Siemens, Charles William (Carl Wilhelm)

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(b. Lenthe, near Hannover, Germany, 4 April 1823: d. London, England, 19 November 1883)


The seventh son of Christian Ferdinand Siemens, a prosperous farmer, and Eleonore Deichmann, Siemens was naturalized as a British subject on 19 March 1859. He married Anne Gordon on 23 July of that year. Siemens was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (president, 1872), the Iron and Steel Institute (president, 1877), the Society of Telegraph Engineers (first president, 1872), the British Association (president, 18820, and the Royal Society of Arts (chairman, 1882) and a fellow of the Royal Society.

Having received a sound German technical education, Siemens went at age twenty to England and profitable promoted an electroplating invention of his older brother Werner (who in 1847 founded the German company of Siemens and Halske). After several years of indifferent success with other inventions, including regenerative steam engines, an engine governor, and a printing technique, he became agent in Britain for his brother’s telegraph equipment and later a partner in his subsidiary British company. During the same period (1850–1858) Siemens developed a highly successful meter for measuring water consumption. These activities, combined with his important invention (1861) of the regenerative gas furnace and its application to open-hearth steelmaking and other industrial; processes, made him independently wealthy before 1870.

In 1874 Siemens designed the cable ship Faraday and assisted in the laying of the first of several transatlantic cables that it completed. During the last fifteen years of his life he actively supported the development of the engineering profession and its societies and stimulated public interest in the conservation of fuel, the reduction of air pollution and the potential value of electric power in a wide variety of engineering applications.


Siemens’ writings are collected in The Scientific Works of C. William Siemens, Kt., E. F. Bamber, ed., 3 vols. (London, 1889).

A biography is William Pole. The Life of Sir William Siemens (London, 1888). See also H. T. Wood in Dictionary of National Biography, XVIII (Oxford, 1922), Many incidental references are in Georg Siemens, History of the House of Siemes, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 1957), and in a collection of his brother’s memoirs, Werner von Siemens, Inventor and Entreperneur (Clifton, N. J., 1966).

Robert A. Chipman