Heroes of the Telegraph

Contents:
Author: J. Munro

Chapter V. Charles William Siemens.

Charles William Siemens was born on April 4, 1823, at the little village of Lenthe, about eight miles from Hanover, where his father, Mr. Christian Ferdinand Siemens, was ’Domanen-pachter,’ and farmed an estate belonging to the Crown. His mother was Eleonore Deichmann, a lady of noble disposition, and William, or Carl Wilhelm, was the fourth son of a family of fourteen children, several of whom have distinguished themselves in scientific pursuits. Of these, Ernst Werner Siemens, the fourth child, and now the famous electrician of Berlin, was associated with William in many of his inventions; Fritz, the ninth child, is the head of the well-known Dresden glass works; and Carl, the tenth child, is chief of the equally well-known electrical works at St. Petersburg. Several of the family died young; others remained in Germany; but the enterprising spirit, natural to them, led most of the sons abroad— Walter, the twelfth child, dying at Tiflis as the German Consul there, and Otto, the fourteenth child, also dying at the same place. It would be difficult to find a more remarkable family in any age or country. Soon after the birth of William, Mr. Siemens removed to a larger estate which he had leased at Menzendorf, near Lubeck.

As a child William was sensitive and affectionate, the baby of the family, liking to roam the woods and fields by himself, and curious to observe, but not otherwise giving any signs of the engineer. He received his education at a commercial academy in Lubeck, the Industrial School at Magdeburg (city of the memorable burgomaster, Otto von Guericke), and at the University of Gottingen, which he entered in 1841, while in his eighteenth year. Were he attended the chemical lectures of Woehler, the discoverer of organic synthesis, and of Professor Himly, the well-known physicist, who was married to Siemens’s eldest sister, Mathilde. With a year at Gottingen, during which he laid the basis of his theoretical knowledge, the academical training of Siemens came to an end, and he entered practical life in the engineering works of Count Stolberg, at Magdeburg. At the University he had been instructed in mechanical laws and designs; here he learned the nature and use of tools and the construction of machines. But as his University career at Gottingen lasted only about a year, so did his apprenticeship at the Stolberg Works. In this short time, however, he probably reaped as much advantage as a duller pupil during a far longer term.

Young Siemens appears to have been determined to push his way forward. In 1841 his brother Werner obtained a patent in Prussia for electro-silvering and gilding; and in 1843 Charles William came to England to try and introduce the process here. In his address on ’Science and Industry,’ delivered before the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1881, while the Paris Electrical Exhibition was running, Sir William gave a most interesting account of his experiences during that first visit to the country of his adoption.

’When,’ said he, ’the electrotype process first became known, it excited a very general interest; and although I was only a young student at Gottingen, under twenty years of age, who had just entered upon his practical career with a mechanical engineer, I joined my brother, Werner Siemens, then a young lieutenant of artillery in the Prussian service, in his endeavours to accomplish electro-gilding; the first impulse in this direction having been given by Professor C. Himly, then of Gottingen. After attaining some promising results, a spirit of enterprise came over me, so strong that I tore myself away from the narrow circumstances surrounding me, and landed at the east end of London with only a few pounds in my pocket and without friends, but with an ardent confidence of ultimate success within my breast.

’I expected to find some office in which inventions were examined into, and rewarded if found meritorious, but no one could direct me to such a place. In walking along Finsbury Pavement, I saw written up in large letters, "So-and-so" (I forget the name), "Undertaker," and the thought struck me that this must be the place I was in quest of; at any rate, I thought that a person advertising himself as an "undertaker" would not refuse to look into my invention with a view of obtaining for me the sought-for recognition or reward. On entering the place I soon convinced myself, however, that I came decidedly too soon for the kind of enterprise here contemplated, and, finding myself confronted with the proprietor of the establishment, I covered my retreat by what he must have thought a very lame excuse. By dint of perseverance I found my way to the patent office of Messrs. Poole and Carpmael, who received me kindly, and provided me with a letter of introduction to Mr. Elkington. Armed with this letter, I proceeded to Birmingham, to plead my cause before your townsman.

’In looking back to that time, I wonder at the patience with which Mr. Elkington listened to what I had to say, being very young, and scarcely able to find English words to convey my meaning. After showing me what he was doing already in the way of electro-plating, Mr. Elkington sent me back to London in order to read some patents of his own, asking me to return if, after perusal, I still thought I could teach him anything. To my great disappointment, I found that the chemical solutions I had been using were actually mentioned in one of his patents, although in a manner that would hardly have sufficed to enable a third person to obtain practical results.

