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Siemens' discovery of the dynamo-electric principle and its development of the first electric motors helped machine production achieve breakthrough and sped up industrial production processes. Today, the company supplies drives for almost every application.
In 1879, Werner von Siemens invented the first electric railway with a power supply provided via the tracks. That same year, he had the idea for an electric elevator. In a letter to his brother Carl, he said he believed the dynamo machine that had been used as a motor in the train was also "very well suited" to drive elevators and turntables at rail yards.
The pioneer of electric engineering soon had a chance to put his idea into practice. In April 1880, the organizers of the Mannheim Pfalzgau Trade & Agricultural Exhibition asked him whether Siemens could build an "electric elevator" – the world's first – for their show. Siemens accepted the order, but when the work took longer than planned, that July the exhibition had to open without its biggest attraction. It was not until the end of August that the Mannheim elevator could be installed. The motor was housed underneath the platform, and pushed the elevator up via a gear system.
The public took a massive interest in the elevator: more than 8,000 people rode the new conveyance between September and mid-November, to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Mannheim.
In 1891, the first electric rotating crane went into operation on the Petersenkai wharf at the port in Hamburg. The crane had been built by the Hamburg firm Nagel & Kaemp, but the electrical equipment came from Siemens & Halske. It had a load-lifting capacity of two and a half metric tons and could hoist loads at a meter per second. The extremely efficient drive recovered electrical energy as heavy loads were being lowered and stored it in an accumulator battery. After some initial problems, the unit worked well for more than three decades.
Another milestone arrived in 1894. At the new Riijnhaven harbor in Rotterdam, Siemens worked with the same partner to build six cranes, followed by seven more. The centrally operated electric cranes replaced the steam-driven units that had been in common use until then. By 1900, 21 cranes were already in operation, with lifting capacities of up to four metric tons. The success was so complete that every crane needed for the further expansion of the harbor was given an electric drive.
Siemens built the world's first reversing electric drive in 1906/07, for a blooming train at the Georgsmarienhütte steel mill near Osnabrück. The motor had a maximum output of 6,550 kilowatts (kW).
The double-armature reversing motor served to roll out steel ingots weighing some five metric tons. It had two armatures that generated torques of up to about 100 meter-tonnes (mt) on a common shaft at a maximum of 60 rpm for each rolling run. Because the motor was subdivided into two parts, the armature diameter could be reduced substantially and so could its centrifugal mass. This permitted the rapid reversals of motor direction that were needed for rolling and reduced the required energy.
Control was provided via a flywheel controller composed of four identical DC motors, each coupled to a fast, heavy flywheel. Unlike steam rolling mills, which had to provide a contrary flow of steam to brake the system, the train with the electric drive could be braked almost without loss. The motor could change direction as much as 28 times a minute – significantly more often than was needed in regular operation.
Originally, motors for machine tools and prod