Siemens Brothers

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Siemens Brothers and Company Limited owned an electrical engineering design and manufacturing business in London, England. It was first established as a branch[note 1] in 1858 by a brother of the founder of the German electrical engineering firm Siemens & Halske. The principal works, set up in 1863, was at Woolwich for cables and other light-current electrical apparatus. The site is now at the south end of the Thames Barrier. A new works was built at Stafford in 1903 for the manufacture of generators of all kinds and sizes and motors for complete factories, locomotives etc.

During World War I Siemens Brothers was bought by a British consortium because most of its ownership was in the hands of enemy aliens.

Siemens Brothers and Company Limited was bought by Associated Electrical Industries in 1955. At that time its business was described as follows: manufacture sale and installation of submarine and land cables, overhead telegraph, telephone and power transmission lines, public and private telephone exchanges and carrier transmission equipment for telephone lines and marine radio and signalling equipment. Through subsidiaries it was engaged in the manufacture of lamps of all kinds, miscellaneous electrical equipment and electrical railway signals.[1]

Siemens Brothers and Company cable ship CS Faraday shortly after her launch in 1874
Designed by Sir William Siemens she was finally scrapped in 1950
Replaced in 1923 by a new CS Faraday sunk by bombing 1941

Siemens & Halske[edit]

On 1 October 1858, the German firm Siemens & Halske established an English firm, Siemens & Halske & Company, a partnership of William Siemens, cable manufacturer R S Newall of Gateshead and Siemens & Halske of Berlin. Its purpose was to help lay Newall's newly developed submarine communications cable. The London branch was under the control of William, later Sir William Siemens, formerly known as Carl Wilhelm Siemens (1823–1883). Hanover-born Sir William went to England in 1843[note 2] to sell a patent he shared with his brother Werner. He found employment in Birmingham with engineers Fox, Henderson & Co and became a naturalised British subject in 1859, the same day as he married the daughter of an Edinburgh lawyer. Her brother was Lewis Gordon business partner of R S Newall. During the 1850s Sir William developed the Siemens regenerative furnace.[2]

Following various failures in Newall's installed cables the link with them was dropped at the end of 1860.[3]

In 1865 Johann Georg Halske, partner in Siemens & Halske, withdrew from the English branch[4] following failures in the London firm's work so then it became Siemens Brothers.

The Siemens brothers[edit]

The elder brothers were born in the Kingdom of Hanover into a highly educated upper-middle-class family in relatively humble economic circumstances. Their father, youngest son of a large family, farmed a leased estate. In 1823 the family moved to the Baltic coast, near Lübeck. Both parents had died by the time Ernst Werner was 24.[3]

Sir William Siemens was the fourth son in a family[note 3] of eight surviving sons, his primary interests were in the electric telegraph and electric lighting[2]
Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816–1892) Sir William's elder brother was founder of Siemens & Halske[2]
Carl Heinrich von Siemens (1829–1906) was another brother who opened a branch office in St Petersburg in 1853 then joined William in London in 1869 but in the 1880s returned first to Russia then Berlin to become the head of Siemens & Halske on the death of Ernst Werner Siemens[2]

Siemens Brothers and Company[edit]

10 kW Siemens dynamo running at 450 rpm with its Willans steam engine
Alexander Siemens, (1847–1928) was a distant cousin who joined William in Woolwich in 1867. He was adopted by the childless Sir William and his wife and he too became a naturalised British subject. Managing director from 1889 to 1899 he remained on the board until he retired in 1918 aged 70.[5]

The dynamo[edit]

Following the invention of the self-excited generator or Dynamo in the late 1860s and arc lamps their manufacture was taken up by Siemens Brothers.[2]

Submarine cables[edit]

Siemens Brothers opened a new cable factory at their Telegraph Works Charlton, Woolwich, London SE 10 in 1863.[4] It expanded to cover over 6 acres and employ more than 2,000 people. In 1869 the London and Berlin firms jointly made and laid a telegraph line from Prussia to Teheran which formed a principal part of the direct line from England to India, 2,750 miles.[2] Principal cables made and laid by Siemens Brothers between 1873 and 1883:

