complex arrangements required larger outlay of capital, with greater trouble in working, and sometimes endangered the quality of the manufactured article.

These difficulties were courageously attacked by Mr. Siemens's inventive ingenuity, and there is no doubt that in many cases satisfactory results were attained by the new machines; but on the whole the long and repeated trials showed that the complications and difficulties introduced were not commercially compensated for by the advantages gained in the saving of fuel.


But all these preliminary labours were not to prove abortive. A happy thought occurred to Frederick Siemens that the regenerative principle to which his brother had given so much attention 'might be made available in a much more simple manner by applying it directly to the ordinary furnaces in which the fuel was consumed. It was well known that in the working of powerful furnaces, the smoke and gases resulting from the combustion passed away into the atmosphere at a very high heat, while the air supplying the fire was drawn in at the ordinary atmospheric temperature. All therefore that the inventor here proposed to do, was to apply the regenerative principle by means of a "respirator," so arranged as to intercept and absorb the superfluous heat from the escaping gases, and to give it out again in heating the air used to feed the fire. In this way not only would waste be prevented, but the intensity of action of the furnace might be much increased.'

Working upon these lines, William perfected the idea by experiments, and a patent was taken out in December, 1856, in the name of Frederick Siemens, for an 'Improved arrangement of furnaces; which improvements are applicable in all cases where great heat is required.' The principal object of the invention was thus described: 'Constructing furnaces in such manner that the heat of the products of combustion is absorbed by passing the same through chambers containing refractory materials so arranged as to present extensive heat-absorbing surfaces; and is communicated to currents of air or other gases by passing the latter currents alternately over the same heated surfaces.' The invention excited deep interest when it was described by William Siemens in a paper read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on the 24th of June, 1857.

Experiments were soon set on foot, and furnaces were erected on the new principle at Sheffield and Wednesbury — in the former case the application being to the melting and re-heating of steel; and in the latter case to the re-heating of iron. At length Siemens had his triumph, for the furnaces succeeded, and the saving of fuel was much greater even than had been expected. There were still formidable difficulties to overcome in finding materials sufficiently refractory to withstand the more intense heat produced, but these were ultimately surmounted.

Mr. E. A. Cowper next made an important and successful application of the furnace to the heating of the air for hot-blast iron-smelting furnaces. This was patented, and later Siemens gave Cowper his assistance in regard to further improvements, and several patents were taken out in their joint names. The invention was soon extensively used in all iron-making countries, its advantages including great saving of fuel, no leakage, no wear and tear of pipes, and an increased make of iron. In the course of twenty or thirty years, the savings in the iron trade by the process amounted to £500,000 per annum.

Among William Siemens's other early inventions were improvements in calico printing, the introduction of a double cylinder air-pump, and a new refrigerating machine. But none of these achieved such a remarkable success as his new meter for measuring water, brought out in 1851. This instrument, which was called a Fluid Meter, was patented in 1852. Its characteristics were thus described: 'Various arrangements of screws or helices, which are caused to revolve by the passage of water or other fluid through them, and of fixed guides and channels in connection with such screws or helices to regulate and direct the current of the fluid, together with various contrivances for registering the number of revolutions of the screws.' Although the instrument was simple, the preliminary experiments were arduous.

In 1853 a second patent was taken out by Siemens in conjunction with Mr. Joseph Adamson, a Leeds engineer, who had suggested improvements in various points. The new patent proved to be so simple and efficient in character that a hundred meters were soon ordered, and the demand continued to increase. The machine was adopted extensively in England, Europe, and the United States. Its principle was explained at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in July, 1856, when Siemens claimed to have been the first to bring into use a meter which would work with a high water-pressure. When the patent had only been in operation for a year, it was already beginning to secure Siemens a handsome income. For many years, the royalties in Great Britain alone amounted to upwards of £1,000 a year. The Siemens water-meter proved to be one of the most useful hydraulic machines ever invented. By the close of 1885 nearly 130,000 meters had been sold by the inventor's English firm of agents alone.

The great question of telegraphic submarine cables next engaged Siemens's attention, and it was not long before the business assumed enormous proportions. As early as 1847 an English telegraph engineer named Brett obtained a provisional concession from the French Government for a cable between England and France, but on account of the supposed impracticability of the project the concession was allowed to lapse.

In August, 1850, as the result of experiments by Mr. C. V. Walker, an electrical engineer, a submarine cable was actually laid across the Strait from Dover to Cape Grisnez. It consisted of a copper wire only, covered with gutta-percha, but with no other protection. Nevertheless, a few messages were successfully transmitted, but as the wire refused to act on the following day, when the French official engineers arrived to test it, the concession was cancelled. It appears that a French fisherman had cut a piece out of the cable, and exhibited it in triumph at Boulogne as a rare specimen of seaweed with its centre filled with gold!

A third concession was obtained in 1851, a Submarine Telegraph Co was formed, and owing to the efforts of Mr. Thomas Crampton, a shareholder of the Company, a cable was successfully laid across the Channel in September of the above year. 'It was twenty-four miles long, consisting of four copper wires, insulated by gutta-percha, covered with tarred yarn, and protected by an outer covering of galvanised iron wires. It has remained perfect to the present time, and still forms one of the communications between the two countries.' Other cables now followed in quick succession. Messrs. Newall & Co., of Gateshead, large wire rope makers, seeing the great demand springing up, laid out works for the construction of submarine cables on an extensive scale. They engaged Siemens and Halske as their electrical and consulting engineers, and William Siemens carried out the tests.

