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Werner Siemens

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1859. Electric telegraph apparatus.

Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816-1892)

Born the eldest son of Christian Ferdinand Siemens and brother of William Siemens. He was one of the discoverers of the principle of the self-acting dynamo as well as more basic scientific discoveries, determining the electrical resistance of different substances.

1847 Werner founded Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens und Halske in Berlin, with branches later established in St. Petersburg, London, Vienna, and Tiflis.

1865 The Siemens and Halske branch in London was reconstituted as Siemens Brothers and Co with Werner, William and Carl Siemens as partners.

1867 Charles Wheatstone described to the Royal Society a method of making dynamos self-exciting. He used a shunt circuit; the use of a series circuit for the same purpose by Werner Siemens was described at the same meeting.


1892 Obituary [1]

Dr. ERNST WERNER VON SIEMENS was born at Lenthe, near Hanover, on 13th December 1816, being the eldest brother of the late Sir William Siemens (Proceedings 1884, page 69).

In 1834 on the completion of his education at the gymnasium of Lubeck, he entered the Prussian artillery as a volunteer, and upon receiving his officer's commission in 1839 devoted himself to the study of chemistry and physics.

His first experience was somewhat unfortunate, for an explosion, caused by a preparation of phosphorus and chlorate of potash, burst the drum of his right ear; and having previously met with a similar accident to the other ear, he was for a time stone deaf.

In 1840 his studies were again interrupted by a sentence to five years' imprisonment for acting as second in a duel. Being allowed to continue his experiments in prison, he successfully plated a silver spoon with gold; and being pardoned after a month's detention, he completed his experiments so far as to introduce in 1841 a process for electro-gilding and silvering.

In 1842 in conjunction with his brother William he devised a differential governor (Proceedings 1853, page 75).

In 1844 he was appointed superintendent of the artillery workshops in Berlin, where he turned his attention to telegraphy; and in 1845 he invented the dial and printing telegraph instruments.

While still a military officer he founded in 1847, in conjunction with Mr. Halske, a manufactory in Berlin for the production of apparatus and materials of all kinds required for telegraphic purposes.

In 1846 he adopted gutta-percha,, which was just then becoming known, for the insulation of wires laid underground; and constructed a screw-press machine for covering wires with gutta-percha made plastic by heat, and without a seam.

In 1848 in conjunction with his brother-in-law, Professor C. Himly, he laid the first electric submarine mines to protect the town of Kiel, and thereby saved it from being bombarded by the Danish fleet.

In the same year he was deputed by the Prussian government to lay the first great underground telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfort-on-the-Main; and in 1849 another from Berlin to Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Verviers.

Leaving the army and government service, he then devoted himself to scientific pursuits, and to the management of the telegraph factory, of which the operations extended until branches had to be established in London, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Paris.

In 1856 he brought out a system of duplex telegraphy, by which two messages could be sent simultaneously along a single wire. About the same time he published an elaborate treatise on submarine telegraphy, showing how it was affected by the retardation of the current, and in what way testing for faults was to be conducted.

The mercury standard of electric resistance, which was brought out by him, though neglected for many years, is now about to be adopted, with a change of dimension, as the legal standard in this country. He also invented the pneumatic system for the despatch of messages.

The crowning practical discovery of his life was embodied in the dynamo, of which he published an account in 1866. This was followed in 1867 by a proposal for electric railways, which however had to lie dormant for many years before being realised.

His varied qualities as a man of science, inventor, engineer, and practical man of business, were recognized by the Emperor Frederick, who raised him to the rank of nobility in 1888. He was also a knight of the highest scientific Prussian Order in the country, and in 1860 received an honorary doctor's degree from the University of Berlin.

His death took place in Berlin from inflammation of the lungs on Gth December 1892, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1888; and was also a member of the leading scientific societies in his own country and abroad.


1893 Obituary [2]

ERNEST WERNER VON SIEMENS was born on the 13th of December, 1816, at Lenthe, a small village near Hanover, where his father, Christian Ferdinand Siemens, rented the manor farm.

Shortly after the birth of his brother, the late Sir William Siemens, the family removed to Mecklenburg-Strelitz and remained at Menzendorf until the death of the parents.

Werner was at first educated at home by private tutors and then at the Gymnasium at Lubeck. As he did not find classical studies to his taste he decided to become an architect. On making inquiry it was found that the course of study at the Bau-Akademie of Berlin would be too expensive, so he applied for leave to join the Prussian Royal Engineers. There were, however, too many candidates for this corps; but he was permitted to join the Royal Artillery and obtained in this way the same technical training as that given at the Bau-Akademie. After studying for three years at the Artillery and Engineers College at Berlin, he obtained a commission and was stationed at Magdeburg, where he was joined by William.

