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All in the family

Over the past 98 years, Siemon Co. has gone from knife handles to Bing Crosby to telecom equipment -- but one thing has not changed.Since Carl F. Siemon founded the firm in 1903 it has remained family...


September 1, 2001  


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Over the past 98 years, Siemon Co. has gone from knife handles to Bing Crosby to telecom equipment — but one thing has not changed.

Since Carl F. Siemon founded the firm in 1903 it has remained family-owned. And today, Carl N. Siemon, great-grandson of the founder, is its president and chief executive.

The company is a leading manufacturer of telecom cabling systems with about 750 employees, annual revenues approaching $200 million and offices around the world. But this was not always the case — in fact, Siemon has some rather novel origins.

The company’s story begins at the start of the 20th century, when stag horn was popular for making carving knife handles. It was tough and did not conduct heat — but it was scarce and costly. Carl F. Siemon, a chemist, set out to develop an artificial compound that would work as well as stag horn.

He found one — and then he discovered that the material was a good electrical insulator as well as a good heat insulator. So he set up a meeting with what was then a young company called Western Electric, which made equipment for a fairly new technology called the telephone. Siemon had made a terminal block — a device for connecting wires — out of his new material. He demonstrated by dropping his block and one of Western Electric’s on the floor. The Western Electric block shattered, but Siemon’s was undamaged.

The company has been in the telecom market ever since, but it was not until the 1960s that telecom became the mainstay of Siemon’s business.

Carl N. Siemon says the common thread through the company’s history was custom molding. Western Electric was a long-time customer, but over the years Siemon made records, dinner plates and parts for many things — from appliances to guns.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Siemon’s biggest business was manufacturing records for the Decca label — including all copies of Bing Crosby’s top-selling White Christmas sold east of the Mississippi. During World War II, sailors in the U.S. Navy ate off of Siemon’s stackable dinnerware, which became the company’s biggest product line through the 1950s and early 1960s.

In the 1960s, Siemon bought a license from AT&T to make 66-block connecting hardware. This began the metamorphosis into a telecom company, though Carl N. Siemon says the company even now does a bit of custom molding, mainly for the automotive industry.

Siemon concluded the company could get a better return on its investment by developing telecom products for sale under its own brand name. Today, Siemon makes cabling for the telephone and cable television industries and, as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), also manufactures products for other manufacturers. And the company has recently moved into residential cabling.

“There’s a sense of stewardship in the family,” Carl N. Siemon says, noting that his goal is not just to earn profits but to ensure the company will be there to provide opportunities for his family for years to come. Three of his brothers work in the firm today, and he says he hopes the next generation — the first of whom will soon graduate from university — will come to work there as well.


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