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  • 1 Siemens, Sir Charles William

    b. 4 April 1823 Lenthe, Germany
    d. 19 November 1883 London, England
    German/British metallurgist and inventory pioneer of the regenerative principle and open-hearth steelmaking.
    Born Carl Wilhelm, he attended craft schools in Lübeck and Magdeburg, followed by an intensive course in natural science at Göttingen as a pupil of Weber. At the age of 19 Siemens travelled to England and sold an electroplating process developed by his brother Werner Siemens to Richard Elkington, who was already established in the plating business. From 1843 to 1844 he obtained practical experience in the Magdeburg works of Count Stolburg. He settled in England in 1844 and later assumed British nationality, but maintained close contact with his brother Werner, who in 1847 had co-founded the firm Siemens \& Halske in Berlin to manufacture telegraphic equipment. William began to develop his regenerative principle of waste-heat recovery and in 1856 his brother Frederick (1826–1904) took out a British patent for heat regeneration, by which hot waste gases were passed through a honeycomb of fire-bricks. When they became hot, the gases were switched to a second mass of fire-bricks and incoming air and fuel gas were led through the hot bricks. By alternating the two gas flows, high temperatures could be reached and considerable fuel economies achieved. By 1861 the two brothers had incorporated producer gas fuel, made by gasifying low-grade coal.
    Heat regeneration was first applied in ironmaking by Cowper in 1857 for heating the air blast in blast furnaces. The first regenerative furnace was set up in Birmingham in 1860 for glassmaking. The first such furnace for making steel was developed in France by Pierre Martin and his father, Emile, in 1863. Siemens found British steelmakers reluctant to adopt the principle so in 1866 he rented a small works in Birmingham to develop his open-hearth steelmaking furnace, which he patented the following year. The process gradually made headway; as well as achieving high temperatures and saving fuel, it was slower than Bessemer's process, permitting greater control over the content of the steel. By 1900 the tonnage of open-hearth steel exceeded that produced by the Bessemer process.
    In 1872 Siemens played a major part in founding the Society of Telegraph Engineers (from which the Institution of Electrical Engineers evolved), serving as its first President. He became President for the second time in 1878. He built a cable works at Charlton, London, where the cable could be loaded directly into the holds of ships moored on the Thames. In 1873, together with William Froude, a British shipbuilder, he designed the Faraday, the first specialized vessel for Atlantic cable laying. The successful laying of a cable from Europe to the United States was completed in 1875, and a further five transatlantic cables were laid by the Faraday over the following decade.
    The Siemens factory in Charlton also supplied equipment for some of the earliest electric-lighting installations in London, including the British Museum in 1879 and the Savoy Theatre in 1882, the first theatre in Britain to be fully illuminated by electricity. The pioneer electric-tramway system of 1883 at Portrush, Northern Ireland, was an opportunity for the Siemens company to demonstrate its equipment.
    Principal Honours and Distinctions
    Knighted 1883. FRS 1862. Institution of Civil Engineers Telford Medal 1853. President, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 1872. President, Society of Telegraph Engineers 1872 and 1878. President, British Association 1882.
    27 May 1879, British patent no. 2,110 (electricarc furnace).
    1889, The Scientific Works of C.William Siemens, ed. E.F.Bamber, 3 vols, London.
    Further Reading
    W.Poles, 1888, Life of Sir William Siemens, London; repub. 1986 (compiled from material supplied by the family).
    S.von Weiher, 1972–3, "The Siemens brothers. Pioneers of the electrical age in Europe", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 45:1–11 (a short, authoritative biography). S.von Weihr and H.Goetler, 1983, The Siemens Company. Its Historical Role in the
    Progress of Electrical Engineering 1847–1980, English edn, Berlin (a scholarly account with emphasis on technology).

    Biographical history of technology > Siemens, Sir Charles William

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