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History of General Electric

The year 1876 marked America’s centennial. For most Americans it was a time for looking backward with pride. For others it was a time to look forward to the possibilities that lay ahead. The electrical exhibits at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia marked the beginning of an era where people sought new targets for invention.

Later that year, Thomas Alva Edison would open a new and better equipped laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he could explore the possibilities of the dynamo and other electrical devices that he had seen in the Exposition. Out of the laboratory was to come perhaps the greatest invention of all – a successful incandescent electric lamp.

By 1890, Edison had organized his various businesses into the Edison General Electric Company. The Thomson-Houston Company and the various companies that had merged to form it were led by Charles A. Coffin, a former shoe manufacturer from Lynn, Massachusetts. These mergers with competitors and the patent rights owned by each company put them into a dominant position in the electrical industry. As businesses expanded, it had become increasingly difficult for either company to produce complete electrical installations relying solely on their own technology. In 1892, these two major companies combined to form the General Electric Company.

Several of Edison’s early business offerings are in fact still part of GE today, including lighting, transportation, industrial products, power transmission and medical equipment. The first GE Appliances electric fans were produced at the Ft. Wayne electric works as early as the 1890s, while a full line of heating and cooking devices were developed in 1907. GE Aircraft Engines, the division’s name only since 1987, actually began its story in 1917 when the U.S. government began its search for a company to develop the first airplane engine “booster” for the fledgling U.S. aviation industry. Thomas Edison’s experiments with plastic filaments for light bulbs in 1893 led to the first GE Plastics department, created in 1930.

GE’s leaders through the years have built a diverse portfolio of leading businesses; a stream of powerful Company-wide initiatives that drives growth and reduces cost; financial strength and Controllership that allow it to capitalize on opportunities through numerous cycles; and a set of common values that allows it to face any environment with confidence. © 2006 GE

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