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Accident or fate? As 1846 gives way to 1847, Werner von Siemens meets Johann Georg Halske, a precision mechanic with an extraordinary “talent for design.” Werner von Siemens doesn’t hesitate, because that’s exactly what he needs to put his project into practice: a brilliant designer. He attempts to recruit Halske as a partner.
But Halske is skeptical. Only a test set-up will convince him of the potential of the new pointer telegraph. The technology makes it possible to transmit messages much faster. A groundbreaking invention that promises a lucrative business.
From now on, everything moves very quickly.
They combine forces and found “Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske” on October 1, 1847. Just 12 days later they open a workshop in a back courtyard in Berlin.
This is the start of a spectacular development: The foundation has been laid for a global company.
The contrasts could not have been greater: Halske, the acerbic precision mechanic and Werner von Siemens, the visionary entrepreneur.
They complement each other perfectly. The “mechanical artist” Halske improves the telegraph device while Werner von Siemens obtains the first major contract through his contacts in the military.
Halske’s impeccably designed pointer telegraph plays a major role in convincing the Telegraph Commission of the Prussian Army to award a contract to the new company for construction of a 670-kilometer line. The objective is a fast connection between Berlin and Frankfurt am Main. The first German National Assembly has been meeting there since May 1848.
There isn’t much time, but the cable, which is mostly underground, is laid in sufficient time. Now messages can be sent between the two cities in only an hour – a sensation!
This is followed by more large contracts. Siemens & Halske are asked to create a dense #telegraph network in Prussia as quickly as possible. But the time pressure undermines quality, and outages increase. The client blames Telegraphen-Bauanstalt for the breakdown, but Werner von Siemens refuses any responsibility. Was he right?
The young entrepreneurs are hard hit by the end of all business relations with Prussia. Werner von Siemens feels it is up to him to avert the impending crisis and increases his efforts to develop markets in other countries. He wants to expand, which he succeeds in doing – but this will ultimately lead to the breakup with Halske.
Travel conditions are anything but comfortable. Werner von Siemens travels to St. Petersburg by stagecoach and sled in 1852. He has a clear objective in mind: selling his telegraph system to Russia. He must succeed, because options in other countries have dried up.
Werner von Siemens is now able to offer a mature system, and he has local contacts. He is also a very skilled negotiator.
In 1853 he is awarded a contract to install a line from St. Petersburg to Kronstadt, including a lucrative maintenance contract.
A construction office is opened in St. Petersburg, headed by Werner’s brother Carl.
The business flourishes, to some extent because current events play into the hands of the Siemens brothers. Russia wants to expand its sphere of influence and is pushing for the rapid expansion of an extensive system of telegraph lines. The young company benefits as Russian contracts increase the volume of its business five-fold.
But then Werner von Siemens reaches the limits of what is possible.