Archiv der Siemens AG

  • Siemens Corporate Archives

History

Werner von Siemens and his brother William established first business contacts in the U.S. in the mid-1840s, when they briefly sold printing presses to American entrepreneurs. During the decades that followed the establishment of Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske (S&H) in Berlin, business activities in the U.S. were mainly limited to applying for patents, concluding licensing agreements and supplying a few niche products. The highly specialized nature of Siemens products, in combination with local customers’ specific requirements, made it difficult to penetrate North America’s largely autonomous electrical market. The protectionist economic policies of the U.S. were a further hindrance, as was the fact that it was illegal to import equipment and machines that were already patented in the U.S.

In 1886, Werner von Siemens commissioned the well-known American railroad financier Henry Villard to represent Siemens & Halske’s interests in the U.S. However, the hoped-for success failed to materialize: in the early 1890s, Villard’s acquisitions were still limited to small individual orders. On March 4, 1892, Siemens & Halske joined with German-American businessman Otto W. Meysenburg to found Siemens & Halske Electric Co. of America (S&H America) in Chicago. Meysenburg was appointed company president and began serving as new general agent in the U.S. The business activities of S&H America focused on manufacturing and selling dynamos for electric railways and lighting systems as well as electrical equipment for railways. As expected, on-site production facilitated the use of U.S. patents while eliminating high import taxes and transport costs.The company nevertheless faced financial difficulties from the beginning; two equity increases were necessary within two years. In addition, cultural differences, divergent ideas about how to run a business and communication problems between Chicago and the far-away parent company in Berlin were hampering business development. In August 1894, the production site in Chicago was completely destroyed by fire – abruptly concluding, for the time being, the attempt to establish a subsidiary with its own production facilities in the U.S. “The American tragedy,” as Carl von Siemens described Siemens & Halske’s involvement in the U.S. shortly after the fire, ended in 1904 with the liquidation of S&H America.The year 1908 ushered in a new era for Siemens’ business in the U.S. The German electrical company set up a so-called information office in New York. Headed by German physicist Karl Georg Frank, the office was to represent the interests of Siemens & Halske as well as of Siemens Schuckertwerke (SSW), which had been founded five years earlier. Originally, the office’s primary task was to amass know-how about the specific characteristics of the U.S. market and the sales potential of products in Siemens’ portfolio. However, Frank quickly emancipated himself from the directives of the parent company in Berlin and was soon driving the sale of scientific measuring apparatuses, laboratory equipment and electric-arc lamps.

Even more useful for business development were the insights Frank gathered by analyzing the market and the competition. With respect to U.S. customers, he advised “supplying products that are as cheap as possible, simple and crude, all efforts to incorporate extraneous external features having been eliminated, with parts that can be readily replaced and operation that is as simple as possible.” In addition, the head of the Siemens representative agency initiated and intensified contact and the exchange of information with U.S. market leaders General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse Electronic Corporation (Westinghouse). Nevertheless, it was not until 1945 that Siemens managed to gain a lasting foothold that went beyond exploiting its patents and engaging in low-volume business with specialized products. (Source: http://www.siemens.com/history/en/news/the_early_phase_of_siemens_business_in_the_us.htm)

Archival and Other Holdings

As the central repository of information at the company’s Berlin headquarters, Corporate Archives is home to the collective memory of Siemens AG. The aim of Corporate Archives is to collect and document the technology company’s nearly 170-years of history and development.

We process, index and manage all the documents, pictures, films, and products which reflect the history of Siemens AG and its predecessor companies and have been deemed worthy of preservation.

Our extensive records and collections focus on documents from the Supervisory Board, the Managing Board and the central Corporate Units, since these sources record the key events, processes and interrelationships relating to the entire company. The ability to reconstruct historical developments reliably is also important in the context of legal issues.

As experts on the company’s technological, business and social history, we see ourselves primarily as an internal service provider. In this capacity, we support marketing, communications and sales activities at Siemens. We also make our information and expertise available to researchers and journalists. (Source: http://www.siemens.com/history/en/siemens_historical_institute/corporate_archives/)