Alexander Siemens: 1902 Biographical Note
Note: This is a sub-section of Alexander Siemens
1902 Biographical Note.
ALEXANDER SIEMENS is a German by birth, hailing from Hannover, where his father, Gustav Siemens, of Pyrmont, was a law officer, becoming afterwards a judge; his mother was a step-daughter of Sir Julius von Hartmann, who commanded the artillery of the King's German Legion, under Wellington, in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. In this way young Siemens was early brought in contact with English people, and by the marriage of his mother's sister to Prof. L. D. B. Gordon, a brother of the late Lady Siemens, these relations became still stronger.
After attending the classical school, the Lyceum, at Hannover, and passing the matriculation examination for the universities, Siemens spent the next two years at the Polytechnic College in Hannover, and, on the invitation of the late Sir William Siemens, in July, 1867, came to Woolwich at the age of twenty, to learn practical working at the works of Siemens Brothers, which had been erected the year before.
In April, 1868, he presented himself at Berlin to serve his year with the colours, but was rejected on account of short-sightedness. He then attended a course of lectures at the University of Berlin, and in the autumn of that year went to Persia, where he served as an assistant during the erection of the Indo-European telegraph line.
The poles, wire, and other material for the Persian part of the line were shipped from London to St. Petersburg, thence by canals to the Volga, down to Astrachan, and there trans-shipped again on the steamers plying on the Caspian Sea to the harbours, or rather road-steads, of Lenkoran, Astara, and Enseli. In order to arrive at the best mode of conveying all these stores inland, several surveying journeys were made, away from the usual routes followed by European travellers, and eventually Siemens was stationed at Astara, from where, with the help of an Armenian interpreter, he sent the goods by mules and camels to Ardebil. Others were occupied in the same way at Enseli and Lenkoran, sending their goods to Caswin and Ardebil, respectively, and from the latter places the materials were distributed along the proposed line. When all the goods were sent away from the landing places the erection of the line was begun at Djula, on the Russian frontier, and continued towards Teheran, where the company's lines end and the Indian Government's lines begin.
Before this section was quite completed Siemens was called to work on the Caucasian section along the shores of the Black Sea, and he was also employed on the cable ship Hull while a cable was laid from Djuba to Sotcha, by which some high mountain ranges were avoided. Subsequently a cable was laid to cross the Straits of Azov at Kertsch, and then the party, consisting of Dr. and Mrs. C. W. Siemens, Werner H. Siemens, and Mr. Barlow, went for a tour through the Crimea, visiting Livadia, Balaclava, Inkermann, Sebastopol, and Baktshishserai. At Odessa the steamer ‘Hull’ was discharged, and the party travelled by steamer up the Danube to Baziesch, and from there by train to Vienna.
After this experience of foreign travel Siemens took up his studies again at Berlin, attending lectures both at the University and at the Polytechnic College until war was declared by the French in July, 1870. On presenting himself at Hannover he was enrolled in the Eighth Westphalian Infantry Regiment No 57, and was at first left at the depot in order to be initiated in the rudiments of drill. On August 14 the regiment lost very heavily at the battle of Mars-La-Tour, although they took no active part in it, and the depot was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. Siemens was fortunate enough to be sent out, and was present on August 28 at the battle of Noisseville, when the French made a determined attempt to break through the German lines.
During toe next two months there was ample opportunity to become acquainted with all possible hardships of a soldier's life. For the greater part of the time the first company, which Siemens had joined, had to live in huts built from branches of trees and furnished with litters of straw, while the weather was as unpropitious as if it wanted to help the French. In order to more effectually prevent the French from breaking out of their prison, embrasures for guns were made on every prominent spur of the mountains surrounding Metz, and in front of them for a distance of about an English mile every house and tree were levelled to the ground, so that there was a zone all round Metz where there was no shelter.
The German outposts stood on the French side of this zone, but they had orders at once to retire beyond the zone in case of an attack, so that the artillery fire could be effectively directed on the attacking party. It is a matter of history that these measures resulted in the surrender of Metz on October 28, 187o, and the next few days were full of arduous duties for the regiment which had to guard thousands of French prisoners until they could be despatched by train.
From Metz the regiment went with the army commanded by Prince Frederick Charles to the vicinity of Orleans, very little resistance being met with on the road. On November 28, however, General Aurelles de Paladine attacked the Tenth Army Corps at Beaune-la-Rolande and nearly succeeded in defeating it; but in the nick of time the Third Army Corps attacked the left flank of the French, and the two corps together utterly routed the enemy and cleared the way to Orleans.
Early in the day Siemens was shot through the leg, but, no bone being touched, he was enabled to remain with his company until the following morning, and for his behaviour on that day he subsequently received the Iron Cross. His wound was, however, too severe to be treated in the field hospital, and he was sent back to a hospital at Worms, where he remained over Christmas. On December 28 he arrived back in, Hannover, and returned soon after to the regiment, which in the meantime had reached Tours. But there was no more fighting, and after a few months' stay in France the regiment returned to Wesel. Siemens was honourably discharged at the conclusion of one year's service.
In the autumn of 1871 he returned to London and entered the drawing office of Dr. C. W. Siemens as his pupil, being employed during the next few years in the design and the erection of regenerative furnaces for various purposes. Of the experiments made with a rotating furnace at Birmingham for Dr. C. W. Siemens, the most curious was, perhaps, the cremation of a pig in the year 1873 in the presence of Sir Henry Thompson and Dr. Gamgee, of Birmingham, in order to obtain data as to the possibility of introducing this form of furnace for the cremation of human bodies.