During 1858-1859 the following cables were laid down under the auspices of Messrs. Siemens: from Bona, in Algeria, to Cagliari, in Sardinia, for the French Government; from Cagliari to Malta and Corfu, for the Mediterranean Extension Company; from the Dardanelles to Scio and Candia, for the Levant Company; from Syra to Scio, for the Greek Government; from Singapore to Batavia, for the Dutch Government; from Weymouth to the Channel Islands; from Suez to Suakim and Aden, and from Aden to Kurrachee, for the Red Sea and India Telegraph Company.

Siemens likewise devoted himself to electrical work on his own account, and between 1854 and 1859 took out four patents for his own and Werner Siemens's improvements of various kinds in telegraphic detail. William Siemens further set up a London workshop for the manufacture of telegraph materials. It was capable of employing about 100 workmen, and was situate in Millbank Row, Westminster — a central position, which was also favourable for carrying on experiments in other fields.

Speaking of Siemens's domestic life, Mr. Pole says that in 1852 he entered the family of Mr. William Hawes, a well-known professor of music, and father of the celebrated contralto Maria B. Hawes. Their house was in Adelphi Terrace, and during his residence here he was tenderly nursed by the Hawes family through a severe attack of typhus fever.

In 1855, he rented a house in Kensington Crescent, taking his brothers Frederick and Otto to reside with him. He was now able to receive friends, and was well acquainted with many of the eminent foreigners who sought refuge in this country after the political convulsions of 1848. Among them were Semper, the renowned architect, Richard Wagner, Bucher (with whom he was intimate, although not agreeing with his political views), Kinkel, whose son he at a later period took into his employment, and the brothers Luigi and Alphonso Scalia, with whom he formed a true friendship that never flagged, even after the brothers left for Italy to join the ranks of Garibaldi.

He visited at the houses of many friends, where he occasionally met men eminent in literature, art, or science, and in this way he became personally intimate with many of the leading men among his professional brethren. Siemens was thrown much into contact with Mr. Lewis Gordon, Professor of Engineering in the University of Glasgow, who had married a Hanoverian lady, and a family connection of Siemens. An attachment sprang up between Siemens and Miss Anne Gordon, the youngest sister of the Professor. It was at this time that Siemens formally naturalised himself in England, 'and on the 19th March, 1859, as he used amusingly to say, he took oath and allegiance to two ladies in one day — the Queen, and his chosen partner in life.' Miss Gordon was an excellent singer, having studied under Manuel Garcia. Her marriage with Siemens took place on the 23rd of Tuly, 1859, and the honeymoon was spent in Germany. The union was a thoroughly happy one.

In December, 1860, Siemens was elected a full member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was then put up for the Royal Society, his nomination paper being signed by Hawkshaw, Bateman, Airy, Faraday, Percy, Thomson, Wheatstone, Rennie, Joule, and others. On the 5th of June, 1862, he was elected a Fellow. Siemens was at this time carrying forward his experiments with the regenerative furnace, the object being to provide such materials, and to arrange such a construction of furnace, as should in practical use withstand the great beat produced. Many of the early failures to achieve this resulted in the destruction of the furnace itself, or of its accessories,

'In the course of these trials,' remarks Mr. Pole, 'a modification suggested itself to the two brothers, of such a character as to amount to a most important new invention. It was found that the use of solid fuel, in the body of the furnace, offered obstacles to the favourable working of the system, and the idea arose of substituting gaseous fuel, the solid fuel being converted into combustible gases in a separate construction called a "gas producer."

`This was patented 22nd January, 1861, in the names of the two brothers jointly. The patent said: "It is an essential part of our invention that the solid fuel should be decomposed in a separate apparatus, so that the introduction of solid fuel into the furnace may be altogether avoided; and independently of the advantage that results from heating the gaseous fuel prior to its entering into combustion, there is a great advantage derived from the absence of any solid carbon or ashes in the working chamber of the furnace, by which we are enabled to carry on operations in the furnace which it has only been possible hitherto to conduct in covered vessels or pots." The specification described various modifications of furnaces having "gas generators" of this kind.

‘The new invention was described by William Siemens in a second paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on 3oth January, 1862. After alluding to this original form of the furnace, he said:—

"In attempting, however, to apply the principle to puddling and other larger furnaces, serious practical difficulties arose, which, for a considerable time frustrated all efforts, until by adopting the plan of volatilising the solid fuel in the first instance, and employing it entirely in a gaseous form for heating purposes, practical results were at length attained surpassing even the most sanguine expectations previously formed.

"The fuel employed, which may be of a very inferior description, is separately converted into a crude gas, which being conducted to the furnace has its naturally low heating power greatly increased by being heated to nearly the high temperature of the furnace itself, undergoing at the same time certain chemical changes whereby the heat developed in its subsequent combustion is increased. The heating effect is still further augmented by the air necessary for combustion being also heated separately to the same high temperature." '


A patent was secured, and gas furnaces were constructed, some of which saved fifty per cent of fuel. Messrs. Chance, the large glass manufacturers near Birmingham, speedily had thirteen of the furnaces in use, together with a special one for optical lighthouse lenses, a manufacture requiring special care and perfection. Siemens explained the furnace to Faraday, who lectured upon it at the Royal Institution, his address on that occasion being the last he ever delivered. Siemens frequently spoke afterwards of the great delight with which he had spent two days in the company of Faraday. The regenerative gas furnace soon became a pecuniary success from its enormous saving of fuel. The furnace was awarded a Grand Prize at the Paris Exhibition of 1867.

