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British Industrial History

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Ferranti

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1889. Alternator and exciter.
Section of the original 10,000V cable and the spike which was driven through it in 1890 to demonstrate its safety. Stored in a display case in the reserve collection at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry in 2014
Section of one of the original cables installed in 1890 for the 10,000V Deptford-London cable, on display at Amberley Working Museum
Close-up of original cable joint at Amberley Working Museum
1893. 300 hp alternator. Barcelona Electricity Supply.
1894. Machinery Hall, Portsmouth Electric Supply Works.
1895. 1000 kW alternator for the Deptford Generating Station of the London Electric Supply Corporation.
1897. Combined engine and alternator at Bolton. Engine by Hick, Hargreaves and Co
February 1901. Compound Engine.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
1906.
February 1911.
1912. Ironclad Fuses.
1913.
1921.
1921.
1926.
1929.
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.
Electronically controlled milling machine.
1942. Moving coil regulator.
February 1945.
September 1946.
1947. Thunderstorm recorder.
June 1949.
1950.
1950.
December 1951. Cathode Ray Tubes.
September 1953.
September 1953. 2-Volt television Tubes.
1954. Edinburgh Works.
1955.
1955. Valves and television tubes.
June 1955. Valves.
1959. Precision Milling Machine with Ferranti Three Dimensional 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.
1976. Avionics.
1982.
1982.
1983.
1983.
1983.
1983.
1983.
1984. Transformers.
1984. Transformers.
1988.

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)

Major Areas of the Business

Ferranti and Co was a major UK electrical engineering and equipment firm, latterly known primarily for defence electronics and power grid systems. Also famous in the computer industry for building the second commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark I, the beginnings of a business which lasted until the 1970s.

Predecessor Businesses

1882 Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti set up in business in London, designing various electrical devices and making his coreless dynamo and mercury meter. His early choice of the A.C. rather than the D.C. system made him one of the few experts in this system in the UK. With Alfred Thompson and Francis Ince, he formed Ferranti, Thompson and Ince to manufacture alternators under licence from Sir William Thomson.

Applied for Provisional Order empowering the company to supply electricity within the parish of St. John, Hampstead, in the county of Middlesex[2]

1883 Ferranti, Thompson and Ince was wound up at the end of the year and its affairs amalgamated with the Hammond Electric Light and Power Supply Co[3]. Sebastian bought back his own patents and set up a company called S. Z. de Ferranti in partnership with C. P. Sparks and others.

c.1885 Sebastian Ferranti was brought in by the promoters to overhaul the Grosvenor Galley Electrical Lighting Co installation. Ferranti created a partnership with Francis Ince based at Hatton Garden, London.

Ferranti was apparently the first to suggest that power stations should be outside the city, at a point convenient for fuel and water supply and that the power should be transmitted into the city by high-voltage alternating currents.[4]

1887 London Electric Supply Corporation took over the Grosvenor Gallery Electric Supply Corporation[5]

S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd

1887 The London Electric Supply Corporation (LESCo) employed 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[6]. Sebastian Ferranti's contract at Deptford was not renewed and he left LESCo. 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-voltage 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 (supplied by Messrs S. Z. De Ferranti of London) [7]

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, near Oldham, Lancashire.

1895 'A NEW INDUSTRY.— The large building known as the boiler works, situated near the railway at the higher end of Failsworth, has been bought by the firm of Messrs. S. L. De Ferranti and Co., electrical engineers, Charterhouse-square, London, for carrying on their business. It is expected they will employ 500 or 600 hands when fully at work. This should be good news for Hollinwood.'[8]

1897 Production began at Hollinwood. Two major businesses were initially set up, one for production of meters, and the other for steam alternators.

The Hollinwood works was originally occupied by the Stephenson boiler works. After a few years the company rented a former mill (Windsor Mill), where switches and transformers were produced.

