Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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October 1954.

[[Image:|thumb| Exhibit at the Museu de Electricidade, Madeira ]]

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

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

  • Ferranti 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.
  • 1882 Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (9 April, 1864 - 13 January, 1930) went into this business when he set up shop in London, designing various electrical devices. Ferranti bet on AC early on, and was one of the few experts in this system in the UK.
  • 1887 The London Electric Supply Corporation (LESCo) hired Ferranti for the design of their power station at Deptford. He designed the building, the generating plant and the distribution system.
  • 1891 On its completion, it was the first truly modern power station, supplying high-voltage AC power that was then "stepped down" for consumer use on each street. This basic system remains in use today around the world. Details and illustrations are in The Engineer of 5th April 1889.
  • 1894 Portsmouth Electric Supply Works. Illustration and article of the Ferranti equipment. (Messrs S. Z. De Ferranti of London) [1]
  • 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.
  • 1905 Ferranti Ltd was established. 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. The company was registered on 27 February, in reconstruction of a company of similar title, to acquire a business of electrical, mechanical and general engineers. [2]
  • 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). [3]
  • 1914 Listed as electrical and general engineers. Speciality: meters and switchgear. Employees 1,800 to 1,900. [4]
  • 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) [5]
  • New factories were set up in the north-west at Moston, Wythenshawe, Cheadle Heath and Gorton which were happy for the provision of employment. Eventually they set up branch-plants in Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Aberdeen, Bracknell and Cwmbran as well as Germany and the U.S; and several British Commonwealth countries including Canada, Australia and Singapore.
  • Ferranti manufactured many "white goods" Televisions, Radios etc. at its Moston plant, in addition Ferranti Instruments, again based at Moston developed various items for scientific measurements, including one of the first cone and plate viscometers.
  • 1937 Electrical and general engineers. [6]
  • 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) [7]
  • 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.
  • In the late 1940s 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 [8]
  • 1956 The Pegasus was introduced and became their most popular valve (vacuum tube) system, with 38 units sold.
  • In collaboration with the University of Manchester they built a new version of the famous Manchester Mark I that replaced valve diodes with solid state versions, 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.
  • Work on a completely new design, 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.
  • By the early 1960s their mid-size machines were no longer competitive, but efforts to design a replacement were bogged down. Into this void stepped the Canadian division, Ferranti-Packard, who had used several of the ideas under development in England to very quickly produce the Ferranti-Packard 6000. By this time Ferranti's own computer division had been merged into International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) in 1963. After studying several options, ICT selected the FP 6000 as the basis for their ICT 1900 line which sold into the 1970s.
  • The deal setting up 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 its Argus range of computers.
  • 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.
  • 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. [9]
  • The first computer in the Argus range was the Argus 200 which was developed at its Wythenshawe factory. The Argus 100 and 300 followed and were 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.
  • 1968 The Argus 500 which was launched around 1968 was the first in the range to use integrated circuits and had considerably more computing power. 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 with reduced facilities.
  • 1968 Details of a new impulse generator built by Ferranti of Hillinwood. [10]
  • 1970s Early in the decade Ferranti moved on by designing 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.
  • 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, in 1955.
  • Ferranti Semiconductor Ltd. went on to produce 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).[2]. Ferranti's ZTX series bipolar transistors gave their name to the inheritor of Ferranti Semiconductor's discrete semiconductor business, Zetex plc.
  • 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 in 1988.
  • Ferranti concentrated on their defence sales from the late 1980s. The Bloodhound SAM, for which they developed radar systems, 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 that resulted forced Ferranti into bankruptcy in December.
  • 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 Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer of 3 August 1894 p104, p107, p109 and p122-3
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. The Engineer of 6th September 1911 p363
  4. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  5. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 234 and p60
  6. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  7. 1937 British Industries Fair Advert p573
  8. Choosing your Television Set. Published by Freelance in 1953.
  9. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  10. The Engineer of 9th February 1968 p233
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • The Engineer of 5th April 1889 p286-7, p293, p311, p315, p324 and others