Siemens now sought to apply his regenerative furnace to the process of puddling — that is, the formation of malleable iron from the pig, or cast, iron produced by smelting the ore. He constructed a puddling furnace, which he described in a paper read before the British Association. The communication was deemed so important that the Council ordered it to be published in extenso, an honour rarely accorded. Siemens stated in this paper that, after a careful scientific analysis, he had come to the conclusion that the process of puddling, as then practised, was extremely wasteful in iron and fuel, immensely laborious, and that it yielded a metal only imperfectly separated from its impurities. The inventor could not do much with the furnace as regards iron, but with regard to steel he made a very remarkable and successful application of the regenerative furnace. As his biographer notes, this proved to be one of the most important labours of his life.

In 1722 Reaumur, the eminent French philosopher, had devised a method for making steel by fusing malleable iron with cast steel. Some time later a practical steel-maker named Heath, of Sheffield, made experiments on the same lines. At length the Bessemer process, introduced between 1856 and 1860, enabled steel to be produced on a large scale and at a cheap rate. But the process required a peculiar and cumbersome apparatus. Siemens Brothers contemplated the application of the gas furnace to steelmaking by the terms of their patent of January, 1861. Describing the furnace, the patent said it might be employed with advantage for smelting iron, for making steel, or for roasting copper and other ores.

It appears that the general opinion of practical men was opposed to the idea, but William Siemens resolutely set himself to prove its feasibility. Messrs. Martin, steel and iron manufacturers, of Sireuil, in the Department of the Charente, succeeded under Siemens's direction not only in melting steel already made, but in effecting the production of the metal itself by his process. Siemens himself took premises in Birmingham, and succeeded in perfecting his experiments for making steel. In 1868 the Landore Works, near Swansea, were opened for the manufacture of steel by the Siemens process. By the year 1881 the annual production of steel in England under Sir William's process was upwards of 340,000 tons.

Among minor matters, Siemens was requested by the Government in 1867 to give his advice with regard to checking the recoil in gun-carriages. He recommended hydraulic compression; but, although his suggestion was adopted, no acknowledgment was made of his services in the matter. In 1866 he extended the scope and usefulness of his chronometric governor, which he asserted was capable of securing a really uniform rotation in mechanism. He demonstrated that it would apply to clocks and other things, and took out a patent for his improved governor. It was eventually used for a purpose he had not contemplated. 'It had been remarked that in regulating the speed of an engine, the machine acted to some extent as an absorber of surplus power, and this suggested the idea of applying it as a substitute for the treadmill or crank, in forced prison labour. It was thus used in the gaols of Liverpool, Manchester, Leicester, Stafford, and elsewhere, giving every satisfaction.'

In 1861 the firm of Siemens and Halske acted as electricians for the Government in the laying down of the Malta and Alexandria Cable. The cable was divided into three sections, viz., Malta and Tripoli, Tripoli and Benghazi, and Benghazi and Alexandria, and the total length was about 1,350 miles. Werner and William Siemens wrote a joint paper about this time for the British Association, embodying their studies of the 'Principles and Practice involved in dealing with the Electric Conditions of Submarine Electric Telegraphs.' They recommended India-rubber as an insulator, and devised an ingenious machine for applying it to cables.

William Siemens contributed to the Institution of Civil Engineers an elaborate paper On the Electrical Tests employed during the Construction of the Malta and Alexandria Telegraph, and on 'Insulating and Protecting Submarine Cables.' At the International Exhibition of 1862 Siemens and Halske exhibited a great variety of electrical apparatus of various kinds, appearing both as British and as foreign exhibitors. The collection attracted wide notice, and was awarded three separate medals. William Siemens wrote an article in the Practical Mechanic's Journal, giving a full description of the collection, as well as a history of the electric telegraph. In 1860 he gave evidence before a Committee appointed by the Board of Trade on the best form for the composition and outer covering of submarine telegraph cables.

In 1863 William Siemens, with the aid of the Berlin firm, established large works at Charlton, near Woolwich, for the manufacture of all kinds of telegraph instruments, apparatus, and materials, including submarine cables, which could thus be shipped from the River Thames for direct transport. At the close of the following year Mr. Halske retired from the London firm, and it was reconstituted at the beginning of 1865 under the name of Siemens Brothers. The partners were Werner Siemens, William Siemens, and Carl Siemens. The Berlin firm retained its old name of Siemens and Halske. The works at Charlton grew so rapidly as to necessitate the employment of some 3,000 men. The Algerian Cable was the first work undertaken by the new firm. It was laid between Oran, on the Algerian coast, and Carthagena, in Spain, and was about 140 miles long. Werner and William Siemens personally superintended the laying of the cable. After it had been successfully completed, under great difficulties, the cable unfortunately broke ten miles from Carthagena, upon the edge of a precipice which descends almost perpendicularly from comparatively shallow water to 2,800 metres. The contract involved the Siemens firm in legal proceedings and financial loss, and the disaster affected William Siemens keenly. No considerable portion of the cable was ever recovered, and the French Government laid down an alternative line.

However, in 1868-69, the Berlin and London firms 'executed jointly a work of great national importance and of high responsibility, namely, the establishment of a line of land telegraphs forming a direct communication between England and India, and afterwards known by the name of the Indo-European Telegraph.' Messrs. Siemens obtained concessions from the Prussian, Russian, and Persian Governments, and the Indo-European Telegraph Company was formed in alliance with the Electric and International Telegraph Company. Half the capital was subscribed before the issue of the prospectus, and the rest immediately afterwards. The construction of the line was begun in June, 1868, and completed by the 10th December, 1869. The total length of the various sections was no less than 2,750 miles. The line went through Russian and Persian territory, from the Prussian frontier to Teheran, so connecting the existing Prussian system — and through it the British Islands with the lines of the Indian Government.