Ferranti Steam Engines

Ferranti produced a number of large steam engines. They ran at relatively high speeds, in order to mimimise size for a given power output and to facilitate governing. 60 engines were built between 1896 and 1901. [9]. Several competitors, principally Willans and Robinson and Belliss and Morcom, produced engines operating at higher speeds, driving generators of smaller diameter than Ferranti's. For more information, see Power Generation and Transmission.

Engine No. 581 was constructed by Ferranti in Hollinwood in 1898 to drive a 250 kW shaft alternator at Lambeth. The engine is preserved in operational condition at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (see photo). In 1900 it was purchased by J. H. Gillett and Son and moved to their Chorley cotton mill and drove the mill by ropes from a grooved flywheel. In 1960 Ferranti acquired it for display at the Hollinwood works, with the rope drive retained. On closure of the works, the engine was acquired by the then Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. A suitable Siemens zig-zag alternator was obtained from Ferranti and, fortunately, fitted the engine, allowing it to be displayed as a generating engine with flywheel alternator. [10]. Some sources identify the mill as Brunswick Mill, while another[11] names it as the Crosse Hall Mills. For more information, see Richard L. Hills' account here.

Ferranti Ltd

1901 Ferranti Ltd was registered and acquired the whole of the undertakings and assets of S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd. The prospectus identified the following Directors: S, Z. de Ferranti of Ingleside, Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead, London; A. B. Anderson, 75, Promenade, Southport; Charles Day, New Moston, Lancs; G. Del Rivo, Boscombe, Liverpool Road, Birkdale; Arthur E. Hadley, Eccles.[12]

1901 Contract from London County Council to supply two 2500 HP engines. They would drive Dick, Kerr and Co generators. Several hundred tenders were received.[13]

1901 Contract from the Corporation of Cape Town to supply 1200 HP engines to drive Dick, Kerr and Co generators.[14]

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[15]. Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti took a less active role in the running of this company. Andrew Tait was elected Chairman (to 1927, Vice-Chairman 1927-1953).

Over his career, Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti amassed 176 patents for such a diverse range of technologies including alternators, 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. Ferranti (of Hollinwood) exhibited high-tension enclosed electrical control panels.[16]

1912 Domestic Appliance Department established

1913 Ferranti Electric Company of Canada Limited founded

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

1914 Listed as electrical and general engineers. Speciality: meters and switchgear. Employees 1,800 to 1,900. [17]

WW1 Ferranti manufactured shells. Sebastian Ferranti was principally responsible for securing the munitions contracts, developing the necessary mass production techniques, and utilizing the improved flow of profits to diversify the product range. Manufacture of domestic appliances and switchgear ceased.

1916 The first Canadian factory opened.

At some point Sebastian Ferranti was appointed technical director.

Post-WWI After Ferranti's successful development of a technology-led strategy during the war, coupled with professional accountants overseeing the finances, the firm was able to flourish. Ferranti Ltd diversified into radio and domestic electrical appliances and rebuilt the transformer business which had languished since 1903.

1921 Separate Transformer Division set up

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

1924 Started 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

1928 Sebastian Ferranti became chairman of the company

1929 Started production of 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) [18]

1930 Public issue of shares. Manufacturer of domestic electric service meters, instruments, transformers, fires, water heaters and wireless apparatus. Vincent Ziani De Ferranti was chairman.[19]

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. [20]

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) [21]

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[22].

1948 General supplier of tubes[23].

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 [24]

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 computer, replacing about half of the valve diodes with solid state diodes, which allowed the speed to be increased dramatically as well as increasing reliability. Ferranti offered the result commercially as the Mercury, and eventually sold 19 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 3 machines in total.

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. [25]

1961 Acquired the electricity meter business of Aron Electricity Meter Co

1963 Sebastian Ziani De Ferranti took over as chairman on the retirement of Sir Vincent[26]. At some point his brother, Basil, became deputy chairman.

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.

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.

1968 Details of a new impulse generator built by Ferranti of Hollinwood. [27]

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 1960s. Some of these machines remained in active service on naval vessels for many years.