With a view of becoming further acquainted with telegraphic work, Siemens joined the cable ship of Messrs. Siemens Brothers, the Faraday, in September, 1875, and after executing several repairs the ship was stationed at Halifax, N. S., during the year 1876, and part of 1877. Siemens, however, did not remain on board all the timer but was sent, first, to Londonderry, N. S., to assist in the erection of blast furnaces and steel works for the Steel Company of Canada, and then he accompanied Dr. and Mrs. Siemens, whom he met in New York, on their visit to the Philadelphia Exhibition and on a tour through the States and Canada. The result of this visit was that he was sent to Pittsburgh in January, 1877, to erect and work a rotating furnace there, which occupied him until July, when he returned to England to resume his work in Dr. C. W. Siemens' office in connection with regenerative furnaces.
In the course of the next year he started the first continuous working glass furnace in the United Kingdom, which brought to light a curious feature of trade unionism. All the workmen praised the furnace as bringing a new era into the glassworker's life, principally because it enabled them, for the first time in their experiences, to work regular hours. The firm which owned the furnace wanted to work three shifts of eight hours each, so as to utilise the expensive plant to the best advantage. The trade union, however, said that two shifts gave the firm sufficient return for their outlay, and would not allow a third shift to be started. Not only that, but on the firm desiring to build a second furnace, the trade union would not allow that, either, because, they alleged, it was unfair that some of their members should have an advantage which could not be shared by the others, as it was not likely that many such furnaces would be built. As a result, the glass bottle manufacture was practically extinct in this country for about twenty years. Then the trade union began to allow the use of these furnaces.
Meanwhile, great strides had been made in the development of the dynamo machine and all its accessories, and in the year 1879 Siemens undertook the management of that branch of the work of Messrs. Siemens Brothers. He lighted first Albert Hall, subsequently the reading- room of the British Museum by arc lights, and later on the promenade at Blackpool, which led to the lighting of the Albert Docks. About this time the firm also undertook the lighting of the streets of Godalming, supplying also private customers, and Godalming can thus boast of being the first town in which a central station was established and where all the street lights were electric. Dr. C. W. Siemens himself took a great interest in, this branch, and was instrumental in carrying out the electric tramway between Portrush, in Ireland, and the Giant's Causeway.
In 1881 Siemens went to Halifax, N. S., and on his homeward journey he went over the elevated railway in New York with Jay Gould, with a view to introducing electric traction on it. Nothing came of it, however, because Mr. Gould would not bind himself to place the order for the conversion of the whole system with Siemens Brothers in case the experimental line should prove successful.
By the death of Sir William Siemens in 1883 a good deal more responsibility was thrown upon Alexander Siemens, and this was further increased by his becoming a director of Siemens Brothers & Co., Ltd., a few years later, and by the resignation of the managing director at the end of 1890. The firm's operations extend to all parts of the world, and among the work carried out during the last decade the most important in the submarine branch was the laying of a third Atlantic cable for the Commercial Cable Company in 1894, and the laying of a cable for a thousand miles up the Amazon River, in South America, in 1896. A great number of central stations with their cable network were fitted up by the firm, and the Waterloo & City Electric Railway was supplied with the complete electric plant.
In 1892 Siemens was elected one of the arbitrators of the London Chamber of Arbitration by the Court of Common Council of the city of London. He served on the committee enquiring into the system of light railways, and was an official delegate of the British Government to the International Electrical Congresses of Chicago in 1893 and Paris in 1901. In 1897 he was nominated a member of the Royal Commission which enquired into the desirability of establishing a National Physical Laboratory, and he is serving now on the executive committee of this institution.
When the great engineering strike broke out in May, 1897, he helped to organise the London Association of Engineering & Shipbuilding Employers, and served as its first president until the end of 1899. On the London Association joining the Federation of Engineering Employers, he was selected by the late Colonel Dyer to be one of the emergency committee, which has the actual management of the affairs of the Federation in its hands.
After successfully resisting the demand for an eight-hour day, a compact was made with the trade unions concerned about the freedom of management and the best way to avoid future disputes. Under these rules the emergency committee of the Federation and the executive council of the trade unions act as a sort of court of appeal in all industrial disputes, and no strike or lockout is allowed until the matter in dispute has been discussed by them. In this way large stoppages of work in the engineering industry have been avoided (luring the last few years without any necessity for appealing to outside arbitration. For the present year Siemens is acting as one of the vice-presidents of the Federation.
From an early time he took an active part in various scientific societies. When he first came to England in 1867 he became a student of the Institution of Civil Engineers; in 1873 he was transferred to the class of associates, and in 1890 to the class of members, and since 1898 he has served on the council of that institution.
He joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers when the society was founded, became a member of council in 188o, and president in 1894. He also belongs to the Iron and Steel Institute, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and a number of other learned societies. In 1898 he was elected an honorary member of the Society of Engineers.
Twice he was elected to the board of managers of the Royal Institution, and for some years he has served on the council of the Society of Arts. He is the author of various papers, mostly on electrical subjects, which he read before the Society of Arts, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the British Association, and various other institutions.
Sources of Information
- Cassier's Magazine 1902/01