'The complete line from England to India, as worked by the Company, passes from London to Lowestoft, thence by submarine cable to Norderney, then by Emden and Berlin to Thorn, on the eastern frontier of Prussia, and thence by Messrs. Siemens's new line to Teheran, and so by the Indian Government lines to all parts of India. In order to give the Company complete control over the communication, the Prussian Government agreed that there should be laid down, for their exclusive use, two additional wires, with separate posts, and under separate management, through their district, from Norderney to Thorn. By this arrangement, therefore, the whole communication from England to India is kept in British hands.'

Serious obstacles were encountered in laying the cable, especially that portion of it crossing the Caucasus and the Black Sea. The following interesting passage is from Mr. Pole's description:—

The construction of the line involved great difficulties, partly by physical obstacles, but chiefly by the fact of the line passing through an uncommercial and unsettled country, peopled in some parts by only semi-civilized races.

In the first place, it was not an easy matter to get the necessary apparatus delivered upon the ground. The materials for the Persian portion of the line, consisting of 11,000 iron posts, 33,400 insulators, and 900 miles of wire of large section, were shipped to St. Petersburg, whence they were transported on the Neva and the Volga to Astrakhan, and again shipped across the Caspian for Lenkoran, Astara, and Recht, the northern parts of Persia. At these ports it was found difficult to get beasts of burden to distribute the materials in the interior of the country within the prescribed time.

Then, when the materials were on the ground, their fixing met with new obstacles of a strange and unusual nature. The Circassians, who were often roaming about armed, and who had but little respect for law and order, used to find amusement in firing at the insulators, upsetting the posts, and damaging the wires; and until they could be brought to good behaviour, the workmen and inspectors were obliged often to work and go about under a guard of Russian soldiers.

Then some curious difficulties were found from the effects of great cold in winter, combined with some peculiar conditions of moisture in the air. Occasionally the wires would become surrounded with envelopes of frozen dew, increasing to some inches in diameter, which would weigh down the wires, or would break up into separate beads, hanging like huge necklaces between the poles. These conditions rendered necessary either extra strong wires, or short bearings, where they were found likely to occur.

Then there were other evils. At some periods large numbers of the men were invalided by fever or other diseases, and one of the best German members of the staff died. There also occurred frequent quarrels with the natives, sometimes carried to bloodshed. In one instance a good native servant was beheaded by swift native law, on a groundless charge of shooting a villager.

But the good temper and spirit of the officers carried them through their difficulties, which, indeed, they often viewed on the amusing side.'


Besides taking out several patents at this time for improvements in the details of electrical apparatus, Siemens devised a new form of the Electrical Resistance Measurer — one of singular practical utility for cheapness and simplicity of construction, ease of manipulation, portability, and capability of employment with exactness by unskilled and inexperienced operators.

Siemens's principal recreation was in travelling, and on his excursions abroad — with the exception of a business journey to the Black Sea — he was accompanied by his wife. In the autumn of 1860 they visited Germany, and were present at a great meeting at Coburg on behalf of German unity. At Dresden they examined the fine glass-works of Hans Siemens. In August, 1862, they again made a tour in Germany, which was extended to Austria and Styria. Many interesting cities were visited, the travellers returning by Salzburg and the Salzkammergut, Dresden, and Berlin.

During this same year Siemens found it necessary to reside permanently in London, so he took a house called Aubrey Lodge, on Campden Hill, the highest point of Western London. Here he resided until 1870, and he would frequently entertain, with his wife, distinguished representatives of science, art, and literature. During this period Siemens delivered many lectures and addresses to the members of scientific and other institutions, and on one occasion he gave great delight to the boys of the City of London School by a series of interesting experiments.

In the spring of 1866 Mr. and Mrs. Siemens travelled through Italy, and subsequently visited Berlin, the occasion being made memorable by the meeting in the Prussian capital of the five brothers Werner, William, Frederick, Carl, and Walter Siemens. Later in the year William Siemens was seized with serious illness, but a long stay at Bonchurch, in the Isle of Wight, restored him to comparative health.

In March, 1867, he was called upon to attend the funeral of his brother Hans at Dresden. Fifteen months later he sustained another severe loss by the death of his brother Walter, who met with a violent end in the manner already indicated. In September, 1868, Siemens took a holiday in Switzerland, but the rough climbing over glaciers, etc., caused him much fatigue and subsequent suffering.

By the year 1870 Siemens had achieved both a reputation and a competence, and as the accumulation of money had never been his chief object, he was now glad to have the opportunity of enjoying the delights of intellectual life, and of mingling in literary and scientific gatherings and labours. At the same time, the next ten years of his life, while not so arduous as the preceding ten years, were as active as any period in his life, and marked by the perfecting of many miscellaneous inventions.

In 1873 the Landore Steel Works were making about 1,000 tons of steel weekly, the fourth largest output in the world. The Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy having expressed his belief that vessels could be made of steel instead of the heavy plated iron, Siemens conducted a series of experiments with this object, producing a light steel of superior quality. The result was that he obtained a contract from the Admiralty for the production of the plates, angles, and beams to be used in the construction of two armed despatch vessels, the Iris and the Mercury, to be built at Pembroke Dockyard. The work was satisfactorily executed, and the steel stood the most stringent tests.

