Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 125,411 pages of information and 195,543 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


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1889. Alternator and exciter.
1893. 300 hp alternator. Barcelona Electricity Supply.
1895. Alternating Dynamo for the London Electric Supply Corporation.
1897. Combined engine and alternator at Bolton.
February 1901. Compound Engine.
February 1911.
1912. Ironclad Fuses.
1929. British Industries Fair catalogue.
May 1931.
1931. Clip-on Ammeter.
1933.Tail End Booster.
1933. Tail End Booster, Removed from Case.
1933. Single and Three Phase Moving Coil Regulators.
April 1933.
Electronically controlled milling machine.
November 1933.
December 1933.
January 1934.
December 1934.
1942. Moving coil regulator.
1947. Thunderstorm recorder.
June 1949.
December 1951. Cathode Ray Tubes.
September 1953.
September 1953. 2-Volt television Tubes.
September 1954.
October 1954.
1954. Edinburgh Works.
1955. Valves and television tubes.
June 1955. Valves.
1959. Precision Milling Machine with Ferranti Three Dimentional Control Equipment.
1959. 3 ton Birlec arc furnace at the Hollinwood Works.
1960. The "Tapemaster".
1961. Cone-Plate Viscometer
18th March 1961.
Feb 1962.
1973. EP210 Freescan Digitiser.
Electricity meter.
Electricity meter.
Electricity meter.
Electricity meter.

of Hollinwood, Lancashire. Telephone: Failsworth 161; City 7618 and Central 9325. Cables: "Ferranti, Hollinwood"; "Ferranti, Estrand, London". (1929)

London office previously of 180, Fleet-streeet, EC4 moved to Bush House, Aldwych, W.C.2. (1925).[1]

Ditto Address: Telephone: Failsworth 2000. Telegraphic Address: "Ferranti, Hollinwood". (1937)

Ferranti and Co was a major UK electrical engineering and equipment firm, known primarily for defence electronics and power grid systems.

The company is also famous in the computer industry for building the second commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark I, which went on sale in 1949 and started their computer business which lasted into the 1970s. They had influential collaborations with the University computing departments at Manchester and Cambridge, which resulted in the development of the Mercury and Atlas machines (Manchester); and the Atlas 2 (Cambridge) aka Titan machine.


1887 The London Electric Supply Corporation (LESCo) hired Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti to design their power station at Deptford. He designed the building, the generating plant and the distribution system.

1889 S. Z. de Ferranti became a limited liability company (S. Z. de Ferranti Limited)

1891 On completion, Deptford was the first truly modern power station, supplying high-voltage A.C. power that was then "stepped down" for consumer use on each street. This basic system remains in use today around the world[2]. Ferranti's contract at Deptford was not renewed; Ferranti left LESCo

The company dispensed with Mr Ferranti's services - unfortunately for him there were no other British customers for his type of equipment so his company struggled for several years.

Ferranti sold his patents for high-pressure cables to the British Insulated Wire Co, providing useful collateral against the bank loans on which the firm relied.

1894 Portsmouth Electric Supply Works. Illustration and article of the Ferranti equipment. (Messrs S. Z. De Ferranti of London) [3]

1896 Success followed and Ferranti started producing electrical equipment for sale. Soon the company was looking for considerably more room. Prices in the London area were too high, so the company moved to Hollinwood in Oldham, Lancashire.

1897 Production began at Oldham.

1900 Address changed to "Ingleside" Lyndhurst-road, Hampstead, N. W. [4]

1900 Engine and dynamo No 381. (of Hollinwood). Exhibit at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (see photo)

1901 Ferranti Ltd registered; acquired the whole undertakings and assets of S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd.

1903 Ferranti Ltd was in financial difficulties (largely because of its activities in steam engines and dynamos). At the instigation of the debenture stockholders, the company went into voluntary receivership.

1905 A Scheme of Reconstruction was established. Ferranti Ltd was re-launched but focussed on the manufacture of Switch Gear, Transformers and Instruments. The company registered on 27 February, in reconstruction of a company of similar title, to acquire a business of electrical, mechanical and general engineers[5]. Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti took a less active role in the running of this company. Andrew Tait elected Chairman (to 1927, Vice-Chairman 1927-1953).

By the end of the decade Ferranti had amassed 176 patents for such things as the alternator, high-tension cables, circuit breakers, transformers and turbines.

1910 Through the early part of the century, power was supplied by small companies, typically as an offshoot of plant set up to provide power to local industry. Each plant supplied a different standard, which made the mass production of electrical equipment for home users rather difficult. Ferranti started an effort to standardize the power supply, which eventually culminated in the National Grid in 1926.

1911 Electrical Exhibition. High-tension enclosed electrical control panels. (of Hollinwood). [6]

1912 Domestic Appliance Department established

1913 Ferranti Electric Company of Canada Limited founded

1913 Sold its switchgear patents and stock to Ferguson Pailin and Co. Ferguson and Pailin had worked for Ferranti as switchgear engineers. They left in 1913 to set up their own switchgear business at a factory in Openshaw, Manchester.

