While strolling through the streets of Tbilisi, especially in the older areas, one often finds plaques in remembrance of former famous residents.
The plaque at the entrance of number 20 Lado Asatiani Street in Sololaki district reads “Walter Siemens, Consul of the Union of North Germany and Representative of the Siemens and Halske, lived in this house in 1860-68.”
The name Siemens is associated with the world renowned Siemens Company, and the many technical appliances that have become part of our daily life. To us today, this might bring to mind a television set, a washer, or some medical equipment, but to our grandparents it meant the very first telephone, or the Siemens Patent, London inscription which can still be found on some telegraph posts across Georgia.
The company is named after its founder Werner von Siemens, a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, an inventor and a philanthropist. Walter Siemens was one of his many brothers.
Back in 1847, when Werner Siemens and his friend Johann Georg Halske established a telegraph construction company, nobody could envision what the small Berlin workshop would develop into over the next 150 years.
The Siemans family was large, Werner and Walter had six other brothers - Hans, Ferdinand, Wilhelm, Friedrich, Karl, and Otto. This large family of a tenant farmer lived in Lenthe, near Hanover.
Werner, the eldest, was born in 1816. Because the family could not afford to give to its numerous children a university education, Werner Siemens decided to pursue a career in the military. He, however, received a university-equivalent education in mathematics, chemistry and physics at the Military College of Artillery and Engineering. This allowed him to conduct experiments and produce many ingenious inventions, even during the time he was imprisoned by a military tribunal for being a second in a duel.
Werner’s first experiments were with galvanic plastics and electroplating.
However, it was the invention of the pointer telegraph and the gutta-percha
press used for making seamless insulation for copper wire that provided
the basis for the success of the company. Later on, with his brother Wilhelm,
he invented an inertia regulator for the steam engine. Werner also worked
on telegraphs, electric lighting and power stations. He created the first
electronic railway and the first elevator.
The telegraph was, in fact, what brought the brothers Siemens to Georgia.
With its geographic location, Black Sea ports, Georgia had long been
the focus of the imperial designs of its powerful neighbours. As the shortest
bridge connecting Europe and Asia, or if we borrow the modern term, the
Eurasian Corridor, Georgia was traversed by trade caravans travelling from
east to west.
In the late 19th century, when Georgia was a satellite of the Russian Empire, construction of an Indo-European telegraph line began.
By 1867, the already famous Siemens and Halske Company with its Berlin, London and St. Petersburg branches finished the design of the London-Calcutta telegraph line, and the construction began. One section of this unique intercontinental link from England to India went through Georgia spanning Gagra, Sukhumi, Zugdidi, Poti, Kutaisi, Shorapani, Khashuri, Gori, Kaspi, Mtskheta, Tbilisi and then continuing eastward.
Walter Siemans arrived in Georgia in 1860. He was put in charge of logistics and overseeing the construction, conducting negotiations and signing contracts. These contracts and financial estimates were also signed by poet Grigol Orbeliani, then Chairman of the Council of the Caucasus Viceroy, a nobleman and great-grandson of King Erekle II. Following a military service in the Russian Army, Orbeliani entered the civil service, from where he was instrumental in promoting the construction of the telegraph line.
The first electromagnetic telegraph line connected Tbilisi to Poti with two forks to Borjomi and to Kojori.
Walter Siemens managed this project while also serving as Consul of the Union of North Germany. The brothers Siemens provided all the materials and equipment manufactured at various Siemens plants. Wilhelm and Friedrich were in London, Karl was in Petersburg, and Hans was in Dresden.
The difficult landscape and swift rivers created many obstacles for stretching the line across Georgia, but through hard work and determination the project was successfully completed.
In 1865, Werner Siemens himself came to Georgia. He visited Sukhumi, Kutaisi and Tbilisi. In his autobiography, he describes the picturesque nature, ancient historic monuments, and open hospitality of the Georgians. Werner visited Georgia twice afterwards with his wife, in 1868 and 1890.
In 1870, the 11,000 kilometre long London-Calcutta Indo-European Telegraph
Line was completed, and the Siemens celebrated their technical triumph.
Regrettably, Walter Siemens could not witness this success. He had suffered
a serious injury in an equestrian accident, and died in Tbilisi soon afterwards.
Otto Siemens became the Head of the Siemens Trading House in Tbilisi and he also succeeded his brother as the German Consul. In 1871, however, he too died and Georgia became the two brothers’ final resting place.
The Siemens Company continued to grow and prosper. In 1974-84 the Siemens laid 7 transatlantic cables with the Faraday Submarine. By 1914, half of the cables connecting Europe to North America were lain by the Siemens.
Werner Siemens took up the unique invention by Philip Reis and Alexander Graham Bell, and constructed his own telephone apparatus in 1877.
For several years now, there has been a Siemens office in Tbilisi. Mr.
Andre Karbelashvili, a prominent scholar of the history of communications
works here. Mr. Karbelashvili has contributed several works on the Siemens
activities in Georgia, and was the force behind the opening of the Walter
Siemens memorial in Georgia.
Today, when among the many famous Japanese, American and other foreign firms, you come across the German Siemens - remember it is the new generation of
very old friends, with new business relations, ideas and victories.