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Sangamo Electric Company

 Collection
Identifier: MS-BC562

Scope and Contents

The Sangamo Electric Company Records, 1895-1972, consist of 3 cubic feet, 3 oversize volumes, and 1 oversize folder of reports, blueprints, data books containing the results of experiments and tests, newspaper clippings, bulletins, leaflets, and other printed material. The collection dates primarily from 1897 to 1956 and documents the company’s employee relations, product development, and product testing. Data books from the Radio Laboratory and Engineering Department and clippings from the “Sangamo Shop Talk” newspaper column comprise a major portion of the collection. Also included are blueprints of the Sangamo Electric Company building and grounds, minutes (1928- 1936) of the Fifteen Year Club, and papers of R.C. Lanphier. Lanphier’s papers contain records of his Gutmann watt meter experiments and tests (1897), records of his direct current meter experiments (1903-1904) and correspondence (1896 and 1903) of Ludwig Gutmann to Jacob Bunn, Jr. Approximately two cubic feet of publications, two cubic feet of photographs, and four reels of microfilm were transferred out of the collection.  Minutes (1947-1954) of the Selco Employees Association union meetings and contract talks are available only on microfilm.

Dates

  • Created: 1895-1972
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1897-1956

Creator

Biographical or Historical Information

Sangamo Electric Company, a Springfield, Illinois, manufacturer of electrical equipment (including meters, time switches, capacitors, sonar equipment, and radio condensers and transformers), traces its origins to the Springfield Watch Company, a manufacturing firm established in 1870. Because of financial difficulties, the watch company was reorganized in 1877 with Jacob Bunn as president. Its name was changed to Illinois Watch Company in December 1878. Sangamo Electric Company, known as Illinois Watch Company’s “meter department” in its early years, was incorporated in January 1899 to manufacture the Gutmann alternating current electric watt meter. Ludwig Gutmann, owner of the patent, Jacob Bunn, Jr. (born in 1864), vice-president of the Watch Company and son of the watch company president, and Bunn’s brother, Henry, were incorporators of the new firm. Robert C. Lanphier (born in 1878), after completing course work in electrical engineering at Yale University in 1897, played a major role in turning Gutmann’s idea into a practical, working watt meter. In 1901 Westinghouse Electric Company and General Electric Company brought suit on a series of patent infringements which culminated in a 1903 court injunction preventing the production of the Gutmann meter until December 1910. According to the injunction, parts for the Gutmann meter could be manufactured in Springfield but not assembled there. As a result, Sangamo opened a small plant in Windsor, Ontario, where meter parts were assembled and shipped to Sangamo’s customers in Canada, Mexico, England and Japan. In addition to the limited production of the Gutmann meter, Sangamo began work on a direct current mercury meter. In 1905 Lanphier created one of the first practical meters of this type. In March that same year, Gutmann sold his interest in the company to Jacob Bunn, Jr. In 1909 Sangamo began producing ampere hour meters. These meters were used in 1911 on the first Cadillac’s as a controlling device on the car’s Delco electric self-starter. During that same year, the Sangamo Electric Company of Canada, Ltd. was organized as a sales medium for the company’s Canadian business. Because of increased business and Canadian duty restrictions on American meters, the Canadian company began manufacturing meters in 1916. Sangamo contracted with Edison-Swan Electric Company, Ltd., of London in 1919 to act as sales agent for Sangamo products in Britain, India, and Australia. The following year, Sangamo organized the British Sangamo Company, Ltd. Edison-Swan continued to act as sales agent until 1933, when British Sangamo took over British sales operations. In January 1920, Sangamo bought the property it had rented from the Illinois Watch Company until that time. About twelve hundred people were employed at the Springfield plant in 1920. Inadequacies in engineering and research facilities were eliminated in 1924 with the building of a research laboratory. On May 10, 1926, Jacob Bunn, Jr. who had served as president of the company since its inception (Some sources say that his brother, Henry originally served as president), died and Robert Lanphier replaced him as president. Shortly after Bunn’s death, Sangamo became a public corporation. Its stock was offered to the public in July 1927 and its board of directors was increased to nine members. The Sangamo Fifteen Year Club was organized in December 1927 for Sangamo employees with fifteen or more years with the company. Annual events included a December dinner and a summer picnic. In June 1928, Sangamo and the Hamilton Watch Company, which had purchased the Illinois Watch Company earlier in the year, organized the Hamilton-Sangamo Company, a joint venture in the production of electric clocks. Sangamo, which had been manufacturing clocks since 1926, made the clock movements while Hamilton provided the escapements and sales experience. After a sizeable loss, Sangamo-Hamilton was sold in April 1931 to General Time Instrument Corporation of New York. Sangamo’s Canadian subsidiary purchased the Lincoln Meter Company, Ltd., of Toronto in September 1930. Lincoln Meter, formed in 1920 by Paul Lincoln, had been associated with Sangamo since the mid-1920’s when Sangamo began making watt hour meter elements for the Lincoln-Sangamo thermal demand meter. Lincoln organized a Lincoln Meter Company in the United States in July 1928, with Sangamo