During his leisure hours Werner carried out scientific experiments with the greatest zeal ; in fact he once nearly lost his hand through a premature explosion of chemicals, when he was attempting to reproduce friction-fuses, an invention of a cousin, Lieutenant Adolph Siemens, of Hanover, by which the old method of firing cannon has been superseded.

In the autumn of 1840 Werner became acquainted with Jacobi's invention for depositing copper by means of electricity and at once tried to obtain deposits of other metals in a similar manner. He had an unexpected opportunity of following up his experimental researches at leisure, as he was condemned to five years' confinement in a fortress for having acted as second in a duel. In the small laboratory which he was allowed to establish in his cell, he succeeded in depositing gold and silver by employing the same solution which he and his brother-in-law, Professor Himly, of the University of Gottingen, had used when they repeated Daguerre’s experiments for producing portraits by the action of light. Most unexpectedly he was granted a free pardon after a short imprisonment, and brought much disgrace upon himself by petitioning to be allowed to remain a little longer in order to finish his experiments.

Werner was now ordered to join the pyrotechnic department at Spandau. Owing to his knowledge of chemistry he succeeded in producing some novel colour effects on the occasion of a special display of fireworks at Glienicke before Prince Karl. Shortly afterwards he was ordered to join the Artillery workshops and was thus enabled to continue his physical studies and to enlarge his technical knowledge.

In 1843 William Siemens succeeded in selling Werner’s English patent for electro-gilding to Messrs. Elkington of Birmingham.

Werner then made some further inventions which William tried to introduce into England, but a visit to this country and subsequently to Paris convinced Werner that they were simply wasting their time by endeavouring to introduce inventions without adequate means at their disposal. He therefore dropped all the technical connections he had made in order to develop his inventions, and resumed with redoubled vigour his scientific studies.

In the year 1845 he published in 'Poggendorf‘s Annalen' a description of an application of electricity to measure the velocity of projectiles at any stage of their flight by marks produced by electric sparks on a rapidly revolving cylinder of polished steel.

About the same time the General Staff was considering the question of replacing optical signalling by electrical telegraphy, and Werner succeeded in making an important improvement in Wheatstone’s alphabetical instrument. This improved apparatus was manufactured by Mr. Halske, whose acquaintance he had made at the meetings of the Physical Society of Berlin.

Owing to an incautious participation in a political demonstration, Werner was ordered to leave Berlin and join his regiment. In searching for means to bring about the countermanding of this order, he thought of Professor Schoenbein’s invention of gun-cotton, which, however, had not yet been produced in a satisfactory manner. On hastily making some experiments in the laboratory of Professor Erdmann, Werner tried to improve the action of the nitric acid by the addition of sulphuric acid, and greatly to his joy succeeded in producing a very much better material than Schoenbein. He at once brought this to the notice of the authorities, and was sent to the powder factories at Spandau in order to examine fully into the qualities of his gun-cotton. After he had reported that it was more suitable for mining purposes than for artillery, Professor Otto, of Brunswick, published a description of the same improved method of making gun-cotton, which he had discovered independently.

Shortly afterwards Werner joined the Telegraph Commission of the General Staff, and made experiments in the summer of 1846 with gutta-percha as an insulating material for underground wires.

He constructed a special machine for pressing gutta-percha round the conductor, the principle of which is in use in most cable works at the present day. Declining to take advantage of his position in the Telegraph Commission which led him to aspire to become official director of the State Telegraphs, he determined to leave the service as soon as the Commission had definitely settled the organization of the telegraphs.

As a preparatory step, before carrying out this intention, he entered into partnership with Mr. Halske, and they commenced operations on the 12th of October, 1847, by founding the firm of Siemens and Halske, of Berlin. From this small beginning the firm developed rapidly, so that it soon became necessary to establish branches in St. Petersburg, Vienna and London.

The revolution of March, 1848, put an end to the Telegraph Commission, and Werner was sent to Kiel to carry out some proposals he had made for defending the harbour by submarine mines.

A complete system of mines was submerged under his direction, and trials with small charges and boats proved that the system worked perfectly, but the Danes never approached near enough for the large mines to be fired during the war. When taken up afterwards they were in perfect order. This was the first time that submarine mines had been used.

On returning from Schleswig-Holstein he found his partner actively engaged in preparing to establish underground communication between the principal towns of Prussia. His proposal to have the gutta-percha wires further protected by iron or earthenware pipes was rejected by the Telegraph Department on account of the extra expense, and the wires were simply buried in the ground. An exception was made where the wires had to cross rivers, and the cable across the Rhine at Cologne is the first instance of the immersion in water of an armoured cable insulated with gutta-percha. As the length of these lines increased, the phenomena of capacity and self-induction interfered with the proper working of the instruments and induced Werner to study carefully the laws governing these disturbances and also the means for determining the position of faults in the insulation.

The result of these labours was described in his 'Memoire sur la telegraphie Electrique' presented to the Academy of Sciences in Paris in the year 1850.