On my return to Birmingham I frankly stated what I had found, and with this frankness I evidently gained the favour of another townsman of yours, Mr. Josiah Mason, who had just joined Mr. Elkington in business, and whose name, as Sir Josiah Mason, will ever be remembered for his munificent endowment of education. It was agreed that I should not be judged by the novelty of my invention, but by the results which I promised, namely, of being able to deposit with a smooth surface 30 dwt. of silver upon a dish-cover, the crystalline structure of the deposit having theretofore been a source of difficulty. In this I succeeded, and I was able to return to my native country and my mechanical engineering a comparative Croesus.

’But it was not for long, as in the following year (1844) I again landed in the Thames with another invention, worked out also with my brother, namely, the chronometric governor, which, though less successful, commercially speaking, than the first, obtained for me the advantage of bringing me into contact with the engineering world, and of fixing me permanently in this country. This invention was in course of time applied by Sir George Airy, the then Astronomer-Royal, for regulating the motion of his great transit and touch-recording instrument at the Royal Observatory, where it still continues to be employed.

’Another early subject of mine, the anastatic printing process, found favour with Faraday, "the great and the good," who made it the subject of a Friday evening lecture at the Royal Institution. These two circumstances, combined, obtained for me an entry into scientific circles, and helped to sustain me in difficulty, until, by dint of a certain determination to win, I was able to advance step by step up to this place of honour, situated within a gunshot of the scene of my earliest success in life, but separated from it by the time of a generation. But notwithstanding the lapse of time, my heart still beats quick each time I come back to the scene of this, the determining incident of my life.’

The ’anastatic’ process, described by Faraday in 1845, and partly due to Werner Siemens, was a method of reproducing printed matter by transferring the print from paper to plates of zinc. Caustic baryta was applied to the printed sheet to convert the resinous ingredients of the ink into an insoluble soap, the stearine being precipitated with sulphuric acid. The letters were then transferred to the zinc by pressure, so as to be printed from. The process, though ingenious and of much interest at the time, has long ago been superseded by photographic methods.

Even at this time Siemens had several irons in the fire. Besides the printing process and the chronometric governor, which operated by the differential movement between the engine and a chronometer, he was occupied with some minor improvements at Hoyle’s Calico Printing Works. He also engaged in railway works from time to time; and in 1846 he brought out a double cylinder air-pump, in which the two cylinders are so combined, that the compressing side of the first and larger cylinder communicated with the suction side of the second and smaller cylinder, and the limit of exhaustion was thereby much extended. The invention was well received at the time, but is now almost forgotten.

Siemens had been trained as a mechanical engineer, and, although he became an eminent electrician in later life, his most important work at this early stage was non-electrical; indeed, the greatest achievement of his life was non-electrical, for we must regard the regenerative furnace as his MAGNUM OPUS. Though in 1847 he published a paper in Liebig’s ANNALEN DER CHEMIE on the ’Mercaptan of Selenium,’ his mind was busy with the new ideas upon the nature of heat which were promulgated by Carnot, Clayperon, Joule, Clausius, Mayer, Thomson, and Rankine. He discarded the older notions of heat as a substance, and accepted it as a form of energy. Working on this new line of thought, which gave him an advantage over other inventors of his time, he made his first attempt to economise heat, by constructing, in 1847, at the factory of Mr. John Hick, of Bolton, an engine of four horse-power, having a condenser provided with regenerators, and utilising superheated steam. Two years later he continued his experiments at the works of Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Co., of Smethwick, near Birmingham, who had taken the matter in hand. The use of superheated steam was, however, attended with many practical difficulties, and the invention was not entirely successful, but it embraced the elements of success; and the Society of Arts, in 1850, acknowledged the value of the principle, by awarding Mr. Siemens a gold medal for his regenerative condenser. Various papers read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, or appearing in DINGLER’S JOURNAL and the JOURNAL OF THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE about this time, illustrate the workings of his mind upon the subject. That read in 1853, before the Institution of Civil Engineers, ’On the Conversion of Heat into Mechanical Effect,’ was the first of a long series of communications to that learned body, and gained for its author the Telford premium and medal. In it he contended that a perfect engine would be one in which all the heat applied to the steam was used up in its expansion behind a working piston, leaving none to be sent into a condenser or the atmosphere, and that the best results in any actual engine would be attained by carrying expansion to the furthest possible limit, or, in practice, by the application of a regenerator. Anxious to realise his theories further, he constructed a twenty horse-power engine on the regenerative plan, and exhibited it at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855; but, not realising his expectations, he substituted for it another of seven-horse power, made by M. Farcot, of Paris, which was found to work with considerable economy. The use of superheated steam, however, still proved a drawback, and the Siemens engine has not been extensively used.

