Carl Wilhelm Siemens

Carl Wilhelm Siemens

Carl Wilhelm Siemens
Born 4 April 1823 (2011-04-04T18:23)
Died 19 November 1883 (1883-11-20)
Nationality German/British
Occupation Engineer
Known for Siemens-Martin process
Spouse Anne Gordon
Parents Christian Ferdinand Siemens and Eleonore Deichmann
Relatives Ernst Werner von Siemens, Carl Heinrich von Siemens, Alexander Siemens

Carl Wilhelm Siemens (en: Charles William Siemens, known as Sir William Siemens) (4 April 1823 – 19 November 1883) was a German born engineer who for most of his life worked in Britain and later became a British subject.



Siemens was born in the village of Lenthe, today part of Gehrden, near Hanover where his father, Christian Ferdinand Siemens (July 31, 1787-January 16, 1840), a tenant farmer, 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, 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 and a cousin of Alexander Siemens.

On July 23, 1859, Siemens was married at St. James's, Paddington, to Anne Gordon, the youngest daughter of Mr. Joseph Gordon, Writer to the Signet, Edinburgh, and brother to Mr. Lewis Gordon, Professor of Engineering in the University of Glasgow 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 and his betrothed. He was knighted – 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.

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 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 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, 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 for the wife of the factory manager. His progress in the engineering factory was so rapid that his two year apprenticeship 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. He was acting as an agent for his brother Werner and he hoped to earn enough money by selling a patent 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, Clapeyron, Joule, Clausius, Mayer, Thomson, and Rankine. He discarded the older notions of heat as a substance, and accepted it as a form of energy. 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, of Bolton, an engine of four horse-power, having a condenser provided with regenerators, and utilising superheated steam. Two years later he continued his experiments at the works of Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Co., of Smethwick, near Birmingham, 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, SE London) 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, the forerunner of the Institution of Engineering and Technology [1]

In June 1862 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society [1] and in 1871 delivered their Bakerian Lecture.

The regenerative furnace is the greatest single invention of Charles William Siemens, using a process known as the Siemens-Martin process. The electric pyrometer, 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.

See also


  • William Pole, Life of William Siemens, (London, 1888), p. 471; Facsimile reprint Siemens Ltd. 1986, ISBN 1852604166
  • Richard Hennig, Buch der berühmten Ingenieure (A book on famous engineers), (Leipzig, 1911)
  • "Charles William Siemens". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 37: i-x. 1884. 
  • J. A. Ewing (1887). "Siemens, Sir William". Encyclopaedia Britannica 9: 22:37–38. 
  • Sir William Siemens - A Man Of Vision, A collection of articles by various authors published by Siemens plc in 1993, contains substantial material on the history of Siemens in the UK

External links

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
John Ramsbottom
President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Bramwell

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