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Sir Alexander Siemens

Sir Alexander Siemens

Civil Engineer, 1847-1928

Location

Germany
Career highlights

46th ICE President

Developed the world’s first public electricity supply

Founding member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers

Why you might have heard of Sir Alexander Siemens

Sir Alexander Siemens was the 46th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1910.

He was the cousin of Werner Von Siemens, who founded the German engineering company Siemens.

Werner’s younger brother, Carl Wilhelm Siemens, later Sir Charles William Siemens, founded the British branch of the company, Siemens Brothers. Alexander eventually became managing director of Siemens Brothers.

One of Alexander Siemens’ most significant achievements was developing the world’s first public electricity supply in Godalming, while working for Siemens Brothers.

Career

At the end of 1868, Siemens went to Persia (known as Iran today) to help build the Indo-European telegraph line.

As a Prussian subject on the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, he was conscripted as a private in the Prussian army.

He was wounded at the battle of Beaume-la-Rolande, and was awarded the Iron Cross for courage.

In 1879, he took over the management of the electric light department of Siemens Brothers.

In this role, he oversaw major projects including – the lighting of the Royal Albert Hall and the Reading Room of the British Museum.

Siemens Brothers also carried out the first public electricity supply schemes in the UK, at Godalming in Surrey.

After his cousin Sir Charles William died suddenly in 1883, Alexander gradually assumed greater control of the firm.

He was elected to the Siemens Brothers’ board in 1889, and became managing director.

As well as being the 46th ICE President between 1910 and 1911, Siemens was a founding member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians in 1871. The society became the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1889.

Royal Albert Hall 1907
Royal Albert Hall 1907

Personal life

Siemens was born on 22 January 1847 in Hanover, to Gustav and Sophie Siemens.

His father, Gustav, was a judge and the cousin of William (formerly Carl Wilhelm) Siemens, the electrical engineer who founded the Siemens engineering company.

Alexander automatically became a Prussian national when Hanover was annexed by Prussia in 1866. He renounced this in 1879, when he became a naturalised British subject.

Alexander married Louisa Dodwell in 1881. They had three daughters.

His eldest daughter, Mariana, married Professor Bertram Hopkinson, son of the electrical engineer and Cambridge University professor of engineering John Hopkinson.

He died on 16 February 1928, at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire.

Alexander Siemens’ ICE Presidential Address focused on the work of the engineer as affecting the progress of civilisation.

He was a member of the committee that was appointed in 1897 to report on the founding of the National Physical Laboratory, and later served on the body’s executive committee.

Membership of other bodies and committees

  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  • Institution of Electrical Engineers (President in 1894, 1904)
  • The British Association
  • The Iron and Steel Institute
  • The Physical Society
  • The Society of Engineers
  • The Junior Institutions of Engineers (President in 1894)
  • Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Employers (Founder and President in 1901)
  • Railway Conference at the Board of Trade (1908-9)

ICE positions

  • 1871 – Admitted as a Student of ICE
  • 1873 – Elected as Associate of ICE
  • 1890 – Became a Member of ICE
  • 1898-1912 – ICE Council Member
  • 1910-1911 – ICE President