On the other hand, the Siemens water-meter, which he introduced in 1851, has been very widely used, not only in this country, but abroad. It acts equally well under all variations of pressure, and with a constant or an intermittent supply.

Meanwhile his brother Werner had been turning his attention to telegraphy, and the correspondence which never ceased between the brothers kept William acquainted with his doings. In 1844, Werner, then an officer in the Prussian army, was appointed to a berth in the artillery workshops of Berlin, where he began to take an interest in the new art of telegraphy. In 1845 Werner patented his dial and printing telegraph instruments, which came into use all over Germany, and introduced an automatic alarm on the same principle. These inventions led to his being made, in 1846, a member of a commission in Berlin for the introduction of electric telegraphs instead of semaphores. He advocated the use of gutta-percha, then a new material, for the insulation of underground wires, and in 1847 designed a screw-press for coating the wires with the gum rendered plastic by heat. The following year he laid the first great underground telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfort-on-the-Main, and soon afterwards left the army to engage with Mr. Halske in the management of a telegraph factory which they had conjointly established in 1847. In 1852 William took an office in John Street, Adelphi, with a view to practise as a civil engineer. Eleven years later, Mr. Halske and William Siemens founded in London the house of Siemens, Halske & Co., which began with a small factory at Millbank, and developed in course of time into the well-known firm of Messrs. Siemens Brothers, and was recently transformed into a limited liability company.

In 1859 William Siemens became a naturalised Englishman, and from this time forward took an active part in the progress of English engineering and telegraphy. He devoted a great part of his time to electrical invention and research; and the number of telegraph apparatus of all sorts—telegraph cables, land lines, and their accessories—which have emanated from the Siemens Telegraph Works has been remarkable. The engineers of this firm have been pioneers of the electric telegraph in every quarter of the globe, both by land and sea. The most important aerial line erected by the firm was the Indo-European telegraph line, through Prussia, Russia, and Persia, to India. The North China cable, the Platino-Brazileira, and the Direct United States cable, were laid by the firm, the latter in 1874-5 So also was the French Atlantic cable, and the two Jay Could Atlantic cables. At the time of his death the manufacture and laying of the Bennett-Mackay Atlantic cables was in progress at the company’s works, Charlton. Some idea of the extent of this manufactory may be gathered from the fact that it gives employment to some 2,000 men. All branches of electrical work are followed out in its various departments, including the construction of dynamos and electric lamps.

On July 23, 1859, Siemens was married at St. James’s, Paddington, to Anne, the youngest daughter of Mr. Joseph Gordon, Writer to the Signet, Edinburgh, and brother to Mr. Lewis Gordon, Professor of Engineering in the University of Glasgow, He used to say that on March 19 of that year he took oath and allegiance to two ladies in one day—to the Queen and his betrothed. The marriage was a thoroughly happy one.

Although much engaged in the advancement of telegraphy, he was also occupied with his favourite idea of regeneration. The regenerative gas furnace, originally invented in 1848 by his brother Friedrich, was perfected and introduced by him during many succeeding years. The difficulties overcome in the development of this invention were enormous, but the final triumph was complete.

The principle of this furnace consists in utilising the heat of the products of combustion to warm up the gaseous fuel and air which enters the furnace. This is done by making these products pass through brickwork chambers which absorb their heat and communicate it to the gas and air currents going to the flame. An extremely high temperature is thus obtained, and the furnace has, in consequence, been largely used in the manufacture of glass and steel.

Before the introduction of this furnace, attempts had been made to produce cast-steel without the use of a crucible—that is to say, on the ’open hearth’ of the furnace. Reaumur was probably the first to show that steel could be made by fusing malleable iron with cast-iron. Heath patented the process in 1845; and a quantity of cast-steel was actually prepared in this way, on the bed of a reverberatory furnace, by Sudre, in France, during the year 1860. But the furnace was destroyed in the act; and it remained for Siemens, with his regenerative furnace, to realise the object. In 1862 Mr. Charles Atwood, of Tow Law, agreed to erect such a furnace, and give the process a fair trial; but although successful in producing the steel, he was afraid its temper was not satisfactory, and discontinued the experiment. Next year, however, Siemens, who was not to be disheartened, made another attempt with a large furnace erected at the Montlucon Works, in France, where he was assisted by the late M. le Chatellier, Inspecteur-General des Mines. Some charges of steel were produced; but here again the roof of the furnace melted down, and the company which had undertaken the trials gave them up. The temperature required for the manufacture of the steel was higher than the melting point of most fire-bricks. Further endeavours also led to disappointments; but in the end the inventor was successful. He erected experimental works at Birmingham, and gradually matured his process until it was so far advanced that it could be trusted to the hands of others. Siemens used a mixture of cast-steel and iron ore to make the steel; but another manufacturer, M. Martin, of Sireuil, in France, developed the older plan of mixing the cast-iron with wrought-iron scrap. While Siemens was improving his means at Birmingham, Martin was obtaining satisfactory results with a regenerative furnace of his own design; and at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 samples of good open-hearth steel were shown by both manufacturers. In England the process is now generally known as the ’Siemens-Martin,’ and on the Continent as the ’Martin-Siemens’ process.

