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Home > Operations Management Thinkers > Ernst Werner von Siemens

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Ernst Werner von Siemens

Founding father of electrical engineering


Born in Lenthe, Germany.
Co-invented an electroplating process.
Awarded his first patent, for a gold electroplating process.
Worked in the artillery workshops in Berlin.
Became a founding member of the Physical Society in Berlin.
Patented a dial and printing telegraph.
Cofounded the Siemens & Halske Telegraph and Construction Enterprise.
Constructed the first electrical, long-distance telegraph line in Europe.
Siemens & Halske built the first electric fire-alarm system for Berlin.
Cofounded the German Progressive Party.
Became a member of the Prussian Parliament.
Constructed the first dynamo.
Completed the laying of a transatlantic telegraph cable.
Became a member of the State Patent Office.
Demonstrated the first electric railway at the Berlin Industrial Exhibition.
Cofounded the Electrotechnical Society in Berlin.
Built the world’s first electric elevator.
Built the first trolley bus system in Berlin.
Awarded Prussian hereditary peerage.
Died in Berlin, Germany.

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Life and Career

Ernst Werner von Siemens was a German electrical engineer, industrialist, and inventor, who played a crucial role in the development of telegraphy, and created a number of major inventions in the industry. After leaving school, he joined the army to train in engineering, and attended an engineering college in Berlin, augmenting his earnings through his inventions. While serving a short prison sentence at Magdeburg, for acting as second in a duel between fellow officers, he carried out chemistry experiments in his cell, and invented a gold and silver electroplating process, for which he was granted his first patent in 1842. At that time, he met the mechanical engineer, Johan Georg Halske, who became a close associate. Together, they founded the Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Company. They originally intended to make electrical apparatus, but followed this with many innovations that transformed the industry. By 1870, the company was employing more than 1,000 people in Germany and abroad.

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Key Thinking

  • Ernst Werner von Siemens was a leading pioneer of electrical telegraphy, inventing a number of devices, including the first electric dynamo.

  • The discovery of the dynamo electric principle enabled Siemens & Halske to develop and manufacture electrical lighting, and power-generating equipment.

  • He was a member of a commission in Berlin looking at the introduction of electric telegraphs to replace the optical ones previously used in Prussia; he also persuaded the commission to adopt underground telegraph lines.

  • He also laid the first telegraph line, built the first electric railway in Germany, and proposed the Siemens unit of electrical conductance.

  • Siemens also helped lay the first submarine mines, fired by electricity, in Kiel in 1848.

  • He received a German patent for an electromechanical moving-coil transducer, later adapted for the Bell System for use as a loudspeaker.

  • With his brother, Sir William Siemens, he originated and developed a widely used steelmaking process.

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In Perspective

  • The creation of the dynamo helped establish electricity as a driving force of industrial and economic change.

  • He investigated the electrostatic charges of telegraph conductors and their laws, which enabled him to test underground and submarine cables, and discover any faults in their insulation.

  • The construction and application of the first dynamometer was also essential to underwater cable laying, and he designed a press for covering wire with gutta-percha, a crucial development in the insulation of underground cables.

  • Under his direction, the firm of Siemens & Halske went on to lay cables across the Mediterranean, and from Europe to India; he also designed the first specialist cable-laying ship, which went on to lay five Atlantic cables in 10 years.

  • His discovery of the dynamo-electric principle solved the problem of DC batteries being necessary for the generation of continuous current and high voltage.

  • He won the first government contract to set up a telegraph line between Berlin and the National Assembly at Frankfurt, before supervising the laying of lines around Germany.

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“Technology has acquired the means to generate electric currents of unlimited strength in an inexpensive and convenient way at any place where mechanical power is available. This fact will be of utmost importance in several of its branches.”

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Further reading on Ernst Werner von Siemens


  • Feldenkirchen, Wilfried. Werner von Siemens: Inventor and International Entrepreneur. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1994.
  • Siemens, Werner von, and W. C. Coupland. Personal Recollections of Werner von Siemens. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1893.
  • Weiher, Sigfrid von. Werner von Siemens, A Life in the Service of Science, Technology and Industry. München, Germany: Oldenbourg, 1966.

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