Rathenau’s Lifetime of Achievements

The most defining achievement of Rathenau’s lifetime was his most notable, the founding of Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), however, that is not his sole achievement. Rathenau’s work founding AEG included many small achievements in itself and some of his achievements linked to other companies he worked with. In 1865, Rathenau founded a small machine factory. This small factory became one of Rathenau’s first successes as it produced a portable steam engine and quickly became profitable. However, by 1872, the banks and Rathenau’s co-owner wanted to change the company into a joint stock company. Rathenau strongly protested and filibustered this, which resulted in liquidation of the company in 1873.

Just under a decade later, in 1882, Rathenau obtained the rights to use Edison’s patents dealing with electricity. This move would be the beginning of Rathenau’s most known achievement, the founding of AEG. Rathenau founded “German Edison Corporation for Applied Electricity” (Deutsche Edison-Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität) less than a year after he acquired the rights. This company would later develop into AEG. Rathenau partnered with his competitor, Werner von Siemens, when founding this company in order to create a monopoly on electricity. Siemens would produce and sell generators while Rathenau would build the power stations and lay cables. Rathenau expanded his company’s reach when he signed a deal with the magistrate of Berlin in 1884 to allow Rathenau’s company the use of public streets for electricity lines. This deal between Rathenau and Berlin has been hailed as Germany’s first private-public partnership, an impressive achievement on its own. In 1887, Rathenau detaches his company from the American Edison Company and changes the company’s name to Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG). AEG, in 1891, transmitted power over 175 kilometers to Frankfurt from a power plant in Lauffen am Neckar. This marked another success, the start of alternating current being used for electrification in Germany. This also demonstrated that it could be economical to transfer electricity over large distances, a practice which AEG soon took up. As AEG continued to grow, Siemenes and Rathenau’s partnership began to deteriorate and the partnership ended in 1894. Rathenau then perused a different business style, focused more on flexible adaption to market. His new business style and Rathenau’s leadership allowed the company to grow even more. Rathenau’s son, Walther Rathenau, joined Rathenau in running the company in 1912 when Rathenau began to become sick. Walther ran the company after Rathenau’s death in 1915.

Rathenau’s lesser known achievements, such as the smaller, specific achievements his company achieved with his help, also contribute to Rathenau’s fame, especially in certain circles. However, Rathenau’s achievements are not solely what he accomplished during his lifetime but also the legacy he left behind. His company, which still exists today, has grown and expanded, a proper representation for the legacy of this successful and ambitious man.

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