The regenerative furnace is the greatest single invention of Charles William Siemens. Owing to the large demand for steel for engineering operations, both at home and abroad, it proved exceedingly remunerative. Extensive works for the application of the process were erected at Landore, where Siemens prosecuted his experiments on the subject with unfailing ardour, and, among other things, succeeded in making a basic brick for the lining of his furnaces which withstood the intense heat fairly well.

The process in detail consists in freeing the bath of melted pig-iron from excess of carbon by adding broken lumps of pure hematite or magnetite iron ore. This causes a violent boiling, which is kept up until the metal becomes soft enough, when it is allowed to stand to let the metal clear from the slag which floats in scum upon the top. The separation of the slag and iron is facilitated by throwing in some lime from time to time. Spiegel, or specular iron, is then added; about 1 per cent. more than in the scrap process. From 20 to 24 cwt. of ore are used in a 5-ton charge, and about half the metal is reduced and turned into steel, so that the yield in ingots is from 1 to 2 per cent. more than the weight of pig and spiegel iron in the charge. The consumption of coal is rather larger than in the scrap process, and is from 14 to 15 cwt. per ton of steel. The two processes of Siemens and Martin are often combined, both scrap and ore being used in the same charge, the latter being valuable as a tempering material.

At present there are several large works engaged in manufacturing the Siemens-Martin steel in England, namely, the Landore, the Parkhead Forge, those of the Steel Company of Scotland, of Messrs. Vickers & Co., Sheffield, and others. These produced no less than 340,000 tons of steel during the year 1881, and two years later the total output had risen to half a million tons. In 1876 the British Admiralty built two iron-clads, the Mercury and Iris, of Siemens-Martin steel, and the experiment proved so satisfactory, that this material only is now used in the Royal dockyards for the construction of hulls and boilers. Moreover, the use of it is gradually extending in the mercantile marine. Contemporaneous with his development of the open-hearth process, William Siemens introduced the rotary furnace for producing wrought-iron direct from the ore without the need of puddling.

The fervent heat of the Siemens furnace led the inventor to devise a novel means of measuring high temperatures, which illustrates the value of a broad scientific training to the inventor, and the happy manner in which William Siemens, above all others, turned his varied knowledge to account, and brought the facts and resources of one science to bear upon another. As early as 1860, while engaged in testing the conductor of the Malta to Alexandria telegraph cable, then in course of manufacture, he was struck by the increase of resistance in metallic wires occasioned by a rise of temperature, and the following year he devised a thermometer based on the fact which he exhibited before the British Association at Manchester. Mathiessen and others have since enunciated the law according to which this rise of resistance varies with rise of temperature; and Siemens has further perfected his apparatus, and applied it as a pyrometer to the measurement of furnace fires. It forms in reality an electric thermometer, which will indicate the temperature of an inaccessible spot. A coil of platinum or platinum-alloy wire is enclosed in a suitable fire-proof case and put into the furnace of which the temperature is wanted. Connecting wires, properly protected, lend from the coil to a differential voltameter, so that, by means of the current from a battery circulating in the system, the electric resistance of the coil in the furnace can be determined at any moment. Since this resistance depends on the temperature of the furnace, the temperature call be found from the resistance observed. The instrument formed the subject of the Bakerian lecture for the year 1871.

Siemens’s researches on this subject, as published in the JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF TELEGRAPH ENGINEERS (Vol. I., p. 123, and Vol. III., p. 297), included a set of curves graphically representing the relation between temperature and electrical resistance in the case of various metals.

The electric pyrometer, which is perhaps the most elegant and original of all William Siemens’s inventions, is also the link which connects his electrical with his metallurgical researches. His invention ran in two great grooves, one based upon the science of heat, the other based upon the science of electricity; and the electric thermometer was, as it were, a delicate cross-coupling which connected both. Siemens might have been two men, if we are to judge by the work he did; and either half of the twin-career he led would of itself suffice to make an eminent reputation.