In June, 1849, Werner resigned his commission, and in 1852 he married Fraulein Mathilde Drumann, the daughter of a professor in Koenigsberg. In the same year he went for the first time to St. Petersburg and succeeded in obtaining from the Russian Government an order to construct telegraph lines. As these orders increased in importance, his brother, Carl, proceeded to St. Petersburg in 1853 and carried out in the following years the extension of telegraphs, which soon connected all the principal towns of the empire.

In 1857 Werner was present at the submersion of the cable between Bona, in Algiers, and Cagliari, in Sardinia, and developed the theory that, in laying submarine cables, the cable should be held back by a brake equal to the weight of a length of such cable, reaching vertically from the ship to the bottom of the sea.

For some years he had continued to study the capacity and self-induction of cables, and in 1859, when present at the laying of the Red Sea cable, he succeeded in improving the methods of signalling through long submarine cables by employing a condenser, using for this purpose a piece of submerged cable. During the laying of this cable systematic tests were introduced by him, and by means of his mercury unit of electrical resistance he was enabled to make accurate measurements for determining the position of faults. Returning from Aden in the P. and 0. steamer 'Alma,' Werner and his companions were wrecked near the Harnish Islands in the Red Sea and had a very narrow escape from drowning.

In 1860 the London firm was appointed official tester of submarine cables supplied. to the British Government, and in that year William Siemens read before the British Association a Paper on 'Submarine Electric Telegraphs,' which embodied a report made by Werner and William to the Government, and set forth all the principles underlying modern methods of cable-testing.

In addition to this work Werner devoted much attention to the development of telegraphic and measuring instruments for scientific and technical purposes.

In the period between 1850 and 1860 he produced, with Halske, improved Morse instruments, automatic type-writers working with perforated strips of paper, railway gong-signals, magneto-inductors with the well-known Siemens armature, polarized relays, induction-writers, an induction machine for the production of continuous currents, a method for duplexing land-lines, and a Paper on Electrostatic Induction (Poggendorf, 1857), in which an apparatus is described for producing ozone.

In 1859 Werner was elected to the Chamber of Commerce of Berlin, and in the following year he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy, on the occasion' of the celebration of the jubilee of the Berlin University.

In 1864 he was elected a member of the Prussian Parliament for the Solingen-Remscheid district and joined the progressist party (Fortschrittpartei) which opposed the Government in the memorable conflict preceding the war with Austria.

After resigning his seat three years later, he organized, with the help of his brothers William and Carl, the Indo-European Telegraph Company, for which the united firms built special lines through Russia into Persia, connecting their line at Teheran with the telegraph lines of the Government of India, while the Prussian Government and the English Telegraph Company completed the connection from the Russian frontier to London.

In the meantime Carl Siemens had acquired for Werner and himself a copper mine at Kedabeg, in the Caucasus, which after considerable trouble was ultimately developed into a very remunerative investment.

In December, 1866, Werner showed to some of the physicists in Berlin - Magnus, Dove, Riess, and Du Bois Reymond - his dynamo-electrical exploders, and described on the 17th of January, 1867, the dynamo-electric principle to the Berlin Academy of Science.

He also invented at this time an alcoholometer, an instrument registering automatically the quantity of liquid passing through it and its equivalent in proof spirit. The development of the business induced the brothers, on the retirement of Mr. Halske in 1868, to make the firms in London and St. Petersburg independent of the Berlin house, the London firm changing its name at the same time to Siemens Brothers. Werner then began to leave the actual management of the concern to his well-trained staff of assistants, taking up himself the more scientific questions arising from the business.

In 1869 he married a second time, having lost his first wife in 1865.

In 1874 he was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Science, to which he subsequently contributed many Papers on various subjects.

From 1863 he had agitated for a reform in the patent laws, and at last, in 1876, a meeting was arranged between the leading industrial authorities, counsel, and judges from all parts of Germany, who drafted a Patent Bill, based on Werner's original proposals, which has since with a few modifications become law.

Of the many contributions made by Werner to technical literature, two may be specially mentioned ; the first a Paper 'Electricity in the Service of Mankind,' read in 1879, and the second a Paper on 'The Natural History Period,' published in 1886.

In the latter Paper he explained the necessity of continually extending experimental researches in physical science and carried out this theory by presenting the German empire with a site on which the Physical Technical College has since been erected. In 1889 he published a most valuable and interesting account of his scientific and technical work.

Among the marks of recognition he received, the patent of nobility bestowed upon him by the Emperor Frederick should be specially mentioned. He valued also greatly his election as an Honorary Member of the Institution on the 1st of March, 1892.

A few days before his death, which occurred on the 6th of December, 1892, Werner received from the printer the first copies of his Autobiography, from which the foregoing facts have been collected.


1892 Obituary [3]



1892 Obituary [4]



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