1914 Listed as electrical and general engineers. Speciality: meters and switchgear. Employees 1,800 to 1,900. [7]

WW1 Ferranti manufactured shells. Manufacture of domestic appliances and switchgear ceased

1916 The first Canadian factory opened

1921 Separate Transformer Division set up

1923 First electronics product with start of production of audio frequency transformers

1924 Start production of radio Components and moving coil loudspeakers

1926 Ferranti Electric Inc., New York, founded

1926 Start of production of electric fires

1927 Domestic Appliance Department reorganised

1929 Commercial Radio Receiver and valve production started

1929 British Industries Fair Advert for Components - The Supreme Transformer; Radio Meters; Loud Speakers; Trickle-chargers; H. T. Supply Units. Manufacturers of Audio Frequency Transformers, Output Transformers, Push-Pull Transformers, Chokes, Fixed Condensers, Radio Meters, anode Feed Resistances, Model Railway Transformers, etc. Radiant Heat Electric Fire. (Wireless Section - Stand No. MM.48) [8]

1930 Electronics Department set up to manufacture electronic components, which at that time were being manufactured by the Instrument Department.

1935 Radio factory at Moston, Manchester opened.

1935 See Ferranti:1935 Review

1936 Started production of cathode ray tubes and television receivers.

1937 Domestic Appliance Department moved to Moston; TV production began.

Ferranti Instruments, also based at Moston, developed various items for scientific measurements, including one of the first cone and plate viscometers.

1937 Electrical and general engineers. [9]

1937 British Industries Fair Advert for: Transformers; Testing Instruments; Meters; Domestic Appliances; Quality Castings. Ferranti Service from the Grid to the Family Hearth. Power Transformers, Regulating Equipment, Protective Gear, Instruments, Relays, Meters, Fires, Water Heaters, Clocks, Radio Receivers. Also Quality Castings. (Electricity: Industrial and Domestic Section - Stand Nos. Cb.713 and Cb.612) [10]

1939 See Aircraft Industry Suppliers

WWII During the war, Ferranti became a major supplier of electronics, and was heavily involved in the early development of radar in the United Kingdom. In the post-war era this became a large segment of their company, with various branches supplying radar sets, avionics and other military electronics, both in the UK and their various international offices. Valve production was expanded to supply other companies as well as Ferranti.

1943 The Edinburgh factory was opened to manufacture Gyro Gun Sights signalling the beginning of the Scottish Group and Ferranti's move into the Defence market

Other factories were at Oldham, Wythenshawe, Cheadle Heath and Gorton. Eventually branch-plants were set up in Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Aberdeen, Bracknell and Cwmbran as well as Germany and the U.S.A. and several British Commonwealth countries including Canada, Australia and Singapore.

1946 Began to supply valves to other makers of sets[11].

1948 General supplier of tubes[12].

1949 The Computer Group was formed. Ferranti joined with various university-based research groups to develop computers. Their first effort was the Ferranti Mark I, with about nine delivered between 1951–1957.

1953 Manufacturer of TV sets [13]

1954 Guided Weapon research began at Wythenshawe

1955 Ferranti had been involved in production of electronic devices including Cathode Ray Tube devices and germanium semiconductors for some time before it became the first European company to produce a silicon diode.

1956 The Pegasus computer was introduced and became Ferranti's most popular valve (vacuum tube) system, with 38 units sold.

1957 Ferranti's Radio and T. V. interests were sold to E. K. Cole Ltd

1957 The Distribution Transformers Department was set up

In collaboration with the University of Manchester Ferranti built a new version of the famous Manchester Mark I that replaced about half of the valve diodes with solid state diodes, which allowed the speed to be increased dramatically as well as increasing reliability.

1957 Ferranti offered the result commercially as the Mercury, and eventually sold nineteen in total. Although a small part of Ferranti's empire, the computer division was nevertheless highly visible.

1958 Closure of the Domestic Appliance Department

1958-62 Work on a completely new design of computer, the Atlas, started soon after the delivery of the Mercury, aiming to dramatically improve performance. The machine first ran in 1962, and Ferranti eventually built three machines in total. A version of the Atlas modified for the needs of the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory led to the Titan (or Atlas 2), which was the mainstay of scientific computing in Cambridge for nearly 8 years.

1961 Electrical and general engineers, manufacturing heavy electrical equipment, including power transformers for the National Grid, electricity service meters and instruments, radar and electrical domestic appliances, water heaters and valves, and electronic equipment. [14]

1961 Acquired the electricity meter business of Aron Electricity Meter Co

1963 The Computer Department was sold to International Computers and Tabulators Limited (ICT). By this time, Ferranti's mid-size machines were no longer competitive but efforts to design a replacement had bogged down. Into this void stepped the Canadian division, Ferranti-Packard, who had used several of the ideas under development in England to produce very quickly the Ferranti-Packard 6000. After studying several options, ICT selected the FP 6000 as the basis for their ICT 1900 line which sold into the 1970s.

The deal with ICT excluded Ferranti from the commercial sector of computing but left the industrial field free. Some of the technology of the FP 6000 was later used in Ferranti's Argus range of computers. The first computer was the Argus 200 which was developed at the Wythenshawe factory. The Argus 100 and 300 followed, aimed at process control applications. Jodrell Bank used an Argus 100 to control its Mark II telescope in 1964, which was replaced by an Argus 400 in 1971. These computers were all built with discrete germanium transistors.

