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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES. The first significant application of controlled electricity in Cleveland was telegraphy, which made its appearance in the city in 1847 on the premises of the Lake Erie Telegraph Co. Fire-alarm boxes were the second useful manifestation of the "new" power in the city, and by 1865 there were 24 of them. The telephone came in 1877. Besides these communications uses, the other main areas of electric-industrial progress in the latter part of the 19th century were lighting, traction, and industrial motors, and in these areas as well, Cleveland's technical-entrepreneurial talent was quick to perceive opportunities and act on them.

In the lighting field, CHARLES F. BRUSH† was the most prominent innovator and entrepreneur of the period. His major contribution was the practical development and commercial exploitation of the arc light. Although the latter was invented in England in 1808, Brush devised its practical application by developing an improved dynamo to provide a steady current, and by making design changes in the arc fixture itself that improved the quality of the light and extended the working life of the carbon electrodes. He also redesigned the lamp's circuit to make arc lighting possible from central stations. Brush began to sell small arc lighting systems in the late 1870s for use in stores, factories, and hotels. However, the potential of this equipment was first realized with Brush's demonstration of its street-lighting possibilities on 29 Apr. 1879, in Cleveland's PUBLIC SQUARE. The brilliance of the light produced by his 12 lamps caused a sensation and foretold the decline of the gas-lighting era. As a result, Brush sold central power stations to San Francisco, New York, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia. In 1880 Brush bought the Cleveland Telegraph Supply Co., where he had done the developmental work, and renamed it the Brush Electric Co. The battle between electric and gas lighting lasted some 30 years, and although advances were made in gas-lighting technology, electricity won out. During that time, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL, viewing comparative costs, voted to go back to gas light in 1883 but reversed itself 17 days later. About the time that Brush was developing his arc light, Thomas Edison designed a practical incandescent lamp which later had great significance for Cleveland, because the companies that formed the National Electric Lamp Assn. in 1906 centered much of their light-bulb production in this area. When NELA became the National Quality Lamp Division of GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., it established NELA PARK in the SUBURBS. The division took the leading role in GE's incandescent lighting development program from 1915 until 1935, when fluorescent lighting research became prominent.

The equipment for the first electric streetcar line in the Cleveland area was developed and, tested in the shops of the Brush Electric Co., and a Brush generator was used in the car barn that powered the line from its start-up, in 1884. The line, which operated as the EAST CLEVELAND RAILWAY CO., had technical problems with its underground power supply cable and closed down the following year. Work continued, however, and a successor line reached Public Square from its home station in East Cleveland in 1889. This event was followed by the electrification of other local car lines in the area.

The Cleveland-area electrical industry grew rapidly during the 1800s, led by the expansion of applications in communications, lighting, and traction. The Brush Electric Co. added the manufacture of arc light carbons to its activities and also began marketing an incandescent lighting system, the rights for which it had purchased from a British firm. As the use of electricity expanded, the need grew for added power-generation and -distribution facilities, and when the Brush Electric & Power Co. merged with the Cleveland Electric Light Co. in 1892, a large powerhouse was constructed on Canal St. These developments led to the formation of the CLEVELAND ELECTRIC ILLUMINATING CO. the same year. By 1900 Cleveland ranked first in the production of electric automobiles, and at the end of the century's first decade it also claimed first place in the production of carbons, lamps, and electrical hoisting apparatus. Its status as the site of a major exposition of the electrical industry in 1914 further promoted Cleveland's claim to primacy.

The 1895 discovery of "x-rays" by the German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen touched off considerable activity in Cleveland. DAYTON C. MILLER†, professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science, improved the x-raying process for medical uses. Henry P. Engeln, in collaboration with Dr. George Iddings, was a pioneer in the x-ray industry, establishing the Engeln Electric Co. around the turn of the century. During its independent life, the Engeln Co. did highly innovative work in the development and marketing of x-ray equipment, and when it merged with Acme X-Ray Corp. of Chicago in 1929, it had 200 employees. The merged company was acquired by Westinghouse in 1930 who sold its plant at E. 30th St. and Superior to Picker X-Ray which became a leading firm in that field (see PICKER INTL., INC.).

Arc welding was an important industrial application of electrical technology in Cleveland, as was arc welding, largely due to John C. Lincoln, founder of the LINCOLN ELECTRIC CO., who had gained experience working in Charles F. Brush's shops. Lincoln Electric, which began producing electric motors in 1896, pioneered in the development of arc-welding equipment, and by 1938 it claimed to be the largest manufacturer of that line in the world. Variable speed electric motors were designed by John Lincoln who incorporated the Lincoln Motor Works Co. in 1906, to produce them. In 1909 the firm changed its name to the Reliance Electric & Engineering Co. (see RELIANCE ELECTRIC CO.).

In addition to lighting, traction, and industrial applications, the electrical home-appliance field was richly represented in Cleveland by World War I. Heating-related appliances included coffee percolators, hotplates, frying pans, corn poppers, baby-bottle warmers, kitchen ranges, hair dryers, and radiant heaters. In addition, there was heavy production of vacuum cleaners, washing machines, fans, vibrators, and sewing machines. By 1919 Cleveland led the nation in the production of electric batteries and vacuum cleaners (7 different makes of vacuum cleaners were being produced in the city in 1931). In the mid-1920s, Cleveland ranked 3rd in the production of radios, after New York and Chicago. Theodore A. Willard, whose WILLARD STORAGE BATTERY CO. was Cleveland's largest battery producer, founded the city's first high-powered radio station, WTAM. By 1938, the Willard Co.'s 15-acre plant, built in 1914, was turning out 15,000 batteries per day.

