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From Berlin to Munich and back

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In the 16-degree cool basement, Florian Kiuntke beams as he presents a special treasure: the partnership agreement, signed by Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske on October 1, 1847. The founding document of Siemens comprises four DIN A4 pages with ten paragraphs. Because this paper exists, the 175th birthday of Siemens next October is on record, so to speak, and can be celebrated in a similar way to the 200th birthday of the founder six years ago: with a ceremony and a speech by the Federal Chancellor at the place of birth and former company headquarters in Berlin.

In 1907 the archive was created

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Germany is proud of Siemens and the historian Florian Kiuntke of the Siemens archive, which, as befits a global corporation, has been called the Siemens Historical Institute (SHI) for a few years. 3,500 tons of data carriers, mostly paper, including thousands of letters from the founder, were transported from Munich to Berlin in 450 truck trips when the SHI returned to its original home in Siemensstadt in 2016. The archive was created here in 1907. “During the preparations for the 60th birthday, one noticed that a lot of documents were missing,” says the head of the SHI, Florian Kiuntke. The historian wrote his doctoral thesis on the more than 100-year-old Siemens X-ray tube factory in Rudolstadt, Thuringia, which now belongs to the medical technology company Siemens Healthineers, which was spun off from the parent company, as was the energy business under the name Siemens Energy. Nothing stays the same.

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With half a dozen employees, Kiuntke supports and supplements the knowledge of the history and development of the technology company. “Siemens influenced life back then with technological innovations like Apple does today,” says Kiuntke during a tour of the 10,000 meters of shelves with around 12,000 books and a million photos. The majority of the 8,000 industrial and advertising films have now been digitized and are therefore easy to read an insight into the history of electrical engineering and electronics, which would have been different without Siemens.

Werner von Siemens was born on December 13, 1816 in Lenthe, Lower Saxony. The son of a tenant farmer was a talented inventor with great scientific talent. Since the miserable economic situation did not allow him to study – after moving to an estate in Mecklenburg, things went downhill for the family – Werner pursued a career in the Prussian military, where he became an artillery lieutenant (1838) and was trained in the engineering corps. The mathematical talent had previously been allowed to skip a class at the Lübeck Katharineum. Siemens remained in the military until 1849; in between he had to be imprisoned in a fortress in Magdeburg for a few years after being conspicuous as a second in a duel. In the citadel of Magdeburg he set up a test laboratory in which he invented electrical electroplating. While he was still in the military, in October 1847, he founded the “Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske” in Berlin with the mechanic Johann Georg Halske.

The first workshop was in Schöneberg

It all started on Schöneberger Strasse at Asländisches Platz, where the first workshop was located. The division of labor between the founders worked like this: Siemens had the ideas and experimented, Halske constructed the workpieces and tools that were necessary to turn ideas into ready-to-sell devices.

The industrial production of the pointer telegraph laid the foundation, as the in-house historian Kiuntke explains. The Siemens pointer telegraph was used from 1848 on what was then the longest European telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main, where the National Assembly met in the Paulskirche. For transmission, the pointer on the sending device is placed on the desired letter, which causes a corresponding adjustment of the pointer on the receiving device. The new device revolutionized communication technology. And Siemens/Halske earned enough money to tackle other projects. A dynamo machine used to generate electricity, 1879 the first railway. In 1880, 1,500 people were already working for the electrical company, which in 1897 acquired an uninhabited area north-west of Berlin. By 1914, a new part of the city was created here – Siemensstadt.

A lot happened in the rapidly growing electronics market at the end of the 19th century, as can be seen in a photo book from the Siemens Historical Institute. The engineer George Westinghouse founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation (WES) in the USA in 1886. A few years later, Thomas Edison’s Edison General Electric Company merged with the Thomson-Houston Company to form the General Electric Company (GE) – “to this day one of Siemens’ most important competitors,” as the illustrated book puts it. In Switzerland, Brown, Boveri & Cie. was formed, and on the home market, the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft) AEG, among others, threatened the market leadership of Siemens & Halske.

Treasure trove for scientists

“Sometimes I’m amazed at the topics people deal with,” says SHI director Kiuntke in an interview with the Tagesspiegel about his everyday life, which also includes processing inquiries. A professor from Austria asked the SHI for material for a study about the history of the office. Or hobby craftsmen who have dismantled old electronic devices contact Kiuntke because they need tips for assembling, such as a construction sketch. A letter from Werner von Siemens from 1867 contains the drawing of one of the first dynamo machines.

Help for outsiders is of secondary importance to the range of tasks of the SHI. “We want to create added value for Siemens and support the company’s messages,” says Kiuntke, explaining the company’s self-image. The preparations for the 175th birthday are currently busy, but the SHI is still required 50 years after the Olympic Games in Munich, because Siemens, as a technological service provider, was heavily involved in the game on its own doorstep.

At the end of the 1940s, after the war and the division of town and country, the corporate management relocated the main administration from Berlin to Munich, followed in 1954 by the Siemens archive. In 2016, the construction of the new company headquarters led to the “retreat”: In Munich, things got tight, but there was and is plenty of space at the traditional location in Berlin-Siemensstadt. In the administration building on Nonnendammallee, built in 1913, there is sufficient space and space that is cooled and fire-protected with the help of Siemens technology. The exhibit collection with more than 10,000 historical objects is still in Munich. It does not have to stay that way. “We would like to expand,” said SHI director Kiuntke.

Source: Tagesspiegel

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