Start of main content

Archives Biographies: Sir William Siemens 1823-1883

Carl Wilhelm (later Sir Charles William) Siemens first came to England in 1843.  His elder brother, Werner Siemens, had founded the Siemens engineering company and William planned to sell one of the Siemens patents.  He appreciated the country so much that he made it his home in 1844 and founded the British branch of Siemens, which specialised first in glass production and then, in the early 1860s, telegraph cables.

The company was to be associated with the major developments in telecommunications during the end of the nineteenth century and advised the British Government on the formation of its international submarine cable network.  William Siemens even designed a ship, the Faraday, which laid 60 000 km of cable throughout the world and is regarded as the prototype of the cable laying ship.  

Siemens were not, however, contented with telegraphy and, in the early part of the twentieth century, tapped into the growing market for electric lighting and power.

When the Society of Telegraph Engineers was founded in 1871, William Siemens was asked to be the first President.  He was President again in 1878.  His nephew and successor in the Siemens company, Alexander Siemens, was also President twice in 1894 and 1904.  

In his first Presidential Address, William Siemens stated that the new Society was necessary ‘to afford Telegraph Engineers frequent opportunities of meeting each other in friendly intercourse, and of impressing them with the conviction that their united action will be advantageous to the material interests of all.’

A window had been dedicated to Sir William Siemens by his fellow engineers and placed in Westminster Abbey approximately five years after his death (he died in 1883). The window was removed around 1920 but was later destroyed in the Blitz by German bombs. Fragments of it were then made into a lantern window in the Abbey Tower.