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History of GEC to 1900 Part 1
History of GEC to 1900 Part 2

1886 General Electric Apparatus Company
G. Binswanger and Company, an electrical goods wholesaler established in London during the 1880s by a German immigrant named Gustav Binswanger (later Byng), was the building block for GEC.

But the applications of electricity were gathering pace and before long Gustav Binswanger began the procurement and sale of electrical goods. In partnership with James Boyd, he formed the Electric Apparatus Company Ltd in 1884 to continue a business called the Electric Appliance Company that had already been run by Binswanger for a short time at Charing Cross. Separately, and operating from 29 Aldermanbury as G.Binswanger & Co. and The General Electric Apparatus Company, he imported or otherwise acquired electrical items, selling them on to the Electric Apparatus Co. with a 5% mark-up on cost.

In 1884 Hugo Hirst, (later Lord Hirst), a German immigrant, started working for Binswanger, as a Manager at the EAC. The venture did not make a profit and there was a disagreement between Binswanger and the other directors.

On the 8th September 1886 Binswanger ceased to be a director of the EAC, taking Hirst with him, to continue with The General Electric Apparatus Company. The word 'apparatus' was later dropped from the title in 1989 and the General Electric Company then came into being. Hugo Hirst also started to emerge as the power behind GEC.  This date is regarded as the real start of GEC.

The following year, the company produced the first electrical catalogue of its kind. In 1888 the firm acquired its first factory in Chapel Street, Manchester for the manufacture of telephones, electric bells, ceiling roses and switches.

In 1889 The General Electric Co. Ltd. was formed as a private limited company, also known as G.E.C., with its head office in Queen Victoria Street, London.  The Directors were Gustav Byng (the founder), Max Byng (his brother) and Hugo Hirst. The £60,000 of authorized capital was divided into 4,000 Ordinary, 7,000 First Preference and 1,000 Second Preference shares, all of £5 each. By the end of 1892 the issued capital amounted to £56,625 and Debentures to £15,000.

The company developed the use of china as an insulating material in switches and manufactured light bulbs from 1893.  In 1900, GEC was incorporated as a public limited company: The General Electric Company (1900) Ltd. and from 1903 it was styled 'The General Electric Co. Ltd.' 

With a 'go-getter' like Hugo Hirst involved, it was not long before the fledgling GEC started making plans for large-scale manufacturing. Charles Leigh Clarke, previously mentioned and, incidentally, also an investor in the EAC, held a number of patents including one for a successful gas lighter. To exploit these inventions Clarke had helped set up the Patent Electric Gas Igniting Company Ltd at London which changed name to the Electric Portable Battery & Gas Igniting Company Ltd, and then moved to premises at Clegg's Court, off Chapel Street, Salford. Binswanger had business dealings with the EPBGIC, held some shares, and so when it went broke in 1887 he was well placed to take over the factory and associated patents with the help of a substantial loan from a finance company.

Although it was on the Salford side of the border with neighbouring Manchester, Binswanger & Hirst operated their factory under the name of the 'Manchester Electric Works Company'. The building stood between a sugar refinery and an engineering works on the banks of the River Irwell, accessed through the entrance to Clegg's Court. At the three-storey premises there was sufficient space to employ between three hundred and four hundred people. As large as this accommodation was, by the early l 890s it had become a little cramped. However, a move was forced upon the company after a fire swept through the place in 1895, leaving only the offices undamaged.

Not far from Clegg's Court stood the vacant six-storey Adelphi Mills on Silk Street. This was also near to the Irwell and overlooked Peel Park, a public amenity opened in 1846, named in honour of Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police Force. There is some evidence to suggest that GEC had acquired this property well before the fire, despite a colourful story later told by Hugo Hirst that the accommodation was found, moved into and operational all within four weeks of the destruction at Clegg's Court. Peel Works, as the Adelphi Mills was re-christened, remained GEC's main manufacturing site until large facilities at Birmingham and Coventry were established. As products were moved to new locations, so Peel Works concentrated more on telephone production. In 1905, the Meter Department was moved to a purpose-built factory nearby called Bow Street Works. A planning application of 1904 shows that the intended works could accommodate 140 men but no women. By 1910, when some members of the Salford Technical & Engineering Association organised an outing to Peel Works, the only reported non­telephone related activity there was a small section making stoves, kettles and other heating equipment.

