Making Siemens work for the nation: negotiating a place for the firm in the nineteenth century
During the nineteenth century, the British company Siemens expanded significantly (although it retained significant ties to its German parent). By 1914 it had two factories in London and one in Stafford, as well as several sales offices in the rest of the country. It manufactured and installed telegraph cables and supplied electrical-system components such as dynamos to a variety of public and private customers, including the state. In examining the uptake of electricity, many other studies have focussed upon particular systems, such as lighting, or upon the experiences of capital cities and elite, early users of electricity. As a provider of infrastructural elements, Siemens presents an opportunity to focus on the wider spread of infrastructures during this period. Considering how Siemens became established in Britain adds to our understanding of how businesses operated in the nineteenth century and to the nature of interactions between the development of infrastructure, industry, and the British state. This paper shows how Siemens became embedded as a British company serving the nation through integration into networks of people and production. Industry, the state, and the military were also significant Siemens customers and played a large role in the development of these systems. An examination of Siemens shows that technologies were not limited to the capital and large cities, nor was uptake and experimentation limited to elite users and public displays and exhibitions. The First World War throws into relief the extent of Siemens embeddedness within Britain. Debates about the operation of the firm as one with hybrid, German-British elements show that concerns about German connections were over-ruled by acknowledgement of its central place in British industry and war production.