Issue 4, 2013. August-September

   

SIEMENS BROTHERS IN GEORGIA

Few people know that the founders of Siemens made their business in Georgia and two of them are actually buried in Tbilisi. From oil drilling to setting up a telegraph line, the influence of the Siemens brothers brought Georgia in closer contact with the outside world.

Emil Avdaliani

Siemens was established in 1847 by Werner von Siemens and his friend Johann Georg Halske. Eventually, Werner's entire family would play a role in the business, especially his seven brothers (Hans, Ferdinand, William, Friedrich, Karl, Walter and Otto). Together they invented the inert regulator for a steam engine that enabled engineers to check the pressure level in pipelines, as well as the first "electric railway" — otherwise known as a tramway — and the first elevator.

"Russia is a country where it's possible to earn money..."

Carl Siemens

 

Werner Siemens

In the late 19th century, the Russian Empire was predominantly agricultural. Social and economic reforms implemented by the Tsar Alexander II changed little and development in the empire was considerably behind that of countries in Western Europe. Nevertheless, the Russian elite supported capital inflow from such mighty families as the Siemens, Nobels and Rothschilds to effectively use the country's natural-resource and industrial-potential.

"Russia is a country where it's possible to earn money, if you understand her well. You should find friends and acquaintances there," wrote Werner from Berlin to his brother Karl in St. Petersburg. After a number of successfully accomplished projects in the imperial capital, the Siemens established their mission in Tiflis (Tbilisi). They understood perfectly how important, in geographical terms, the location of the Transcaucasus was — the city would provide them with much easier access to reach the Middle East and India. The Siemens brothers also used Poti, and from 1878 on, Batumi, as port cities to export their products to Europe.

In 1858, in cooperation with Grigol Orbeliani, the first telegraph line, Kojori-Tiflis, was established in Georgia. Two years later, in 1860, Werner's brother Walter took charge of the Tiflis-Kutaisi-Poti telegraph line. In 1863, the Tiflis-Moscow line was established, and, in 1865, the Siemens company finished works on the Tiflis-Yerevan line, completing the network in 1868 with the Tiflis-Baku line.

At the same time, Siemens was building the Caucasus telegraph line. In 1867, Siemens brought its branches in Berlin, London, and St. Petersburg together to work on the longest telegraph line in the world, a network that would stretch from London to Calcutta.

By 1869, Karl Siemens brought the telegraph line to Georgia to be installed under the Black Sea, connecting the two sides of the worldwide network, as well as the underground line for the Tiflis-Moscow line. The latter project was finished only in 1880-81. The so-called 11,000-kilometer-long "Indian telegraph" was completed in 1870. Connecting 34 countries, including Georgia, it was the longest terrestrial line in the world. And, until recently, traces of the telegraph (Siemens-Patent-London) were still visible in some parts of the country. In his memoirs, Werner Siemens provides rich details of working on the "Indian telegraph" on the shore of the Black Sea and in Georgia. Particular favorites among his memories were Georgian nature and the ancient cities of Kutaisi and Mtskheta.

The "Indian telegraph" project was also overshadowed by tragedy: in 1868, Werner's brother, Walter Siemens, aged 35, died in Tiflis (he accidentally fell off a horse).

Walter had lived on Sadovaia Street (currently Lado Asatiani) in the historical Sololaki neighborhood for nearly eight years. During the stay he had to travel to Iran to ensure the local government's commitment to the "Indian telegraph" project.

Following Walter's tragic death in 1868, his brother Otto became the head of the German mission in Tiflis, eventually becoming the consul of Prussia in the Transcaucasus.

Otto also passed away in Tiflis in 1871 from unknown cases. Both brothers were buried in the cemetery in the Vera Garden.


Technical Progress in Georgia

In addition to connecting Georgia with major European cities via the "Indian Telegraph," which allowed the country to receive news from abroad in just one or two days instead of weeks, the Siemens brothers were also innovators in the oil industry by drilling the Tsiteltskaro and Mirzaani oilfields in Kakheti.

Legacy

When the Russian Revolution began in 1917, work on the company's oil and ore holdings stopped abruptly.

While Soviet propaganda depicted the Siemens family as robbers who exported gold and silver, the company's partnership with the government continued, culminating in the Siemens' construction of the Zestafoni Ferroalloy Plant in 1930.