Although the Landore Works acquired great fame, however, for the character of their manufactures, they were anything but prosperous from the commercial point of view. Difficulties of management, a ruinous fall in prices, and other causes, led to serious losses, Siemens himself being the principal sufferer. Yet the production of high-class steel went on. Siemens estimated that the quantity of steel which had been made by his processes in various places to the end of 1882 amounted to 4,000,000 tons. Six years later the production in Great Britain alone was nearly 1,000,000 tons per annum. Siemens made many experiments for the direct production of iron and steel from the ores, and, while he did not live to accomplish this, he never ceased to express his belief that it would ultimately be done. When the Shah of Persia visited England in 1873, his apartments were placed in direct communication, through the Indo-European Telegraph, with his own palace. His Majesty sent for Dr. Siemens, and highly complimented him on the great achievements of his Company, and he likewise conferred upon the inventor the Imperial Order of the Lion and the Sun.

The most important telegraphic work executed by Siemens Brothers was the laying of the Direct United States Cable in 1874, for which work the steamship Faraday was specially constructed after designs by William Siemens. The steamer was 5,000 tons register, and 360 feet long, and in her interior were three enormous tanks, capable of stowing under water 1,700 miles of cable. She was propelled by twin-screws so arranged as to give great facility in manoeuvring. The line of the Direct United States Cable was to be 3,060 nautical miles in length, to extend from Ballinskellig Bay in Ireland to Torbay in Nova Scotia, from whence it was continued, also by submarine cable, to Rye Beach in New Hampshire, there joining the American land lines.

The eventful voyages of the Faraday in the laying of this cable are thus detailed by Mr. Pole:—

She sailed, to commence the laying of the Direct Atlantic Cable, on the 16th May, 1874. The expedition was in charge of 'Mr. Carl Siemens, and the manager of the firm, Mr. Loeffler, was also on board. She carried on this occasion the cable for the American sections and shore ends. She arrived off the American coast early in June, and was there joined by the Ambassador, a ship also sent out by Messrs, Siemens to assist in the laying. The work was much delayed by foggy weather; and on the 2nd July there appeared in The Times the following startling announcement, communicated by Reuter's telegrams:-

"The steamer Faraday has struck on an iceberg off Halifax, and is a total wreck."

The consternation caused by such an announcement may well be imagined, but not a moment was lost; Messrs. Siemens sent telegraphic messages in all directions to gather information. After some hours of suspense impossible to describe, everything pointed to the explanation that the rumour was a mere Stock Exchange panic. Messrs. Siemens obtained the assurance that the report was without foundation, and they authoritatively announced this in The Times of the next day. But not till news came, as it did soon afterwards, from Carl Siemens, did the family feel relieved of the load of anxiety. The Faraday arrived safely at Woolwich on the 6th of August, having completed all the work she had then to do.

On the 26th of August, 1874, she again left Charlton, with the main cable on board, to be laid under the superintendence of Mr. Carl Siemens. She arrived at Ballinskellig Bay on 1st September, and having attached the cable to the shore end, she commenced paying out on the 6th September, accompanied by two tenders, the Ambassador and the Dacia.

She had laid about 500 or 600 miles when Dr. Werner Siemens, who was testing the cable from the shore at Ballinskellig Bay, found that a very slight fault had passed over-board. Hitherto it had not been customary to stop operations for faults of so trifling a character, as being too unimportant to interfere with the proper working of cables. But the brothers were determined that this cable should be as perfect as human skill could make it, and they therefore agreed to haul back and cut out the fault. In doing this the cable broke, but it was picked up again within forty-eight hours in 2,680 fathoms of water, successfully spliced, and the laying proceeded with. This picking up of the cable out of a depth of nearly three miles is noteworthy, as being the first time that such a feat was successfully accomplished.

Owing to severe weather, to the loss of grapnels which had been broken in consequence of the rocky bottom upon which the operations were being carried on, and to the supply of coal running short, the Faraday and her two tenders were eventually obliged to put into Queenstown to effect some repairs, and to obtain coals and supplies. William Siemens visited them there on the 10th October, and the Faraday left again on the 23rd.

The principle of eliminating even the smallest faults was rigidly adhered to, although the completion of the cable was much delayed thereby; but since it has been handed over to the proprietors, it has proved to be one of the most satisfactory cables ever laid, and its rate of transmission is far superior to that of cables in which minute faults have been allowed to remain.'


Another large undertaking carried out by Siemens Brothers in 1874, was the laying of the Brazilian Cable. The line lay between Rio de Janeiro and the coast of Uruguay, near the Brazilian frontier, in all 1,130 nautical miles of sea cable and so statute miles of land line. The work was successfully carried through, but not until two terrible disasters had occurred. The steamship Gomos, which went out with stores and materials, laid in due course one of the sections of the cable, but on the night of the 25th May, 1874, she struck on a sand-bar at Rio Grande do Sul, and became a total wreck, losing about 240 nautical miles of cable. In the following November another steamer, the La Plata, was sent out with stores and 184 nautical miles of cable. Three days after her departure, however, she foundered during a violent gale in the Bay of Biscay, and fifty-eight lives were lost.

This painful disaster seemed inexplicable, for the La Plata was a fine iron screw steamer of 968 tons register. The captain was experienced and the vessel was well found in every respect. All kinds of rumours were bruited abroad, and as the loss occurred at the time when the agitation against unseaworthy ships was at its height, reports were even circulated to the prejudice of the owners and charterers. Altogether there was considerable public excitement. The affair was a serious one for Siemens Brothers, as they lost the whole of their cable staff, including the chief of the expedition, Mr. Ricketts, and six skilled assistants accompanying him.

