Carl Wilhelm Siemens

Carl Wilhelm Siemens (4 April 1823 – 19 November 1883) was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 born engineer
An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality,...

 who for most of his life worked in Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and later became a British subject.


Siemens was born in the village of Lenthe, today part of Gehrden
Gehrden is a town in the district of Hanover, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated approx. southwest of Hanover.- References :...

, near Hanover
Hanover or Hannover, on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony , Germany and was once by personal union the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain, under their title as the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg...

 where his father, Christian Ferdinand Siemens (July 31, 1787-January 16, 1840), a tenant farmer
A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, who raises living organisms for food or raw materials, generally including livestock husbandry and growing crops, such as produce and grain...

, farmed an estate belonging to the Crown. His mother was Eleonore Deichmann (1792-July 8, 1839), and William, or Carl Wilhelm, was the fourth son of a family of fourteen children. Of his siblings, Ernst Werner Siemens
Ernst Werner von Siemens
Ernst Werner Siemens, von Siemens since 1888, was a German inventor and industrialist. Siemens' name has been adopted as the SI unit of electrical conductance, the siemens...

, the fourth child, became a famous electrician and was associated with William in many of his inventions. He is also a brother of Carl Heinrich von Siemens
Carl Heinrich von Siemens
Carl Heinrich von Siemens was a German entrepreneur, a child of a tenant farmer. He is a brother of Ernst Werner von Siemens and William Siemens, sons of Christian Ferdinand Siemens and wife Eleonore Deichmann...

 and a cousin of Alexander Siemens
Alexander Siemens
Alexander Siemens was a German electrical engineer.Siemens was born in Hanover, then a kingdom within the German Confederation, to Gustav and Sophie Siemens. His father was a judge and a cousin of William Siemens the famous electrical engineer...


On July 23, 1859, Siemens was married at St. James's, Paddington
Paddington is a district within the City of Westminster, in central London, England. Formerly a metropolitan borough, it was integrated with Westminster and Greater London in 1965...

, to Anne Gordon, the youngest daughter of Mr. Joseph Gordon, Writer to the Signet
Writers to the Signet
The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet is a private society of Scottish solicitors, dating back to 1594 and part of the College of Justice. Writers to the Signet originally had special privileges in relation to the drawing up of documents which required to be signeted, but these have since...

, Edinburgh, and brother to Mr. Lewis Gordon, Professor of Engineering in the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

 and became a naturalised British subject. He used to say that on March 19 of that year he took oath and allegiance to two ladies in one day — to the Queen
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

 and his betrothed. He was knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

ed – becoming Sir William – a few months before his death. He died on the evening of Monday November 19, 1883, at nine o'clock and was buried on Monday November 26, in Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery is a cemetery in Kensal Green, in the west of London, England. It was immortalised in the lines of G. K. Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road from his book The Flying Inn: "For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen; Before we go to Paradise by way of...


The early years

In the autumn of 1838 when William was fifteen years old, he began his studies to become an engineer. He attended a highly respected School of Trade and Commerce, the Gewerbe-Schule Magdeburg. William had a particularly close relationship with his eldest brother; Ernst Werner Siemens
Ernst Werner von Siemens
Ernst Werner Siemens, von Siemens since 1888, was a German inventor and industrialist. Siemens' name has been adopted as the SI unit of electrical conductance, the siemens...

 had decided to teach William mathematics so that he could learn English at school instead. This programme helped them both and William's knowledge of English proved an incalculable advantage to them both. He went on to pass his examination easily. Less than a year later their mother died and their father soon afterwards in 1840.

Once William had completed his course at the Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

 school he went on to Goettingen University where he attended lectures on physical geography and technology, high mathematics, theoretical chemistry and practical chemistry and physics. He was also able for a short time to work with Wilhelm Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber was a German physicist and, together with Carl Friedrich Gauss, inventor of the first electromagnetic telegraph.-Early years:...

, the renowned scientist and inventor, in his Magnetic Observatory.

William was nearly nineteen when he left university to become an apprentice engineer. He also found time for more artistic pursuits such as taking dancing lessons and even painting a landscape of Nordhausen
Nordhausen is a town at the southern edge of the Harz Mountains, in the state of Thuringia, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Nordhausen...

 for the wife of the factory manager. His progress in the engineering factory was so rapid that his two year apprenticeship
Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships...

 was cut down to one.

Due to the education of the younger members of the family becoming a financial worry, on 10 March 1843, Carl Wilhelm Siemens left for London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He was acting as an agent for his brother Werner and he hoped to earn enough money by selling a patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 in England to help support and educate his many brothers and sisters. He felt a keen desire to see England and the journey cost him £1. William had already shown himself to be an enthusiastic businessman, having financed his trip by selling an invention. He was well aware, as he wrote to Werner, that his visit might achieve nothing, but if all went well he intended to remain. This indeed proved to be the case.


Siemens had been trained as a mechanical engineer, and his most important work at this early stage was non-electrical; the greatest achievement of his life, the regenerative furnace. Though in 1847 he published a paper in Liebig's Annalen der Chemie on the 'Mercaptan of Selenium,' his mind was busy with the new ideas upon the nature of heat which were promulgated by Carnot
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot was a French military engineer who, in his 1824 Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, gave the first successful theoretical account of heat engines, now known as the Carnot cycle, thereby laying the foundations of the second law of thermodynamics...