1972 Ferranti received support for a project on a measuring machine from government programme for the machine tool industry [28]

1974 The company was still largely owned by the family - about 56 percent of the ordinary shares where held by the 2 Ferranti brothers and their trusts; the remaining 44 percent was widely held. The Ferranti brothers had a good reputation for innovation in high technology[29]

1974 The Transformer Division ran into financial difficulties, reflecting the lack of focus in the company strategy for the whole company and the inability of the family to grasp the problem of the ownership of the business[30]. As a result, the Government, through the National Enterprise Board, injected £15 Million into Ferranti in return for a 50% stake in the voting capital of the company (62.5 percent of the equity) 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.[31]

1975 The Transformer Division was closed.

1976 Ferranti Engineering Limited was 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 reintroduced to trading on the London stock exchange

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

1984 The company continued to provide sharply growing profits, in contrast to its large competitors in the electronics sector[32]

1984 The Company was restructured into 5 operating divisions:

In the mid-eighties, Ferranti produced some of the first large Uncommitted Logic Arrays (ULAs) which were used in home computers such as the Acorn Electron and BBC Microcomputer. The microelectronics business was sold to Plessey Co in 1988.

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 ISC company with no obvious cash flow.

Ferranti began a programme of asset disposals to raise funds.

1988 Plessey acquired Ferranti's semiconductor operations[33]

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

1990 GEC acquired the defence radar parts of Ferranti. This would provide more stability for the unit, mainly located in Edinburgh, which was bidding for to win the contract for the Eurofighter. The sale reduced Ferranti's dependence on defence work to about half of its total sales; other major parts of the business were sales of Zonephone and computer software[34]

1990 Two parts of Industrial Electronics division, laser and components, both based in Dundee, were in negotiation to conduct management buy-outs[35]

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. As well as the defence systems business, the civil systems business, based at Wythenshawe, which provided simulation systems to civil aviation, airport information systems, was developing a high tech baggage handling system; the business also provided services for electricity and gas utilities and control systems for nuclear power station and systems for oil platforms; losses on some contracts agreed by this division had contributed to putting the company into receivership[36]

1994 Ferranti was placed in receivership in January.

1994 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.

Ferranti's links with Oldham continue with the presence of Ferranti Technologies,who produce equipment for the aerospace and defence industries. See Ferranti Technologies website

See Wikipedia entry for information on the fate of other branches.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1925/05/15
  2. London Gazette
  3. The London Gazette 4 January 1884
  4. The Engineer 1924/08/08
  5. Wikipedia [1]
  6. Details and illustrations are in The Engineer of 5th April 1889
  7. The Engineer 1894/08/03 p104, p107, p109 and p122-3
  8. Cotton Factory Times, 6 December 1895
  9. 'Power from Steam. A History of the Stationary Steam Engine' by Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989/1993
  10. [2] Wikipedia
  11. Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain, Vol 3.1: Lancashire, by George Watkins, Landmark Publishing, 2001. Photo: Plat No. 93
  12. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Monday 22 July 1901
  13. Shields Daily News - Thursday 21 November 1901
  14. Portsmouth Evening News - Friday 27 December 1901
  15. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  16. The Engineer 1911/10/06 p363
  17. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  18. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 234 and p60
  19. The Times July 1 1930
  20. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  21. 1937 British Industries Fair Advert p573
  22. [3] Competition Commission
  23. [4] Competition Commission
  24. Choosing your Television Set
  25. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  26. The Times July 11, 1963
  27. The Engineer of 9th February 1968 p233
  28. The Times, Mar 15, 1972
  29. The Times Sept. 18, 1974
  30. The Times May 15, 1975
  31. The Engineer 1974/04/11
  32. The Times Dec. 7, 1984
  33. The Times Mar. 2, 1988
  34. The Times Jan. 24, 1990
  35. The Times Jan. 31, 1990
  36. The Times, Dec. 6, 1993
  • [5] 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 [6]
  • Biography of Sebastian Z de Ferranti, ODNB