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Marconi in Instrumentation

This version was saved 8 years, 11 months ago View current version     Page history
Saved by David Samways
on June 12, 2015 at 7:45:24 pm
 

Memories from Aaron Bateman added

 

 

Foreword

 

At this time this Wiki is just a repository of information as and when it is received.  As time progresses this will be expanded and restyled to match the other Marconi Wikis.

 

This Wiki will attempt to trace and document the instruments business developed by Marconi Instruments (MI) from its inception in 1936 to the present time.  Although references may be made to other companies associated by merger, their businesses will not be included in this Wiki.

 

 

Company milestones relating to Instrumentation

 

 

1936  Marconi-Ekco Instruments formed as a private company
1941  Buyout of Marconi-Ekco Instruments to form the company Marconi Instruments click here
1946 English Electric took over Marconi Instruments after acquiring the holdings of Cable and Wireless and Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co.
1965 Marconi Instruments acquired W.H.Sanders (Electronics) Limited who specialised in microwave components
1998  Marconi Instruments was sold to IFR Systems Limited 
2002  IFR Systems was acquired by Aeroflex.  The Marconi Instruments name is no longer used. 
2014  Aeroflex was acquired by Cobham 
   

 

 

Introduction

 

Guglielmo Marconi was born in 1874 near Bologna, Italy. His father was Italian and his mother was British.  In 1896, at the age of 22, he developed the world's first workable telegraphy apparatus which transmitted and received signals using radio frequency waves instead of wires - the "wire-less”.  He realized immediately that his invention had very far reaching possibilities and he tried to get the support of the Italian government to develop his idea but without success.  A little dis­illusioned he turned to his mother’s country - where people had shown a much more encouraging interest - and conducted demonstrations.  He took out a British patent later that same year.

 

A company, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited, was formed the following year, 1897, and its first factory was established in Chelmsford, Essex.  Marconi worked untiringly to improve wireless telegraphy apparatus and the distances over which wireless messages could be sent and received greatly increased.  The Company soon expanded as people began to appreciate the potential of reliable wireless apparatus for communications and navigation on land, see and in the air.  Marconi himself received a Nobel prize in 1909 for discoveries in physics.

 

Alongside the development of more sophisticated radio equipment, however, came the need for electronic measuring equipment for testing at various stages in the manufacture of receivers and for checking and trimming the transmitters.  In the early 1900's such test gear as was used was either made by the engineers who needed it, or it was imported.  It was known, however, that a company in Southend - E. K. Cole Limited - was producing suitable test gear for its own use.  In the early 1930's Cole's agreed to sell test gear to other manu­facturers. Business between E.K.Cole and Marconi was brisk until, in 1936, the two companies jointly formed a new concern - Marconi Ekco Instruments Limited - with premises at both Southend and Chelmsford.

 

In 1939 Europe entered into war and in 1940 the British government decided that the Southend factory was in too vulnerable a position to continue to house such a vital link in the country's telecommunications industry.  At twenty-four hours’ notice the Company moved to High Wycombe and later also took factory space in St. Albans. Owing to legal complications of dual ownership in wartime the shares in Marconi Ekco Instruments held by E.K.Cole were acquired by Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company in 1941, thus making the instrument company a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Marconi parent company.  It was around this period that the name was changed to Marconi Instruments Limited.

 

It was in 1946 that Marconi Instruments moved to their present site in Longacres, St. Albans, and by the following year all of the Company was housed on the one location.

 

A further development in the Company’s history also happened in 1946.  Britain had gone to the polls late in 1945 to return the first post-war government – a government which decided to nationalise all wireless transmission services to other countries.  Wireless communications in this country up to that time had figured largely in the activities of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company. In fact, Britain’s earliest transmitting stations, both licensed in 1922, were 2MT and 2LO and both were Marconi stations.  They were later to provide the foundation on which the British Broad­casting Company (later Corporation) was built.

 

The government decision had the effect of separating the transmission of cables and telegrams from the manufacture and sale of apparatus.  A new company, Cable and Wireless, was formed but the government did not wish to own a manufacturing concern and so the English Electric Company Limited purchased the manu­facturing activities of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company.

 

Marconi Instruments Limited, now an English Electric Company, grew steadily.  The Longacres site, 12½ acres in all, consisted of two main production buildings, a two-storey office and laboratory block, many other smaller buildings and a well-appointed canteen later  altered to provide comprehensive facilities for a thriving social and sports club. In 1967 further premises were acquired in St. Albans, Fleetville Works, adding a floor space of 150,000 square feet used for manufacture, development and stores.  As part of the policy of expansion the Company had acquired, in 1965, the business of W. H. Sanders (Electronics) Limited, a company with two factories at Stevenage, Hertfordshire engaged in the expanding microwave business.  Marconi Instruments Limited also had premises at Luton Airport, where the servicing and spares function was housed.

 

In 1968 the English Electric Company Limited merged with the General Electric Company Limited to form an immense new concern which continued to trade under the name of GEC with sales of more than £1,000 million per annum.  Subsidiaries were formed which organised all the differing individual companies into groups according to the nature of their products.  One such holding company was GEC-Marconi Electronics Limited and Marconi Instruments Limited was part of that group.

 

In order to keep abreast of progress in the rapidly changing world of electronics, Marconi Instruments Limited invested substantial sums of money into developing new products and improving existing equipments.  The manufacturing system employed was one of the most highly developed of its type anywhere and involved the use of computer controlled production, numerically-controlled machine tools, an environmental test laboratory, a thin-film laboratory and three measurement standards laboratories which had the Seal of Approval of the British Calibration Service.

 

The products manufactured included some of the world's finest examples of signal generators, attenuators, amplifiers, oscillators, waveform generators, voltage and power meters, analyzers, test sets, television measuring instruments, multi-channel test instruments, impedance measuring equipment, electronic counters, power supplies, programmable automatic test systems and microwave devices.  Every product was ably supported by a first-class spares and repairs service. Over half the production was exported, significantly more than the average for this type of industry; and the instruments were to be found in every country in the world.  A hand­picked network of Distributors and representatives of the highest repute handled sales of Marconi Instruments in 66 countries.

It was in recognition of Marconi Instruments valuable contribution to Britain's export efforts which led, in 1966, to a Queen's Award to Industry for Export Achievement.  In 1971 the Company was again honoured by the award of another Queen's Award, this time for Technological Advancement following pioneering work done on developing new methods for solving measurement problems.

 

 

 

References

 

Long before Marconi Instruments was formed Marconi had to make all his own measuring instruments.  His catalogue dated c.1914 can be viewed here.

 

Marconi Instruments corporate brochure (~ 1970s) can be viewed here.

 

 

 

Links to external sites

 

These entries have been added as references and may be useful at a later date when the Wiki is restyled.

 

Wikipedia entry click here

 

John's virtual museum lists a good amount of MI equipment, some of which have manuals available for download click here

 

Radiomuseum also has a healthy list of MI equipment click here

 

Marconi Test Instruments forum click here

 

Memories of Marconi Instruments by Harold Beck from 1962 click here

 

Memories of working at Marconi Instruments by Aaron Bateman from 1957 click here

 

 

 

 

 

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