Both the ICT 1900 series and the Argus had 24 bit words. The assembler was almost identical, but with slightly different mnemonics (1900 assembler was called PLAN, Ferranti Argus assembler was called APRIL.) The ICT 1900 series advanced with a COBOL compiler, to become a successful commercial computer for many years.

1967 Closure of the Distribution Transformers Department.

1968 The Argus 500 was the first in the range to use integrated circuits and had considerably more computing power than the earlier machines. It allowed the use of Fortran and, later, CORAL compilers and had huge success in real time applications, from Command and Control centres, to industrial control. The Argus 400 was a version of this with reduced facilities.

1968 Details of a new impulse generator built by Ferranti of Hillinwood. [15]

1970s Early in the decade Ferranti designed the Argus 700; this also achieved international success for industrial and military applications.

Meanwhile in Bracknell, Digital Systems division was developing a range of mainframe computers for naval applications. Early computers using discrete transistors were the Hermes and Poseidon and these were followed by the F1600 in the mid 1960's. Some of these machines remained in active service on naval vessels for many years. The FM1600B was the first of the range to use integrated circuits and used in many naval and commercial applications.

The FM1600D was a single rack version of the computer for smaller systems. An airborne version of this was also made and used aboard the RAF Nimrod. The last in the series was the FM1600E which was a redesigned and updated version of the FM1600B.

1972 Ferranti received support for a project on a measuring machine from government programme for the machine tool industry [16]

1974 the Transformer Division ran into financial difficulties. As a result, the Government, through the National Enterprise Board, injected £15 Million into Ferranti in return for a 50% stake in the company leading to a reduction in the Ferranti family shareholding to a minority of the total. A new Managing Director and new Chief Executive were appointed.

1974 Introduced an improved machine to measure more accurately surface profiles.[17]

1975 The Transformer Division was closed.

1976 Ferranti Engineering Limited set up

Ferranti Semiconductor Ltd. produced a range of silicon bipolar devices including, in 1977, the F100-L, an early 8-bit single chip microprocessor with 16-bit addressing. An F100-L was carried into space on the amateur radio satellite UoSAT-1 (Oscar 9). Ferranti's ZTX series bipolar transistors gave their name to the inheritor of Ferranti Semiconductor's discrete semiconductor business, Zetex plc.

1978 Shares in Ferranti were first traded on the London stock exchange

1982 The National Enterprise Board sold its Ferranti shares on the London stock exchange

1984 The Company was restructured into 5 operating divisions

In the mid-eighties, Ferranti produced some of the first large uncommitted logic arrays (ULAs), used in home computers such as the Acorn Electron and BBC Microcomputer. The microelectronics business was sold to Plessey Co in 1988 (or 1986 - see Plessey article).

From the late 1980s, Ferranti concentrated on defence sales. Radar systems developed for the Bloodhound Surface-to-Air Missile was a key money earner.

1987 Ferranti purchased International Signal and Control (ISC), a Pennsylvania-based defence contractor, and was renamed Ferranti International plc. Unknown to Ferranti, ISC's business primarily consisted of illegal arms sales started at the behest of various US clandestine organizations. On paper the company looked to be extremely profitable on sales of high-priced "above board" items, but in fact these profits were essentially non-existent. With the sale to Ferranti all illegal sales ended immediately, leaving the company with no obvious cash flow.

1989 The Serious Fraud Office started criminal investigation regarding alleged massive fraud at ISC.

1991 In December, James Guerin, founder of ISC and co-Chairman of the merged company, pleaded guilty before the federal court in Philadelphia, to fraud committed both in the USA and UK. All offences which would have formed part of any UK prosecution were encompassed by the US trial and, as such, no UK trial proceeded.

1993 The massive financial and legal difficulties forced Ferranti into bankruptcy in December.

1994 Ferranti was placed in receivership in January after selling many of its divisions.

1996 The computer section was bought out of bankruptcy by a Thomson-CSF subsidiary called SYSECA. It traded on as Ferranti-SYSECA, until the Ferranti name was finally dropped about 1996.


See Ferranti: Computers


See Ferranti: Radio


See Ferranti: Television


See Ferranti: Transformers

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1925/05/15
  2. Details and illustrations are in The Engineer of 5th April 1889
  3. The Engineer of 3 August 1894 p104, p107, p109 and p122-3
  4. The Engineer 1900/06/01, p 577.
  5. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  6. The Engineer of 6th September 1911 p363
  7. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  8. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 234 and p60
  9. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  10. 1937 British Industries Fair Advert p573
  13. Choosing your Television Set
  14. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  15. The Engineer of 9th February 1968 p233
  16. The Times, Mar 15, 1972
  17. The Engineer 1974/04/11
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • The Engineer of 5th April 1889 p286-7, p293, p311, p315, p324 and others
  • The Ferranti Collection - abstract at National Archives of papers in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry [2]
  • Biography of Sebastian Z de Ferranti, ODNB