The success of his metallurgical enterprise no doubt reacted on his telegraphic business. The making and laying of the Malta to Alexandria cable gave rise to researches on the resistance and electrification of insulating materials under pressure, which formed the subject of a paper read before the British Association in 1863. The effect of pressure up to 300 atmospheres was observed, and the fact elicited that the inductive capacity of gutta-percha is not affected by increased pressure, whereas that of india-rubber is diminished. The electrical tests employed during the construction of the Malta and Alexandria cable, and the insulation and protection of submarine cables, also formed the subject of a paper which was read before the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1862.

It is always interesting to trace the necessity which directly or indirectly was the parent of a particular invention; and in the great importance of an accurate record of the sea-depth in which a cable is being laid, together with the tedious and troublesome character of ordinary sounding by the lead-line, especially when a ship is actually paying out cable, we may find the requirements which led to the invention of the ’bathometer,’ an instrument designed to indicate the depth of water over which a vessel is passing without submerging a line. The instrument was based on the ingenious idea that the attractive power of the earth on a body in the ship must depend on the depth of water interposed between it and the sea bottom; being less as the layer of water was thicker, owing to the lighter character of water as compared with the denser land. Siemens endeavoured to render this difference visible by means of mercury contained in a chamber having a bottom extremely sensitive to the pressure of the mercury upon it, and resembling in some respects the vacuous chamber of an aneroid barometer. Just as the latter instrument indicates the pressure of the atmosphere above it, so the bathometer was intended to show the pull of the earth below it; and experiment proved, we believe, that for every 1,000 fathoms of sea-water below the ship, the total gravity of the mercury was reduced by 1/3200 part. The bathometer, or attraction-meter, was brought out in 1876, and exhibited at the Loan Exhibition in South Kensington. The elastic bottom of the mercury chamber was supported by volute springs which, always having the same tension, caused a portion of the mercury to rise or fall in a spiral tube of glass, according to the variations of the earth’s attraction. The whole was kept at an even temperature, and correction was made for barometric influence. Though of high scientific interest, the apparatus appears to have failed at the time from its very sensitiveness; the waves on the surface of the sea having a greater disturbing action on its readings than the change of depth. Siemens took a great interest in this very original machine, and also devised a form applicable to the measurement of heights. Although he laid the subject aside for some years, he ultimately took it up again, in hopes of producing a practical apparatus which would be of immediate service in the cable expeditions of the s.s. Faraday.

This admirable cable steamer of 5,000 tons register was built for Messrs. Siemens Brothers by Messrs. Mitchell & Co., at Newcastle. The designs were mainly inspired by Siemens himself; and after the Hooper, now the Silvertown, she was the second ship expressly built for cable purposes. All the latest improvements that electric science and naval engineering could suggest were in her united. With a length of 360 feet, a width of 52 feet, and a depth of 36 feet in the hold, she was fitted with a rudder at each end, either of which could be locked when desired, and the other brought into play. Two screw propellers, actuated by a pair of compound engines, were the means of driving the vessel, and they were placed at a slight angle to each other, so that when the engines were worked in opposite directions the Faraday could turn completely round in her own length. Moreover, as the ship could steam forwards or backwards with equal ease, it became unnecessary to pass the cable forward before hauling it in, if a fault were discovered in the part submerged: the motion of the ship had only to be reversed, the stern rudder fixed, and the bow rudder turned, while a small engine was employed to haul the cable back over the stern drum, which had been used a few minutes before to pay it out.

The first expedition of the Faraday was the laying of the Direct United States cable in the winter of 1874 a work which, though interrupted by stormy weather, was resumed and completed in the summer of 1875. She has been engaged in laying several Atlantic cables since, and has been fitted with the electric light, a resource which has proved of the utmost service, not only in facilitating the night operations of paying-out, but in guarding the ship from collision with icebergs in foggy weather off the North American coast.

Mention of the electric light brings us to an important act of the inventor, which, though done on behalf of his brother Werner, was pregnant with great consequences. This was his announcement before a meeting of the Royal Society, held on February 14, 1867, of the discovery of the principle of reinforcing the field magnetism of magneto-electric generators by part or the whole of the current generated in the revolving armature—a principle which has been applied in the dynamo-electric machines, now so much used for producing electric light and effecting the transmission of power to a distance by means of the electric current. By a curious coincidence the same principle was enunciated by Sir Charles Wheatstone at the very same meeting; while a few months previously Mr. S. A. Varley had lodged an application for a British patent, in which the same idea was set forth. The claims of these three inventors to priority in the discovery were, however, anticipated by at least one other investigator, Herr Soren Hjorth, believed to be a Dane by birth, and still remembered by a few living electricians, though forgotten by the scientific world at large, until his neglected specification was unexpectedly dug out of the musty archives of the British Patent Office and brought into the light.