In the 1920s, John A. Victoreen, an inventive Cleveland radio amateur, started a radio parts business. Soon, however, his attention turned to radiation measurement, and he developed the Condenser R-Meter, an instrument for measuring accurately the intensity and total dosage of x-ray delivery, which gained international fame. Radiation measurement remained a central concern of the Victoreen Instrument Co., founded in 1928 in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS The company provided 95% of the instrumentation for the Bikini atomic bomb tests after World War II, earning itself claim to the title of "first nuclear company."

During World War II, Cleveland electrical firms reorganized their production around the needs of the military, which included the manufacture of miniature radio tubes at Nela Park for use in proximity fuses for antiaircraft artillery shells. Lighting and visibility research devoted to military problems also occupied the GE laboratories there. These wartime activities stimulated the formation of a new Electronics Department at GE in 1947. The postwar period was also one of rapid growth for the industry. In the Cleveland metropolitan area, electrical machinery manufacturing, for example, grew in value-added terms by 21% in the 1947-54 period. Fortune magazine's list of the 500 largest industrial corporations for 1958 included 2 electrically related Cleveland area firms, Reliance Electric and the Addressograph-Multigraph Corp.

The demand for power was growing rapidly even before the onset of war pressed it more urgently. Between 1939-44, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.'s output increased by 30%. In 1944 76% of the power the company produced went to industry, with an estimated 90% of that being war industry. By 1946 CEI could count 370,000 customers, in contrast to the 1,400 it had had at the turn of the, century. Its service covered 132 communities, with a total population of 1.5 million. Growth continued as relatively low power rates attracted new industries to the area, and in 1954 the company was serving 465,000 customers in 137 communities, from Avon Lake on the west to Conneaut in the east. CEI's rates have on occasion become a political issue in Cleveland due to the presence of Cleveland's municipally-owned light plant which caused disputes with CEI over comparative rates (see MUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP).

Leading Cleveland companies active in the electronics field during the immediate postwar period were Victoreen Instrument Co., Hickok Electrical Instruments Co., and Brush Development Co. In 1946 Victoreen was the city's major producer of electronic tubes, employed 75 people, and achieved a total output worth $4.5 million. The Hickok Co. manufactured precision radio and radar test equipment, and was active in exporting. Brush Development, founded in 1930 to market products developed by Brush Laboratories, began producing voice-recording equipment in 1938, and during the war was the main supplier of wire recording equipment to the armed forces. For industry, Brush made oscillographs and hypersonic analyzers, piezoelectric crystals, and other products. Cleveland Electronics, Inc., representative of other firms in the area engaged in the production of electronic goods, was turning out 50,000-60,000 radio loudspeakers per month and preparing to manufacture similar components for the new television industry by 1946. National Spectrographic Laboratories, Inc., another Cleveland firm, made electrical excitation units for spectrographic analysis. Phasing devices and tuning-fork frequency controls were produced by Acme Telectronix, while the Bird Electronic Corp. manufactured testing equipment, filters, and high-frequency antennas. The total value of the city's electronic products for the year 1946 was more than $10 million.

Cleveland, while not industrially top-ranked among centers of the rapidly developing microelectronics field, had establishments that have made a considerable mark in it nonetheless. In research and development, the well-established solid-state microelectronics laboratory at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY pursued studies in the area of integrated circuits, electronic materials, and new processing technologies as well as providing graduate engineers and computer specialists for the area's electronic industry. The NASA JOHN H. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER AT LEWIS FIELD is heavily involved in applied microelectronics in connection with space communications. TRW is among larger Cleveland-area manufacturing firms having a considerable stake in the electronics field, playing an active part in the aerospace and defense industries by developing both spacecraft and the payloads for them, communications and guidance systems, and ground station equipment. BAILEY CONTROLS, with world headquarters in Wickliffe,, utilizes electronic technology in its production of industrial-controls. The firm provides analog and digital circuit design, producing control systems of varying complexity. With a long history of supplying equipment for utilities, Bailey Controls has provided instrumentation for the nuclear power-generating industry since the latter's inception.

Allen-Bradley, a Division of Rockwell Intl. in HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, is a long-established area firm producing programmable controllers and similar capital goods, incorporating electronics, for manufacturing industries. Keithley Instruments, Inc., based in SOLON, had its beginnings in a high-impedance amplifier, called the "Phantom Repeater," invented by Joseph Keithley in 1946. This and other Keithley-developed instruments were manufactured for him by another firm for 5 years until 1951, when Keithley moved his operation to larger quarters and began manufacturing on his own. Sensitive measuring instruments remained the core of the company's output, which came to include voltmeters, ammeters, digital multimeters, and complex testing systems incorporating both computer hardware and software. The company's product-development path in itself traces some of the most important steps in the technological advance of electronics since the 1940s--vacuum tubes to discrete transistors to integrated circuits, and finally, to complex computer-linked systems that can handle the tasks of measurement and computation virtually simultaneously.

Peter Diaconoff


Last Modified: 16 Jul 1997 09:48:22 AM

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