Electrifying founders

They were young – just 26 and 28 – when they founded what would become a global enterprise. They had ideas, they had energy – and they had courage.

Charles Brown (left) and Walter Boveri (right)
Charles Brown (left) and Walter Boveri (right)

Walter Boveri:  Visionary entrepreneur

He graduated from high school at 17 and was a qualified mechanical engineer by the age of 20: born in Bamberg in 1865, things moved quickly in the life of Walter Boveri. He got to know Charles Brown at Oerlikon Engineering Works and they became close friends. It was on trips abroad that he discovered his own interest in business, and together with Brown he drew up a business plan, but nobody wanted to invest the 500,000 Swiss francs they needed. Nobody, that is, except silk manufacturer Conrad Baumann, who granted Boveri not only the loan but also, in 1891, the hand of his daughter, Victoire. So when married life began, so too did Boveri‘s business with Brown, the latter on October 2, 1891. Boveri was a visionary merchant who worked tirelessly in the cause of electrification and became a Swiss citizen in 1893. Later came the crisis of World War I and economic misfortune in the USA, and Boveri sadly died in a car crash in 1924. He was only 59. But his work lives on.

Charles Brown: The boy wonder

Born in 1863, Charles Eugene Lancelot earned his degree at the age of 19. At the age of just 21, he moved together with his father and brother to Oerlikon Engineering Works where he was put in charge of its electrical department at the age of just 21. His technical achievements made headlines: he laid an eight-kilometer-long direct current line and succeeded in transmitting electricity at a remarkable efficiency level of 75 percent. He was already working with Walter Boveri by that time; Brown researched and developed alternating current equipment. In 1891, Brown and Boveri founded their company for the “manufacture of electrical machinery.” It was the pioneering Brown in particular who drove the development of the technology. But, in 1911, the two founders fell out. The city of Baden acknowledged their technical and business achievements in 1916 by awarding them the freedom of the city. Charles Brown died of a heart attack in 1924.

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