  • In 1874-5 the London firm alone completed the first direct Atlantic cable, known as the DUS,[2] to USA.
  • In 1876 a direct Paris-New York cable was discussed in France. In March 1879 Siemens Brothers was given the order by banker Pouyer-Quertier. They finished making the PQ cable at Woolwich in the middle of June when the Faraday set out to do the laying under the control of Ludwig Loeffler. The main cable was handed over to the owners in little more than four months. Neither France nor USA had a cable-making factory.
  • 1881 Western Union England to Nova Scotia north cable
  • 1882 Western Union England to Nova Scotia south cable[6]

Profit distribution between the brothers,[3] it reflects contribution not just ownership.

Werner William Carl

Siemens Brothers and Company Limited[edit]

In December 1880 a limited liability company was formed to own the firm and it was named Siemens Brothers and Company Limited.[7] There were just seven shareholders, the legal minimum. All except Loeffler were family members. William was chairman and Loeffler managing director.[6]

Submarine telegraph cable routes 1901

The construction and laying of cables remained the firm's main occupation until Sir William's death in 1883.[6][note 4] Following his death shares were offered, somewhat unwillingly, to London manager Johann Carl Ludwig Loeffler (1831–1906) to retain his services. He managed to increase his holding to 25% but there were disagreements as to how the firm was run and Alexander Siemens, William's adopted son, replaced Loeffler in 1888. Werner bought Loeffler's shareholding.[3] Loeffler died in the Tyrol 18 years later leaving an estate in excess of £1.5 million, he was a prominent investor in West Australian mines.[8]

1899 Reorganisation[edit]

The Siemens family bought back all shares not held by family members.[3]

By 1900 Siemens Brothers had constructed and laid seven North Atlantic cables[4]

Heavy-current products[edit]

Invention of the dynamo led to a switch from Siemens' previous strength in light-current products to heavy-current products and processes.[3] The world's first modern high-voltage power station was opened in 1891, Deptford East. Designed in 1887 by 23-year-old former Siemens' apprentice Sebastian de Ferranti it was erected by the London Electricity Supply Corporation on the Thames bank at Deptford Creek, two and a half miles west of Siemens' Woolwich site. Berlin was anxious that the London business should break its reliance on the submarine cable business. The London County Council discouraged that kind of development and after considering other locations Stafford was settled on. 500 acres of freehold land were purchased there in 1900 and building began in 1901.[6]

Stafford site[edit]

In 1903, with Nuremberg's Elektrizitäts-Aktiengesellschaft vormals Schuckert & Co or E.-AG, they formed a new entity, Siemens-Schuckertwerke, to hold all their jointly-owned heavy-current operations. The first step in England was to build a new factory in Stafford for heavy-current business. In 1906 Siemens-Schuckertwerke leased the Stafford factory, formed a company to operate it and called the company Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works Limited.[3]

In 1908, Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works Limited opened a metal filament lamp factory in rented premises at Tyssen Street, Dalston, London.[9] In 1919 its capacity was 2.5 million lamps per annum[10] but advances in technology left its products unwanted and the Dalston factory closed in 1923.[11]

Relative size[edit]

Just before World War I Siemens had more employees in Britain than in Germany.[12]

World War I[edit]

Under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1914 foreign ownership was transferred to UK's Public Trustee. Following a 1916 amendment to that act tenders were called for. The amendment required enemy assets to be sold and the proceeds held by the same trustee until the end of hostilities. Siemens Brothers and Company was bought by Messrs C Birch Crisp and Co on 14 December 1917.[13] Financier Charles Birch Crisp was leading a consortium of investors who were not connected with the electrical engineering industry.

Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works Limited[edit]

Almost two years later in the second week of November 1919 it was announced by English Electric that they had bought the Siemens works at Stafford (Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works Limited and its attendant sales and engineering organisation) and had entered into "a working agreement with Siemens Brothers and Co for the preferential exchange of the special products of each company".[14]

In 1920 it was reported the land and buildings at Woolwich now covered about seventeen and a half acres.[10]


Cables manufactured—the catalogue grew to include underground super-tension power mains, telegraph trunk lines and underground telephone cables, overhead lines and electric light cables.