The announcement of Siemens and Wheatstone came at an apter time than Hjorth’s, and was more conspicuously made. Above all, in the affluent and enterprising hands of the brothers Siemens, it was not suffered to lie sterile, and the Siemens dynamo-electric machine was its offspring. This dynamo, as is well known, differs from those of Gramme and Paccinotti chiefly in the longitudinal winding of the armature, and it is unnecessary to describe it here. It has been adapted by its inventors to all kinds of electrical work, electrotyping, telegraphy, electric lighting, and the propulsion of vehicles.

The first electric tramway run at Berlin in 1879 was followed by another at Dusseldorf in 1880, and a third at Paris in 1881. With all of these the name of Werner Siemens was chiefly associated; but William Siemens had also taken up the matter, and established at his country house of Sherwood, near Tunbridge Wells, an arrangement of dynamos and water-wheel, by which the power of a neighbouring stream was made to light the house, cut chaff turn washing-machines, and perform other household duties. More recently the construction of the electric railway from Portrush to Bushmills, at the Giant’s Causeway, engaged his attention; and this, the first work of its kind in the United Kingdom, and to all appearance the pioneer of many similar lines, was one of his very last undertakings.

In the recent development of electric lighting, William Siemens, whose fame had been steadily growing, was a recognised leader, although he himself made no great discoveries therein. As a public man and a manufacturer of great resources his influence in assisting the introduction of the light has been immense. The number of Siemens machines and Siemens electric lamps, together with measuring instruments such as the Siemens electro-dynamometer, which has been supplied to different parts of the world by the firm of which he was the head, is very considerable, and probably exceeds that of any other manufacturer, at least in this country.

Employing a staff of skilful assistants to develop many of his ideas, Dr. Siemens was able to produce a great variety of electrical instruments for measuring and other auxiliary purposes, all of which bear the name of his firm, and have proved exceedingly useful in a practical sense.

Among the most interesting of Siemens’s investigations were his experiments on the influence of the electric light in promoting the growth of plants, carried out during the winter of 1880 in the greenhouses of Sherwood. These experiments showed that plants do not require a period of rest, but continue to grow if light and other necessaries are supplied to them. Siemens enhanced the daylight, and, as it were, prolonged it through the night by means of arc lamps, with the result of forcing excellent fruit and flowers to their maturity before the natural time in this climate.

While Siemens was testing the chemical and life-promoting influence of the electric arc light, he was also occupied in trying its temperature and heating power with an ’electric furnace,’ consisting of a plumbago crucible having two carbon electrodes entering it in such a manner that the voltaic arc could be produced within it. He succeeded in fusing a variety of refractory metals in a comparatively short time: thus, a pound of broken files was melted in a cold crucible in thirteen minutes, a result which is not surprising when we consider that the temperature of the voltaic arc, as measured by Siemens and Rosetti, is between 2,000 and 3,000 Deg. Centigrade, or about one-third that of the probable temperature of the sun. Sir Humphry Davy was the first to observe the extraordinary fusing power of the voltaic arc, but Siemens first applied it to a practical purpose in his electric furnace.

Always ready to turn his inventive genius in any direction, the introduction of the electric light, which had given an impetus to improvement in the methods of utilising gas, led him to design a regenerative gas lamp, which is now employed on a small scale in this country, either for street lighting or in class-rooms and public halls. In this burner, as in the regenerative furnace, the products of combustion are made to warm up the air and gas which go to feed the flame, and the effect is a full and brilliant light with some economy of fuel. The use of coal-gas for heating purposes was another subject which he took up with characteristic earnestness, and he advocated for a time the use of gas stoves and fires in preference to those which burn coal, not only on account of their cleanliness and convenience, but on the score of preventing fogs in great cities, by checking the discharge of smoke into the atmosphere. He designed a regenerative gas and coke fireplace, in which the ingoing air was warmed by heat conducted from the back part of the grate; and by practical trials in his own office, calculated the economy of the system. The interest in this question, however, died away after the close of the Smoke Abatement Exhibition; and the experiments of Mr. Aiken, of Edinburgh, showed how futile was the hope that gas fires would prevent fogs altogether. They might indeed ameliorate the noxious character of a fog by checking the discharge of soot into the atmosphere; but Mr. Aiken’s experiments showed that particles of gas were in themselves capable of condensing the moisture of the air upon them. The great scheme of Siemens for making London a smokeless city, by manufacturing gas at the coal-pit and leading it in pipes from street to street, would not have rendered it altogether a fogless one, though the coke and gas fires would certainly have reduced the quantity of soot launched into the air. Siemens’s scheme was rejected by a Committee of the House of Lords on the somewhat mistaken ground that if the plan were as profitable as Siemens supposed, it would have been put in practice long ago by private enterprise.