holding a minority interest. In December 1934 Lincoln, then director of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Cornell University, sold his interest in the American company to Sangamo. Lincoln Meter maintained a separate identity as a division of Sangamo until 1940. Sangamo had over twelve hundred employees at its Springfield plant in 1929 and about three hundred each at its Canadian and British subsidiaries. In 1932 sales dropped below one million dollars and the company suffered a loss of almost $270,000. Some improvement was seen the following year, however, and by 1934 the company was again in the black. Sales reached five million dollars in 1940. In October 1936, British Sangamo acquired a controlling interest in the English subsidiary of Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation of New Jersey. Weston’s production of ammeters, voltmeters, and other indicating instruments supplemented British Sangamo’s own line of electrical equipment. The name of the company was changed to Sangamo-Weston, Ltd., in 1938. Sangamo purchased the Springfield property of Hamilton Watch Company in 1937. Since Sangamo did not need the property until World War II, the buildings were rented to small manufacturing concerns until that time. In June 1937 Sangamo recognized the Selco Employees Association as the bargaining unit for its employees. Selco continued to represent production and maintenance workers after a December 1944 election for union representation, while the American Federation of Labor represented steam plant workers and the International Association of Machinists became the tool and die markers union. Robert C. Lanphier, who played a major role in the development of Sangamo Electric Company and served as president after the death of Jacob Bunn, Jr. died on January 29, 1939. During World War II, Sangamo became a major manufacturer of sonar anti-submarine equipment and mica and paper capacitors, which are used in a wide variety of electrical circuits. By September 1942, Sangamo was on total war production and ceased manufacturing commercial items. Because of the increased need for electric meters, however, the War Production Board in 1943 authorized production of 150,000 single phase watt hour meters. Sangamo’s allotment was 40,000 meters. The company’s board of directors was increased to eleven members that same year. Because of the war, sales and employment expanded rapidly. Company employment in 1942 jumped from 1,550 in January to 2,075 in October and research a war-time peak of 3,080 in 1943. Sales were over eleven million dollars in 1943 and reached $13,500,000 in 1945. With the end of the war, sales dipped to just under ten million dollars in 1946 but were over twenty-one million by 1948. Employment in 1948 stood at 2,732. In 1955 Sangamo acquired a controlling interest in Gothard Manufacturing Company, a producer of dynamotors, moto generators, and other devices used in the manufacture of mobile transmitting equipment. That same year Capitol Aviation Company, a Springfield aviation sales and service firm, became a subsidiary of Sangamo. Sangamo continued its expansion in 1956 by opening a new capacitor plant in Pickens, South Carolina. By 1966 company net sales reached $68,000,000 and employment stood at 4,800. In 1967 Sangamo purchased a controlling interest in Oliver Electrical Manufacturing Company, which produced pole line hardware for electric and telephone utilities. Oliver Electrical became a subsidiary of Sangamo in March 1969. Sangamo, which owned seventy-six percent of Microsonic Company, a Weymouth, Massachusetts, manufacturer of specialized electronic components, acquired the minority interest in the company in July 1968. Since that time Microsonic has operated as a division of Sangamo. In the mid-1960s Sangamo divided its business into five product groups: Power Equipment (electric metering equipment), Communication Equipment (called Transitel in 1966-1967), Electronic Systems, (magnetic tape instrumentation), Military Production (particularly anti- submarine sonar), and Electronic Components. For the 1967 and 1968 business years, the Electronic Systems, Transitel, and Military Productions groups were combined to for an Information Systems division designed to enhance Sangamo’s entrance into the data processing market. A computer peripheral equipment line was added to the Information Systems division in 1968. The Transitel Computer Support System division was created for Sangamo’s computer peripheral equipment line in May 1970 but was sold one year later. Sangamo combined its communications group in 1972 with Rixon Electronics, Inc., a subsidiary of United Telecommunications. The joint venture, known as Rixon Inc., was sixty percent owned by Sangamo and operated at its subsidiary. Sales reached $96,180,000 in 1973, but employment dropped to 4,356. In addition to its Springfield operations, Sangamo in 1970 also had two plants in South Carolina, one each in Massachusetts and Mississippi, two in Canada, three in England, and one in Scotland. Sangamo’s Springfield plant was closed in July 1978, and its operations were moved to Clayton, Georgia, and Sarasota, Florida.

Note written by

Extent

3.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

The Sangamo Electric Company was a manufacturer of electrical equipment (meters, time switches, capacitors, sonar equipment, and radio condensers and transformers). The company incorporated in 1899; the Springfield plant closed in 1978.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged alphabetically by subject in two series.
Title
Archon Finding Aid Title
Author
Rodney W. Meyer
Description rules
Other Unmapped
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
und

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

Contact:
112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
(217) 558-8923