Apparatus manufactured—grew from telegraph apparatus to include: marine and mine signalling apparatus, measuring and scientific instruments, wireless telegraphy, telephone exchanges (manual and automatic) and apparatus, wet and dry batteries, landlines, ebonite, cable accessories and joint boxes[15]


  • Siemens and English Electric Lamp Company Limited Previously known as English Electric and Siemens Supplies Limited from 1 January 1923 this jointly owned company took over the electric lamp factories at Dalton and Preston. It also controlled the sale of the lamps it manufactured and provided the sales organisation for Siemens' and English Electric's wires and cables, house-wiring systems and accessories, Zed fuses, wireless apparatus, telephones, instruments etc.[11]
  • Siemens and General Electric Railway Signal Company Limited In 1926, Siemens Brothers and GEC, combined their railway signaling activities to form the Siemens and General Electric Railway Signal Co.[16]
  • Submarine Cables Limited In 1935, Siemens Brothers merged its submarine cables division with the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to form Submarine Cables Ltd.[17]

World War II[edit]

A 15% shareholding belonging to Siemens & Halske was transferred to the Custodian of Enemy Property.[18] Siemens Brothers coverage of the whole field of telecommunications meant the volume and range of their wartime supply of cables and apparatus was enormous extending to the manufacture of radar equipment.[19] After the war Siemens Brothers joined with Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company to further develop radar for ships.[20]


One of the many critical components of World War II's Operation Overlord was to ensure a steady supply of fuel to the Allied forces. Operation Pluto (PipeLine Under The Ocean) was facilitated by Mr A C Hartley, chief engineer of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, who suggested to Siemens Brothers that a submarine cable might be modified to carry petrol below the channel to France. Siemens Brothers' experience with gas pressure cables lead to their design manufacture and trial (under the Thames) of what became PLUTO. PLUTO delivered more than a million gallons of petrol from England to France each day. The sheer size of the structure required the involvement of many other companies in manufacture of individual lengths. PLUTO's code name was HAIS—Hartley, Anglo-Iranian, Siemens.[19]

New owners[edit]

  • AEI, Associated Electrical Industries Limited, in 1951 purchased from the custodian of enemy property[21][22] the formerly Siemens & Halske-owned 15% of Siemens Brothers capital issued to them in June 1929.[18] It had been issued in respect of certain licensing arrangements with Siemens Brothers and agreements for technical exchange and in exchange for a holding of equal value in their company.
Associated Electrical Industries Limited offered to buy the rest of Siemens Brothers in December 1954 offering their own shares in exchange for Siemens Brothers shares. Their offer was accepted by more than 90% of shareholders and so it became unconditional on 25 January 1955.[23]
  • Siemens Edison Swan Limited 1957[24]

Some Siemens Brothers Firsts[edit]

  • Automatic trunk telephone exchange, 1914, King's College Hospital, London
  • Short-wave marine radio, 1927, s.s. Carinthia
  • (electrically operated) Train arrival indicator, 1934, Paddington Station, London
  • Television outside broadcast, 1937 Coronation, made and laid the cable used
  • Transatlantic telephone cable, 1956, 9/10ths of the cable, 4,200 nautical miles, cable was made by Submarine Cables[25]