>From the problem of heating a room, the mind of Siemens also passed to the maintenance of solar fires, and occupied itself with the supply of fuel to the sun. Some physicists have attributed the continuance of solar heat to the contraction of the solar mass, and others to the impact of cometary matter. Imbued with the idea of regeneration, and seeking in nature for that thrift of power which he, as an inventor, had always aimed at, Siemens suggested a hypothesis on which the sun conserves its heat by a circulation of its fuel in space. The elements dissociated in the intense heat of the glowing orb rush into the cooler regions of space, and recombine to stream again towards the sun, where the self-same process is renewed. The hypothesis was a daring one, and evoked a great deal of discussion, to which the author replied with interest, afterwards reprinting the controversy in a volume, ON THE CONSERVATION OF SOLAR ENERGY. Whether true or not—and time will probably decide—the solar hypothesis of Siemens revealed its author in a new light. Hitherto he had been the ingenious inventor, the enterprising man of business, the successful engineer; but now he took a prominent place in the ranks of pure science and speculative philosophy. The remarkable breadth of his mind and the abundance of his energies were also illustrated by the active part he played in public matters connected with the progress of science. His munificent gifts in the cause of education, as much as his achievements in science, had brought him a popular reputation of the best kind; and his public utterances in connection with smoke abatement, the electric light. Electric railways, and other topics of current interest, had rapidly brought him into a foremost place among English scientific men. During the last years of his life, Siemens advanced from the shade of mere professional celebrity into the strong light of public fame.

President of the British Association in 1882, and knighted in 1883, Siemens was a member of numerous learned societies both at home and abroad. In 1854 he became a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers; and in 1862 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was twice President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, besides being a Member of Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Vice-President of the Royal Institution. The Society of Arts, as we have already seen, was the first to honour him in the country of his adoption, by awarding him a gold medal for his regenerative condenser in 1850; and in 1883 he became its chairman. Many honours were conferred upon him in the course of his career—the Telford prize in 1853, gold medals at the various great Exhibitions, including that of Paris in 1881, and a GRAND PRIX at the earlier Paris Exhibition of 1867 for his regenerative furnace. In 1874 he received the Royal Albert Medal for his researches on heat, and in 1875 the Bessemer medal of the Iron and Steel Institute. Moreover, a few days before his death, the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers awarded him the Howard Quinquennial prize for his improvements in the manufacture of iron and steel. At the request of his widow, it took the form of a bronze copy of the ’Mourners,’ a piece of statuary by J. G. Lough, originally exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, in the Crystal Palace. In 1869 the University of Oxford conferred upon him the high distinction of D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law); and besides being a member of several foreign societies, he was a Dignitario of the Brazilian Order of the Rose, and Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Rich in honours and the appreciation of his contemporaries, in the prime of his working power and influence for good, and at the very climax of his career, Sir William Siemens was called away. The news of his death came with a shock of surprise, for hardly any one knew he had been ill. He died on the evening of Monday, November 19, 1883, at nine o’clock. A fortnight before, while returning from a managers’ meeting of the Royal Institution, in company with his friend Sir Frederick Bramwell, he tripped upon the kerbstone of the pavement, after crossing Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, and fell heavily to the ground, with his left arm under him. Though a good deal shaken by the fall, he attended at his office in Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster, the next and for several following days; but the exertion proved too much for him, and almost for the first time in his busy life he was compelled to lay up. On his last visit to the office he was engaged most of the time in dictating to his private secretary a large portion of the address which he intended to deliver as Chairman of the Council of the Society of Arts. This was on Thursday, November 8, and the following Saturday he awoke early in the morning with an acute pain about the heart and a sense of coldness in the lower limbs. Hot baths and friction removed the pain, from which he did not suffer much afterwards. A slight congestion of the left lung was also relieved; and Sir William had so far recovered that he could leave his room. On Saturday, the 17th, he was to have gone for a change of air to his country seat at Sherwood; but on Wednesday, the 14th, he appears to have caught a chill which affected his lungs, for that night he was seized with a shortness of breath and a difficulty in breathing. Though not actually confined to bed, he never left his room again. On the last day, and within four hours of his death, we are told, his two medical attendants, after consultation, spoke so hopefully of the future, that no one was prepared for the sudden end which was then so near. In the evening, while he was sitting in an arm-chair, very quiet and calm, a change suddenly came over his face, and he died like one who falls asleep. Heart disease of long standing, aggravated by the fall, was the immediate cause; but the opinion has been expressed by one who knew him well, that Siemens ’literally immolated himself on the shrine of labour.’ At any rate he did not spare himself, and his intense devotion to his work proved fatal.

