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British Industrial History

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Racal Electronics

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Exhibit at the Washford Radio Museum.

Racal Electronics Ltd, radio communications and electronic instrumentation maker, of Bracknell.

1950 Racal Ltd was created to provide a consulting service for the planning of radio communications systems. The name was derived from the partners RAymond Brown and George CALder Cunningham (Brown had previously worked at Plessey).

1951 Racal Electronics Ltd was registered as a private company to supply electronic equipment (previously Racal Engineering Ltd). Racal Ltd became a wholly-owned subsidiary[1].

1951 Racal Aerotronics (later Racal Instruments) was established as a subsidiary to build equipment for electronics instrumentation.

The first factory was located at Isleworth, west London.

1954 Needing extra space, the factory was transferred to Bracknell.

Focus was on high frequency radio communications equipment. Racal won a Royal Navy contract to build and supply a variant of the American Collins Model 51-J Radio Receiver but they were not granted a license to build these sets by Collins Inc. Racal had to design and build a radio receiver from scratch. The result was the famous 'RA17' - in production from 1955 to at least 1973 - designed in cooperation with Dr. Trevor Wadley and utilising his Wadley Loop circuit.

1961 Public issue of shares[2].

1962 New R&D building equipped.

1964 Entered television transmission business[3].

1965 Pressed for access to US defence equipment market as needed to sell equipment developed to more than the home market in order to recover the R&D investment.

1966 Ernest Harrison took over as chairman.

1966 Poor take-up of rights issue.

1966 Plan to set up own linear micro-circuits plant at Tewkesbury, so that had certainty of supplies and could maintain secrecy about designs[4].

1967 New factories at Reading, Maidenhead and Woodley.

1968 Improved data transmission over GPO lines using new modem made by Milgo and marketed by Racal. Later that year announcement of formation of Racal-Milgo to manufacture and market Milgo data modems. Also merged production facilities of Racal-Andec with the Mobilcal division of Racal[5].

1969 Acquired Controls and Communications Ltd, which included Airmec[6].

1969 The Airmec-AEI subsidiary was sold to Plessey Co, reflecting government policy to encourage consolidation in numerical controls. Airmec Instruments remained a part of Racal Instruments[7].

1971 Acquired Amplivox, hearing aid specialists[8].

1980 Racal, in a battle with GEC, bought Decca Ltd, forming Racal-Decca

1980s Racal Electronics, acquired S. G. Brown makers of headphones and microphones, mainly for military radios.

1983 Racal competed for one of the original licences to operate a cellular network in the UK, both it and British Telecom were successful. Racal established the Racal Telecom (now Vodafone) subsidiary.

1984 Racal bought Chubb, a security company that manufactured safes and locks.

1987 Various appointments were made to senior positions in Racal Communications Group, Racal Radio and Racal Telecommunications Group, which included Racal-Vodata and Racal-Vodafone[9]

1988 Vodafone was packaged together with other Racal companies to form Racal Telecommunications Group[10]; 20% of Racal Telecom was floated on the London Stock Exchange. This would lead to the situation where Racal Electronics was valued at less than its shareholding in Racal Telecom.

1990 Announced plans to demerge Racal-Telecom and a new company, Racal Security, by transferring the shares to shareholders; the rest of Racal Electronics would be subject to a management buy-out led by Sir Ernest Harrison (Racal Chairman) which would remain a public company for an "appropriate time"[11]

1991 Demerged Racal Telecom in October, forcing a positive valuation on the rest of Racal (colloquially known in the City as "the rump"). Racal Telecom was renamed Vodafone and later became the largest mobile network in the world and the highest valued company on the FTSE 100. Immediately following the demerger, Williams Holdings launched a takeover bid for Racal Electronics. The bid, valued at £740m, failed.

Other companies in the Group:-

1992 Demerged the security business, listed as Chubb Security, by giving the shares to Racal's shareholders[12]

1997 Racal indicated it wanted to dispose of the Data Communications division and "position" Racal Telecom for flotation[13]

1998 Racal Telecom had a nationwide fibre-optic network; the company would make an alliance with Colt Telecom, which had a network in the City of London and some activities in Europe[14]

1999 Racal Telecom was acquired by the US telecommunications group Global Crossing. Racal Electronics kept the railway-related network businesses in a separate division and the Field workforce which provide maintenance and installation work[15]

2000 Thomson-CSF acquired the Racal Group for £1.3 billion, and changed its name to Thales[16]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 6 November 1961
  2. The Times, 6 November 1961
  3. The Times, 25 May 1964
  4. The Times, 6 December 1966
  5. The Times, 20 August 1968
  6. The Times, 7 January 1969
  7. The Times, 2 October 1969
  8. The Times, 19 July 1971
  9. The Times, April 13, 1987
  10. The Times (London, England), Friday, July 15, 1988
  11. The Times, November 17, 1990
  12. The Times, October 06, 1992
  13. The Times, December 12, 1997
  14. The Times July 06, 1998
  15. The Times, October 12, 1999
  16. The Times, January 28, 2003