The Board of Trade ordered an enquiry, which was held at Greenwich by Mr. Balguy, police magistrate, assisted by Captain Oates and Captain Pryce, as nautical assessors, and by Mr. Traill, chief surveyor of the Board of Trade, as engineering assessor. The investigation lasted eleven days, and it was proved that Dr. Siemens had even voluntarily increased the means of safety and comfort for the crew and passengers. The Report was duly issued, and Mr. Balguy found —(1) That the La Plata, when she left Gravesend, was a strong ship, and in a seaworthy condition. (2) She was not over-laden, and her cargo was properly stowed. (3) She was in proper trim. The assessors made a separate report. While substantially agreeing with the magistrate, they differed on some minor points, and in particular pointed out that the trim of the vessel (for which the captain was responsible) was not quite safe under such contingencies as a heavy head-sea or a violent gale. All the judges completely exonerated the Messrs. Siemens from blame. Sir William Siemens's biographer says of this disaster, and of its effects upon Siemens himself: -

The immediate cause of the disaster was judged to be the entrance of water into the engine-room; it was at first thought that a leak arose from some damage to the hull when the boat-davits were carried away, but this was disproved. No sufficient cause for the leakage could be shown, and there was reason to believe that it arose from some derangement of the water-passages connected with the engine, which it was quite within the power of the engineers to control. The magistrate, therefore, expressed his opinion "that the disaster originated in the stoke-hole";— the assessors, going into more detail, agreed that there was "gross negligence in the engine room department," and they also attributed mismanagement to the captain. The evidence, however, was conflicting, and many of the facts were obscure.

The Queen manifested the deepest sympathy for the sufferers, and directed special enquiries to be made after the widow of Captain Dudden, who, it was reported, behaved with the greatest courage.

Besides providing for the widows and families of the principal members of their own staff who had been lost, Messrs. Siemens gave £500 to the public fund raised in aid of the widows and orphans of the men lost in the ship. Similar sums were given by Mr. Henley and by Messrs. Grant Brothers (from whom the contract for the cable was obtained), and the total of the fund was raised to about £4,650, which was distributed by a committee formed principally of officials of Messrs. Siemens and Mr. Henley.

Dr. Siemens felt this calamity very deeply: it aged him perceptibly, and its effects on him were visible for years afterwards. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he ever regained the bright buoyant spirits he had before the catastrophe.'


A third ship, the Ambassador, was sent out, which successfully completed the laying of the Brazilian Cable. Dr. Siemens not only showed the deepest sympathy with those who suffered from the La Plata disaster, but he was also the recipient of sympathy himself.

The late Emperor of the Brazils visited England in 1871. He was a very able man, and took a keen interest in scientific matters. Siemens went over the works at Charlton with his Majesty, to whom he explained the various manufacturing processes. Two years afterwards, the Emperor conferred upon him the Imperial Order of the Rose, subsequently advancing him to the rank of a dignitary of the same Order.

Siemens Brothers laid the French Atlantic Cable in 1879 for the Compagnie Francaise du Telegraphe de Paris a New York. The line was from Brest, via St. Pierre Miguelon, to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the length being about 2,250 nautical miles. Although the order was only given in March, 1879, the cable was finished by the 17th of June, and successfully laid by the Faraday by the 26th of October following. It was in perfect working order, and such an example of rapidity of production is probably unmatched.

Electric lighting is another branch of science with which the name of Siemens is indelibly associated. Faraday produced the electric spark when lecturing at the Royal Institution in 1831 on the 'Evolution of Electricity from Magnetism'; and he then predicted that others would follow in his steps who would make this power available for very important purposes. Wheatstone and other discoverers soon justified his words. Werner and William Siemens began to labour in the same field about 1854, and two years afterwards the former made an important advance towards aggregating magneto-electric currents. He constructed an armature resembling in section the letter H, into the hollows of which the insulated wires were wound longitudinally. The armature was so mounted as to secure a rapid rotation and a succession of currents, and the invention was adopted and largely used by Siemens and Halske in their magneto-electric machines — especially in one called a ‘Zeiger’, an alphabetical indicating instrument. The Siemens armature was used in constructing the electric lights off Dungeness, the South Point, the South Foreland, etc.

But a greater discovery was to follow. By the close of 1866 the Siemens Brothers had discovered, and clearly established, the principle of electro-magnetic augmentation and maintenance of a current without the aid of steel or other permanent magnets. Experiments were carried out at Berlin by the two brothers, in the presence of Professors Dove, Magnus, Du Bois-Reymond, and other leading physicists. The value of the discovery was demonstrated, both practically and scientifically, and it was decided to lay the matter before the Academy of Berlin and the Royal Society of London. The new electro-dynamic inductor revealed extraordinary powers, even in the smallest of the machines, and it solved the problem of exploders for mines and quarries, as well as of exploding cartridges.

William Siemens explained the discovery before the Royal Society on the 14th of February, 1867, in his important paper entitled ‘On the Conversion of Dynamical into Electrical Force without the Aid of Permanent Magnetism.' He described the apparatus, and demonstrated beyond doubt that permanent magnetism was not requisite in order to convert mechanical into electrical force. The most powerful electrical or calorific effects could be produced without the aid of steel magnets, which were open to the objection of losing their permanent magnetism in use. Strangely enough, the discovery was made simultaneously, and without concert, by Professor Wheatstone and Mr. Alfred Varley, and the latter had already applied for a patent, depositing, in a sealed document, a provisional specification. Three scientists, therefore, made, independently of each other, this great discovery in connection with the principle of electricity.