Every day was a busy one with Siemens. His secretary was with him in his residence by nine o’clock nearly every morning, except on Sundays, assisting him in work for one society or another, the correction of proofs, or the dictation of letters giving official or scientific advice, and the preparation of lectures or patent specifications. Later on, he hurried across the Park ’almost at racing speed,’ to his offices at Westminster, where the business of the Landore-Siemens Steel Company and the Electrical Works of Messrs. Siemens Brothers and Company was transacted. As chairman of these large undertakings, and principal inventor of the processes and systems carried out by them, he had a hundred things to attend to in connection with them, visitors to see, and inquiries to answer. In the afternoon and evenings he was generally engaged at council meetings of the learned societies, or directory meetings of the companies in which he was interested. He was a man who took little or no leisure, and though he never appeared to over-exert himself, few men could have withstood the strain so long.

Siemens was buried on Monday, November 26, in Kensal Green Cemetery. The interment was preceded by a funeral service held in Westminster Abbey, and attended by representatives of the numerous learned societies of which he had been a conspicuous member, by many leading men in all branches of science, and also by a large body of other friends and admirers, who thus united in doing honour to his memory, and showing their sense of the loss which all classes had sustained by his death.

Siemens was above all things a ’labourer.’ Unhasting, unresting labour was the rule of his life; and the only relaxation, not to say recreation, which he seems to have allowed himself was a change of task or the calls of sleep. This natural activity was partly due to the spur of his genius, and partly to his energetic spirit. For a man of his temperament science is always holding out new problems to solve and fresh promises of triumph. All he did only revealed more work to be done; and many a scheme lies buried in his grave.

Though Siemens was a man of varied powers, and occasionally gave himself to pure speculation in matters of science, his mind was essentially practical; and it was rather as an engineer than a discoverer that he was great. Inventions are associated with his name, not laws or new phenomena. Standing on the borderland between pure and applied science, his sympathies were yet with the latter; and as the outgoing President of the British Association at Southport, in 1882, he expressed the opinion that ’in the great workshop of nature there are no lines of demarcation to be drawn between the most exalted speculation and common-place practice.’ The truth of this is not to be gain-said, but it is the utterance of an engineer who judges the merit of a thing by its utility. He objected to the pursuit of science apart from its application, and held that the man of science does most for his kind who shows the world how to make use of scientific results. Such a view was natural on the part of Siemens, who was himself a living representative of the type in question; but it was not the view of such a man as Faraday or Newton, whose pure aim was to discover truth, well knowing that it would be turned to use thereafter. In Faraday’s eyes the new principle was a higher boon than the appliance which was founded upon it.

Tried by his own standard, however, Siemens was a conspicuous benefactor of his fellow-men; and at the time of his decease he had become our leading authority upon applied science. In electricity he was a pioneer of the new advances, and happily lived to obtain at least a Pisgah view of the great future which evidently lies before that pregnant force.

If we look for the secret of Siemens’s remarkable success, we shall assuredly find it in an inventive mind, coupled with a strong commercial instinct, and supported by a physical energy which enabled him to labour long and incessantly. It is told that when a mechanical problem was brought to him for solution, he would suggest six ways of overcoming the difficulty, three of which would be impracticable, the others feasible, and one at least successful. From this we gather that his mind was fertile in expedients. The large works which he established are also a proof that, unlike most inventors, he did not lose his interest in an invention, or forsake it for another before it had been brought into the market. On the contrary, he was never satisfied with an invention until it was put into practical operation.

To the ordinary observer, Siemens did not betray any signs of the untiring energy that possessed him. His countenance was usually serene and tranquil, as that of a thinker rather than a man of action; his demeanour was cool and collected; his words few and well-chosen. In his manner, as well as in his works, there was no useless waste of power.

To the young he was kind and sympathetic, hearing, encouraging, advising; a good master, a firm friend. His very presence had a calm and orderly influence on those about him, which when he presided at a Public meeting insensibly introduced a gracious tone. The diffident took heart before him, and the presumptuous were checked. The virtues which accompanied him into public life did not desert him in private. In losing him, we have lost not only a powerful intellect, but a bright example, and an amiable man.

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Chicago: J. Munro, "Chapter V. Charles William Siemens.," Heroes of the Telegraph in Heroes of the Telegraph Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PX2EP2GDU82GYBJ.

MLA: Munro, J. "Chapter V. Charles William Siemens." Heroes of the Telegraph, in Heroes of the Telegraph, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PX2EP2GDU82GYBJ.

Harvard: Munro, J, 'Chapter V. Charles William Siemens.' in Heroes of the Telegraph. cited in , Heroes of the Telegraph. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PX2EP2GDU82GYBJ.