Rapidly growing private and commercial use of electricity, especially in lamps and lighting equipment, ensured buoyant demand and the company expanded both at home and overseas with the establishment of branches in Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa and India and substantial export trade to South America.

Hugo Hirst had become Managing Director in 1906 and when Gustav Byng died in 1910 he also became Chairman until his death in 1943.

In 1910 GEC incorporated the Peel-Connor factory as a separate company,  entirely devoted to telephone and telegraphic apparatus.  The Works produced everything from parts to full telephone exchanges and the first exchanges installed were at Glasgow and Willesden.

Click here for Peel Conner history

1919 Britain's First Industrial Research Laboratories
During World War I the Company was heavily involved in the war effort with products such as radios, signalling lamps and arc lamp carbons.

In 1919, GEC established Britain's first separate industrial research laboratories at Wembley and moved its head office to new premises in Kingsway, London two years later. From the 1920s the Company was involved in the creation of the National Grid.

In 1921 the headquarters of the Company moved to Magnet House in Kingsway, London.

GEC liquidated the Peel-Conner company in 1921 and moved all its manufacturing to the Coventry factory. GEC continued to use the name Peel-Conner Telephone Works for the Coventry factory but the products were gradually rebranded as GEC.

GEC continued to acquire companies and embark on joint ventures, as well as expanding its manufacturing operations overseas and its domestic branch network.  The Sterling Telephone Company was bought out by GEC in 1934.

During World War II, GEC was a major supplier to the military of electrical and engineering products.  Significant contributions to the war effort included the development of the cavity magnetron for radar, with advances in communications and the mass production of electric lighting.

1961-67 Acquired RAI & AEI
In 1961, GEC took over Radio and Allied Industries (RAI), and with it emerged the new power behind GEC, Arnold Weinstock, who took over as Managing Director in 1963, moving the headquarters of the electrical giant from Kingsway to Stanhope Gate.

Weinstock embarked on a program that was to rationalise the whole British electrical industry, but began with the rejuvenation of GEC.  In a drive for efficiency, Weinstock made cutbacks and mergers, injecting new growth and confidence in GEC - reflected in the profits and financial markets.

In the late 1960s, the electrical industry was revolutionised as GEC acquired Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) in 1967, which encompassed Metropolitan-Vickers , BTH, Edison Swan, Siemens Bros., Hotpoint and W.T. Henley (Telegraph Works Company).

1968 Merged with English Electric
In 1968, GEC merged with English Electric, incorporating Elliott Bros., The Marconi Company, Ruston and Hornsby, Stephenson, Hawthorn & Vulcan Foundry, Willans and Robinson and Dick Kerr.

The background was the rationalisation of the UK heavy electrical industry.  The desire of the Central Electricity Generating Board, the principle buyer, was to have only two principal manufacturers for turbo-alternators, the main elements in power stations.  A merger of English Electric and GEC-AEI would give "The General Electric and English Electric Companies Limited" almost exactly half of the turbo-generator business.

On 6th September the two companies issued a joint statement announcing that a total merger should be effected between them ... under the chairmanship of Lord Nelson with Arnold Weinstock as managing director.

GEC continued to expand under Sir Arnold Weinstock, with the acquisition of Yarrow Shipbuilders in 1974 and Avery in 1979.

The late 1980s witnessed further mergers within the electrical industry, with the creation of GPT by GEC and Plessey in 1988, and the joint acquisition of Plessey by GEC and Siemens the following year. 

The General Electric Company (GEC) attempted a takeover of Plessey in 1986 but was barred by regulatory authorities. Instead on 1st April 1988 GEC and Plessey merged their telecommunications businesses as GEC Plessey Telecommunications, commonly known as GPT.  GPT was a world leader in many fields, for example Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) technology, and this brought the two companies responsible for developing and building the System X telephone exchange together, which was supposed to make selling System X simpler. (Wikipedia)

Towards the end of 1987 an internal notice within the Plessey organisation advised that they had agreed with GEC a joint venture company split 50/50 between them.  The anticipated accepts of the new company would be around £hhahva600 million.