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ with a small factory at 12 Millbank Row, Westminster SW1, near the site of Lambeth Bridge
  2. ^ The Kingdom of Hanover was in personal union with the United Kingdom until 1837 and a link remained until annexation by Prussia in 1866
  3. ^ Christian Ferdinand Siemens (1787-January 1840), known as Ferdinand, born Wasserleben married Eleonore Deichmann (1793- July 1839)
    Their children:
    Ludwig Siemens (1812–1871)
    Matilde (1814–1878) = Carl Himly, professor of chemistry at the University of Göttingen
    Werner Siemens (1815–1815)
    Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816–1892)
    Hans Dietrich Siemens (1818–1867) Dresden glassworks
    Ferdinand Julius Siemens (1820–1893) Konigsberg, farmed a large estate in East Prussia
    Sophie Henriette (1821–1821)
    William Siemens (1823–1883)
    Friedrich August Siemens (1826–1904) “The Dresden Siemens” revolutionised the industry and became largest glassmaker in Europe
    Carl Heinrich von Siemens (1829–1906)
    Franz Siemens (1831–1840)
    Walter Siemens (1832–1868) Prussian consul at Tiflis killed while laying the Indo-European cable
    Sophie Siemens (1834–1922) = Dr Carl Crome of Lubeck
    Otto Siemens (1836–1871) North German consul at Tiflis
    (William Pole, The Life of Sir William Siemens, Murray, London 1888)
  4. ^ The principal rivals were: J D Scott, Siemens Brothers 1858–1958, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1958


  1. ^ letter from directors to the company's shareholders re AEI offer, December 1954
  2. ^ a b c d e f g H. T. Wood, ‘Siemens, Sir (Charles) William (1823–1883)’, rev. Brian Bowers, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Christina Lubinski, Jeffrey Fear, Paloma Fernández Pérez (editors) Family Multinationals: Entrepreneurship, Governance, and Pathways to Internationalization, Routledge, 2013. ISBN 1135044929
  4. ^ a b c Charles Bright, Submarine Telegraphs, London, Crosby Lockwood, 1898
  5. ^ Brian Bowers, ‘Siemens, Alexander (1847–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  6. ^ a b c d J D Scott, Siemens Brothers 1858–1958, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1958
  7. ^ New Capital Issues. The Times, Wednesday, November 17, 1920; pg. 21; Issue 42570
  8. ^ Wills.-Mr. Johann Carl Ludwig Loeffler The Times, Friday, January 4, 1907; pg. 8; Issue 38221
  9. ^ Industrial Notes. The Times, Wednesday, June 9, 1909; pg. 18; Issue 38981
  10. ^ a b Siemens Brothers & Co., Limited. The Times, Wednesday, November 17, 1920; pg. 20; Issue 42570
  11. ^ a b Electric Lamp Trade Consolidation. The Times, Monday, January 8, 1923; pg. 18; Issue 43233
  12. ^ The rush to invest in the British economy. Simon Scott Plummer. The Times, Tuesday, July 1, 1986; pg. 32; Issue 62497
  13. ^ Siemens Brothers And Company Limited. The Times, Wednesday, June 12, 1918; pg. 12; Issue 41814
  14. ^ City News in Brief. The Times, Saturday, November 15, 1919; pg. 19; Issue 42258
  15. ^ Siemens Brothers And Co., Ltd. The Times, Tuesday, May 24, 1921; pg. 17; Issue 42728
  16. ^ Siemens Brothers & Co. The Times, Tuesday, June 1, 1926; pg. 22; Issue 44286.
  17. ^ An Industrial Fusion. The Times, Monday, September 30, 1935; pg. 14; Issue 47182
  18. ^ a b Siemens Brothers & Co. The Times, Wednesday, June 12, 1929; pg. 25; Issue 45227
  19. ^ a b Company Meeting. The Times, Tuesday, June 19, 1945; pg. 8; Issue 50172
  20. ^ Siemens Brothers & Co., Limited. The Times, Wednesday, July 31, 1946; pg. 9; Issue 50517
  21. ^ Siemens Brothers & Co. Limited. The Times, Monday, July 2, 1951; pg. 11; Issue 52042
  22. ^ Siemens Brothers & Co. Limited. The Times, Tuesday, July 1, 1952; pg. 10; Issue 52352.
  23. ^ Siemens Acceptances. The Times, Wednesday, January 26, 1955; pg. 12; Issue 53149.
  24. ^ Electrical Firms Amalgamate. The Times, Friday, June 14, 1957; pg. 14; Issue 53867.
  25. ^ Display advertisement—AEI—Siemens Edison Swan Ltd. The Times, Monday, July 1, 1957; pg. 5; Issue 53881