, Clapeyron, Joule
James Prescott Joule
James Prescott Joule FRS was an English physicist and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work . This led to the theory of conservation of energy, which led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The...

, Clausius, Mayer
Julius Robert von Mayer
Julius Robert von Mayer was a German physician and physicist and one of the founders of thermodynamics...

, Thomson, and Rankine
William John Macquorn Rankine
William John Macquorn Rankine was a Scottish civil engineer, physicist and mathematician. He was a founding contributor, with Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson , to the science of thermodynamics....

. He discarded the older notions of heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

 as a substance, and accepted it as a form of energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

. Working on this new line of thought, which gave him an advantage over other inventors of his time, he made his first attempt to economise heat, by constructing, in 1847, at the factory of John Hick
John Hick
Professor John Harwood Hick is a philosopher of religion and theologian. In philosophical theology, he has made contributions in the areas of theodicy, eschatology, and Christology, and in the philosophy of religion he has contributed to the areas of epistemology of religion and religious...

, of Bolton, an engine of four horse-power, having a condenser provided with regenerators, and utilising superheated
A superheater is a device used to convert saturated steam or wet steam into dry steam used for power generation or processes. There are three types of superheaters namely: radiant, convection, and separately fired...

 steam. Two years later he continued his experiments at the works of Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Co., of Smethwick
Smethwick is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell, in the West Midlands of England. It is situated on the edge of the city of Birmingham, within the historic boundaries of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire....

, near Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, who had taken the matter in hand. The use of superheated steam was attended with many practical difficulties, and the invention was not entirely successful; nevertheless, the Society of Arts, in 1850, acknowledged the value of the principle, by awarding Siemens a gold medal for his regenerative condenser.

In 1859 William Siemens devoted a great part of his time to electrical invention and research; and the number of telegraph apparatus of all sorts – telegraph cables, land lines, and their accessories – which have emanated from the Siemens Telegraph Works (at Charlton
Charlton, London
Charlton is a district of south London, England, and part of the London Borough of Greenwich. It is located east-southeast of Charing Cross. Charlton next Woolwich was an ancient parish in the county of Kent, which became part of the metropolitan area of London in 1855. It is home to Charlton...

, SE London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

) has been remarkable. In 1872 Sir William Siemens became the first President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers which became the Institution of Electrical Engineers
Institution of Electrical Engineers
The Institution of Electrical Engineers was a British professional organisation of electronics, electrical, manufacturing, and Information Technology professionals, especially electrical engineers. The I.E.E...

, the forerunner of the Institution of Engineering and Technology
Institution of Engineering and Technology
The Institution of Engineering and Technology is a British professional body for those working in engineering and technology in the United Kingdom and worldwide. It was formed in 2006 from two separate institutions: the Institution of Electrical Engineers , dating back to 1871, and the...
In 1860 William Siemens constructed a remarkable gas engine (the same year the very first commercial engine was produced by Lenoir
Etienne Lenoir
-Sources:* Georgano, G.N. Cars: Early and Vintage 1886-1930. London: Grange-Universal, 1990 . ISBN 0-9509620-3-1....

). It didn't get beyond the experimental stage, though its principle of operation (described in Siemens British patent 2074 of 1860, and by Siemens in The Theory of the Gas Engine) appears to be similar to the commercially successful Brayton
George Brayton
George Brayton was born in Rhode Island, son of William H. and Minerva Brayton. He was an American mechanical engineer who lived with his family in Boston, and who is noted for introducing the continuous combustion process that is the basis for the gas turbine, and which is now referred to as...

 engine of 1872. In the discussion section of "The Theory of the Gas Engine" Siemens discloses that :

"The engine promised to give very good results, but about the same time he began to give his attention to the production of intense heat in furnaces, and having to make his choice between the two subjects, he selected the furnace and the metallurgic process leading out of it ; and that was why the engine had remained where it was for so long a time."

Siemens was also responsible for the hot tube ignition system used on many of the early gas engines.

In June 1862 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society  and in 1871 delivered their Bakerian Lecture
Bakerian Lecture
The Bakerian Lecture is a prize lecture of the Royal Society, a lecture on physical sciences.In 1775 Henry Baker left £100 for a spoken lecture by a Fellow on such part of natural history or experimental philosophy as the Society shall determine....


The regenerative furnace is the greatest single invention of Charles William Siemens, using a process known as the Siemens-Martin process. The electric pyrometer
A pyrometer is a non-contacting device that intercepts and measures thermal radiation, a process known as pyrometry.This device can be used to determine the temperature of an object's surface....

, which is perhaps the most elegant and original of all William Siemens's inventions, is also the link which connects his electrical with his metallurgical researches. Siemens pursued two major themes in his inventive efforts, one based upon the science of heat, the other based upon the science of electricity; and the electric thermometer was, as it were, a delicate cross-coupling which connected both. Imbued with the idea of regeneration, and seeking in nature for that thrift of power which he, as an inventor, had always aimed at, Siemens suggested a hypothesis on which the sun conserves its heat by a circulation of its fuel in space, afterwards reprinting the controversy in a volume, On the Conservation of Solar Energy.

External links

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