Siemens's patent was dated January 31st, 1867. 'The nature of the invention was thus described in the first claim:—

Developing powerful electric currents in electro-magnetic apparatus by causing the poles of a rotating electro-magnet or keeper to be forcibly approached successively to the similar poles, and forcibly severed from the dissimilar poles of stationary electro-magnets or coils, the currents being directed by means of a commutator or of current changers, so as to produce the above effect, and thereby cause an accumulation of magnetism and of the currents produced by the apparatus."

The application to marine lights is mentioned as follows:—

"Lighthouses have in some cases been illuminated by means of electric lamps. . . As the powerful batteries, such as would be requisite for these electric lamps, are exceedingly perishable and expensive to maintain, magneto-electrical machines have been employed for producing the requisite electrical currents; but even these machines are apt to lose their efficiency, owing to a gradual decrease of the permanent magnetism of the steel bars employed. The present invention consists, first, in obtaining powerful electric currents without the aid either of large batteries or of permanent magnets by the following method."

The method is then described, and the patent also goes on to state how lights may be transmitted through wires to lights, beacons, and buoys out at sea.


Mr. Pole points out that the immediate result of this discovery was the production of one of the most wonderful of modern instruments, the dynamo-electric machine, or, as it is now more briefly called, the dynamo. ‘If mechanical agency be applied to it in form of muscular force, or water or steam power, the machine will convert this into its proper equivalent (minus certain necessary losses) of energy in the shape of an electric current; or, by a reverse operation, if an electric current be introduced into it, it may be changed into a corresponding equivalent of mechanical power, which will do work that might be done by muscles, or by water, or by steam'

Very important improvements were afterwards effected in the Siemens machine by Dr. Werner Siemens and Friedrich von Hefner-Alteneck, and a patent was taken out in 1873, entitled ‘Improvements in apparatus for producing and regulating electric currents, such apparatus being particularly applicable to electric lighting.' Hefner-Alteneck had the chief share in the invention, and the machine was called sometimes the 'New Siemens,' and at others the 'Hefner-Alteneck.'

Many later machines have been introduced for producing large electric currents, including those of Edison, Hopkinson, Gramme, Gordon, Sawyer, the Brush Company, etc. In 1878 Messrs. Siemens constructed the electrical apparatus for the Lizard Light on their principle. In a lecture given at the Royal Institution in February, 1879, Professor Tyndall detailed the progress of electric lighting; and Dr. Siemens supplemented this account in March, 1880, by lecturing on the dynamo-electric current generally.

The electric transmission of power was Siemens's favourite study. It had strongly impressed him in the autumn of 1876, when visiting the Falls of Niagara; and when in the spring of 1877 he gave the opening address as President of the Iron and Steel Institute, he startled his audience by stating that 'a copper rod three inches in diameter would be capable of transmitting 1,000 horse-power a distance of, say, thirty miles, an amount sufficient to supply one-quarter of a million candle-power, which would suffice to illuminate a moderately-sized town.'

Other inventions by Siemens included the following:— An improved pyrometer, or thermometer for very high temperatures, acting by electricity; the bathometer, for measuring ocean depths without the sounding-line, the means employed being variations in the attraction exerted on a delicately suspended body; and the deep sea electrical photometer, by which investigations could be carried on by the penetration of light into deep water.

Siemens's proposal for the conveyance of force from waterfalls like Niagara was received with a good deal of incredulity, but he adhered to his view. There was more belief, because there was complete demonstration, in regard to his ingenious experiments for ripening fruit under electricity, and his labours in the direction of applying electricity to illumination, and in constructing a combined gas and coke stove, by which the air required for combustion is heated in passing to the burner, so that the warmth usually wasted below the grate and up the chimney is brought forward, and radiation of heat increased.

In 1882 Siemens published a work on the Conservation of Solar Energy, which was an ingenious endeavour to explain certain phenomena in solar physics on the principle of his own regenerative furnace.

Besides being elected on the Council of the Royal Society, Siemens was admitted to those select societies, or inner circles, called the Royal Society Club and the Philosophical Club. He also served on the Council of the British Association and the Institution of Civil Engineers. For two years he held the office of President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and he acted as President and Member of Council of the Iron and Steel Institute. In 1875 the Institute presented him with the Bessemer gold medal, 'in recognition of the valuable services he had rendered to the iron and steel trades by his important inventions and investigations.' He was likewise elected first President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians. He made an offer of £10,000 to the Iron and Steel Institute for the erection of a Hall of Applied Sciences, but difficulties arose as to the mode of carrying out the scheme, and it consequently fell through. In the Society of Arts — which was the first Society he ever joined — he took a profound interest, and at the time of his death he was Chairman of the Council. He was awarded the gold medal of the Society in 1875. At the Chemical Society, the Royal Institution, and the United Service Institution, he made frequent appearances. He was elected into the Athenaeum Club under the special rule admitting distinguished men. In June, 1870, he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. at Oxford, the other recipients of the honour at the same time being Sir Edwin Landseer, Sir Francis Grant, Sir William Armstrong, Mr, Robert Lowe, and Mr. Matthew Arnold.

Between 1870 and 1879, Dr. and Mrs. Siemens paid several visits to the Continent. In 1870 Carl Siemens and his family removed to London, and Dr. Siemens took one of the Palace Houses opposite Kensington Gardens, to accommodate his own family and his brother's, and they occupied the same dwelling until 1881, domestic happiness doing much to mitigate the inventor's many business anxieties. In 1874 Siemens also took a country seat, Sherwood House, near Tunbridge Wells, which he found to be a charming and beautiful retreat. In this establishment 'electricity played every part, from cooking the dinners to calling the servants, ripening the peaches and brushing the boots.'