In 1989 GEC and Siemens acquired the Plessey Company through the joint company GEC Siemens plc.  While most of Plessey was divided between the companies GPT remained a joint venture, with a 60/40 shareholding between GEC and Siemens respectively.  GEC Plessey Telecommunications officially renamed itself GPT (no longer standing for anything) because Plessey no longer existed (except Plessey Semiconductors retained its name). (Wikipedia)

An equal investment by GEC and Compagnie General D'Electricitie (CGE) formed the power generation and transport arm, GEC ALSTHOM, in 1989.

The movements towards electronics and modern technology, particularly in the defence sector, showed a marked digression from the domestic market for electrical goods. In 1990, GEC acquired parts of Ferranti and in 1995 acquired Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. (VSEL).

In 1996, Lord Weinstock retired to become Chairman Emeritus after 33 years at the helm of GEC, having become the undisputed leader of the British Electrical Industry.

George Simpson, took over as Managing Director of GEC, and with him came a wave of new corporate management. A major reorganisation, aimed at focusing on key business strengths involved the sale of Express Lifts, Satchwell Controls, AB Dick, the Wire and Cables Group, Marconi Instruments and GEC Plessey Semiconductors and the planning of new alliances and acquisitions.

In October 1997 in the UK, the name GPT disappeared and the company was called SGCS (Siemens GEC Communication Systems).  A year later SCGS merged with SBCS (Siemens Business Communication Systems) to form Siemens Communications Ltd. (Wikipedia)

In February 1998, the Company Head Office moved to One Bruton Street, London.

In June 1998, GEC acquired the US defence electronics company TRACOR and it became part of Marconi North America, a Marconi Electronic Systems company.

In August 1998 GEC acquired Siemens' 40% stake in GPT and merged with the telecoms units of its Italian subsidiary Marconi SpA, GEC Hong Kong and ATC South Africa to form Marconi Communications. (Wikipedia)

1999 Acquired RELTEC & FORE
January 1999 saw the announcement of a proposed merger of GEC's Marconi Electronics Systems business with British Aerospace.  Marconi later disposed of Marconi Electronics Systems and sold it to British Aerospace on 29 November 1999, which then formed BAE Systems, driving Marconi's new focus on communications and IT. 

On 1 March 1999 GEC acquired the US telecommunication network products company RELTEC, followed by the announcement of the proposed acquisition of US Internet switching equipment company FORE Systems in June 1999.

The RELTEC acquisition, at the height of the "dot.com" boom, gave GEC, and in turn Marconi products, access to the US market which is where 50 per cent of the telecom's market is.  It also reinforced the position in high growth Transmission and Access segment of Communications equipment market.

The acquisition of FORE not only offered a broader range of technology products and a strong enterprise networking clientele, but also strengthened presence in the United States.

With the subsequent collapse of the "dot.com's" the Marconi Corporation got into financial difficulties.

1999 Nov GEC Renamed to Marconi plc
GEC, realigning itself as a primarily telecommunications company following the MES sale, retained the Marconi brand and renamed itself Marconi plc. BAE were granted limited rights to continue its use in existing partnerships, however by 2005 no BAE businesses use the Marconi name. Major spending and the dot-com collapse lead to a major restructuring of that group, in a debt for equity swap shareholders were given 0.5% of the new company, Marconi Corporation plc.

On 30 November 1999, GEC renamed to Marconi plc when Marconi was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

This was the culmination of the old GEC's transformation from a holding company of diverse industrial activities to a focused communications and IT company.

In February 2000 Marconi acquired Bosch Public Networks, strengthening Marconi's wireless access product offering and its network management systems.

Some of the above is taken from the Marconi history files and Wikipedia - please go the the GEC/Marconi web site for more information

In the middle of 2001, Marconi's stock dropped to an all time low.

2005 The final saga
In October 2005 the Marconi name and most of the assets were proposed to be bought by the Swedish firm Ericsson. The transaction was completed on January 23, 2006 effective as per January 1, 2006. The Marconi name will still be used as brand within Ericsson. The rest of the Marconi company (the part of GEC that provided special telecommunications systems and services to the transportation industry) was renamed as Telent plc and remains based in Coventry, although in 2008 they moved out of the old Peel Conner site.


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Last revised: June 27, 2024