In June, 1878, Siemens was made an Honorary Member of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and in 1879 the University of Glasgow conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.

During the last few years of his life, Siemens devoted a great deal of attention to such questions as smoke abatement, an improved house stove, and London fogs. In 1883, Sir William Thomson was asked, 'Can you scientific people not save us from these black and yellow City fogs?' Sir William's instant answer was, 'Sir William Siemens is going to do it; and I hope, if we live a few years longer, we shall have seen almost the last of them.' Alas Siemens passed away within a few days, while the London fogs still remain.

Siemens had great faith in gas as a heating agent, and he made numerous experiments to test his ideas. He went so far as to anticipate the time when, by means of some arrangement analogous to his gas producer, gas might be made in the coal districts, and supplied by a gigantic system of distribution to the public generally as fuel. In the year 1880 the firm of Siemens Brothers at Charlton was turned into a limited company, the brothers Werner, William, and Carl still remaining as directors, however, together with a new director, Mr. Loeffler.

Among important electric light undertakings carried out by the firm were those at the British Museum, the Royal Albert Dock, and the Savoy Theatre, while they also lighted the Austria steamship and the town of Godalming on the same principle. They further applied electricity to the propulsion of railway trains, and to the system of haulage in mines. Werner Siemens proved the feasibility of an electric railway in 1879, and two years later a permanent electric tramway was laid down in Berlin. Lines of electric railway have been open for ten years past in Ireland and the United States, and it remains to be seen what developments electric traction is capable of in the future. Siemens predicted the use of electric propulsion in long tunnels and on underground lines, where steam locomotion has the great disadvantage of fouling the air. Electrical power has been used in a great variety of ways during the last few years, in addition to those above cited.

Dr. Siemens gave one of a course of six lectures delivered at the Institution of Civil Engineers, in the year 1883, demonstrating the practical applications of electricity. The particular subject he chose was 'The Electrical Transmission and Storage of Power.' He had before this taken out a patent for 'Improved means and apparatus for producing light and heat by electricity.' His achievements in electric horticulture and fruit-growing, and in gardening by electric light -thus taking the place of the sun, — were very remarkable, and were made known in papers read before the Royal Society and the British Association. Dr. Siemens was one of the Board of Visitors in connection with the Indian Engineering College at Cooper's Hill, and he was able to initiate reforms there which were of real practical service to those who were being educated for his own profession of civil engineering. In Sept. 1882, Dr. Siemens delivered an able address, as President of the British Association, on the practical applications of Science. In July, 1883, he represented the British Government — together with Lord Sudeley, Sir W. Thomson, and Sir F. Abel — at the great Exhibition of Electric Apparatus held in Vienna, and he delivered the introductory lecture of a series given on electrical subjects. The following November he was awarded the Howard Quinquennial Prize by the Institution of Civil Engineers. During this and several preceding years he was elected a member of numerous learned societies in France, Germany, America, and Russia and he received the degree of LL.D. from the University of Dublin, and that of Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen. In 1882 Siemens founded a Science Prize at King's College, London, and the same year he gave evidence before the Royal Commission on Technical Education - a class of education which he desired to see broadened and extended. He also still continued to give lectures at various places on scientific subjects.

Among English honours conferred upon Siemens, and which he much prized, were the Freedom and Livery of the Goldsmiths' Company and the Freedom and Livery of the Turners' Company. Then, in April, 1883, he was awarded a still higher distinction, when the Queen personally conferred upon him the honour of knighthood at Osborne, in recognition of the services which he had rendered to the cause of science. Congratulatory address’s and messages poured in upon Sir William and Lady Siemens, and ‘Punch’ gave a clever fancy portrait of Sir William, with the whimsical inscription, 'The Electric Knight-Light.'

Early in November, 1883, Siemens was seized with illness. He still moved about, however, but on the 14th of that month he took a chill which affected his lungs. For five days he lingered, and then passed peacefully away on the 19th of November, in his sixty-first year. A post-mortem examination revealed that there had been long-standing disease of the heart, which was aggravated by a fall he had about a fortnight before his death. The sad news of his decease brought messages of regret and sympathy for Lady Siemens, from the Empress of Germany, Prince William of Prussia, and the Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria. There was a public funeral service in Westminster Abbey on the 26th of November. The Royal Society and other scientific societies and institutions were represented, and among the pall-bearers were Professor Huxley, Sir Frederick Bramwell, Sir James Brunlees, Sir William Thomson, and Professor Tyndall. The body was conveyed after the service to Kensal Green Cemetery for interment. A simple monument was subsequently erected over the grave, with a medallion portrait of Sir William by Mr. Bruce joy; and a magnificent memorial window was erected by his brother engineers in Westminster Abbey. This window was unveiled in November 1885, when Sir F. Bramwell delivered an eloquent eulogium upon Siemens.

Tributes continued to be paid to Sir William Siemens, at home and abroad, long after his death. Full justice was done to his career as a man of science, an engineer, an inventor, and a man of business. He undoubtedly made his mark upon the age, and gave a great impetus to several branches of scientific industry. He gained considerable wealth, but he used it wisely and creditably. He was liberal by nature, and indulged his scientific and artistic tastes. He had no mean powers of literary expression, and he had great intensity of application in whatever he undertook. He was of active habits, with a receptive and imaginative mind; was of a sanguine temperament, independent in judgement, and animated by an irresistible desire to realise objects in applied science when once conceived. His religion he himself described as Liberal Protestantism. Unqualified praise has been given to all his relations in private life, and a man is known nowhere better than in his own home.

See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information