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Sperry Corporation
Founded Downtown Brooklyn (1910)
Founder(s) Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Headquarters Lake Success, New York
Area served United States
Industry Electronics

Sperry Corporation was a major American equipment and electronics company whose existence spanned more than seven decades of the twentieth century. Through a series of mergers they exist today as a portion of Unisys. Some of its former divisions became part of Honeywell.

M2 gun director 1932 in production

Contents

Early history

The company was founded in 1910 as the Sperry Gyroscope Company by Elmer Ambrose Sperry to manufacture navigation equipment, chiefly his own inventions – the marine gyrostabilizer and the gyrocompass at 40 Flatbush Avenue Extension in Downtown Brooklyn.[1] During World War I the company diversified into aircraft components including bomb sights and fire control systems. In their early decades, Sperry Gyroscope and related companies were concentrated on Long Island, New York, especially in Nassau County. Over the years, it diversified to other locations.

Factory building, Brooklyn

In 1918 Lawrence Sperry split from his father to compete over aero-instruments with the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company, including the new automatic pilot. In 1924 following the death of Lawrence on December 13, 1923, the two firms were brought together. The company became Sperry Corporation in 1933. The new corporation was a holding company for a number of smaller entities such as the original Sperry Gyroscope, Ford Instrument Company, Intercontinental Aviation, Inc., and others. The company made advanced aircraft navigation equipment for the market, including the Sperry Gyroscope and the Sperry Radio Direction Finder.

The company did very well during World War II as military demand skyrocketed; it specialized in high technology devices such as analog computer-controlled bomb sights, airborne radar systems, and automated take off and landing systems. Sperry also was the creator of the Ball Turret Gun that was mounted under the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, as commemorated by the films Memphis Belle and the poem The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. Postwar, the company expanded its interests in electronics and computing, producing the company's first digital computer, SPEEDAC, in 1953.

During the 1950s, a large part of Sperry Gyroscope was moved to Phoenix, Arizona and soon thereafter became the Sperry Flight Systems Company. This was to try to preserve parts of this vital defense company in the event of a thermonuclear conflagration. Yet the Gyroscope division remained headquartered on New York—in its massive Lake Success, Long Island plant (which also served as United Nations headquarters before 1952) -- into the 1980s.

Sperry Rand

In 1955 Sperry acquired Remington Rand and renamed itself Sperry Rand. Acquiring then Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and Engineering Research Associates along with Remington Rand, the company developed the successful UNIVAC computer series and signed a valuable cross-licensing deal with IBM. The company remained a major military contractor. From 1967 to 1973 the corporation was involved in an acrimonious antitrust lawsuit with Honeywell, Inc. (see: Honeywell v. Sperry Rand).

In 1978 Sperry Rand decided to concentrate on its computing interests, and sold a number of divisions including Remington Rand Systems, Remington Rand Machines, Ford Instrument Company and Sperry Vickers. The company dropped "Rand" from its title and reverted to Sperry Corporation. At about the same time as the Rand acquisition, Sperry Gyroscope decided to open a facility that would almost exclusively produce its marine instruments. After considerable searching and evaluation, a plant was built in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in 1956, Sperry Piedmont Division began producing marine navigation products. It was later renamed Sperry Marine. In the 1970s, Sperry Corporation was an old-school conglomerate headquartered in the Sperry Rand Building at 1290 Avenue of Americas in Manhattan, selling typewriters (Sperry Remington), office equipment, electronic digital computers for business and the military (Sperry Univac), farm equipment (Sperry New Holland), avionics (e.g. gyroscopes, radars, Air Route Traffic Control equipment) (Sperry Vickers/Sperry Aerospace), and consumer products (electric razors) (Sperry Remington.) In addition, Sperry Systems Management (headquartered near New York City with an office at Long Island MacArthur Airport) did a fair amount of government defense contracting. Sperry bought out and continued the RCA line of electronic digital computers: architectural cousins to the IBM System/360. In 1983 Sperry sold Vickers to Libbey Owens Ford (later to be renamed TRINOVA Corporation and subsequently Aeroquip-Vickers).

Merger

In 1986, after the success of a second hostile takeover bid engineered by Burroughs' CEO and ex-Treasurer of the U.S., Michael Blumenthal, Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys. The takeover came about even after Sperry used a "poison pill" in the form of a major share price hike to dissuade the hostile bid, as a result of which Burroughs had to borrow much more from the banks than was anticipated in order to complete the bid.

Certain internal divisions of Sperry such as Sperry New Holland and Sperry Marine were sold off after the merger. Also sold to Honeywell, was Sperry Flight Systems. Sperry Defense Products Group was sold to Martin Marietta. -- the two units whose functions were originally at the heart of the venerable Sperry Gyroscope division. This group is now part of Lockheed Martin.

The name Sperry lives on in the company Sperry Marine, headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia. This company, formed in 1997 from three well-known brand names in the marine industry - Sperry Marine, Decca, and C. Plath, is now part of Northrop Grumman Corporation. It is a worldwide supplier of navigation, communication, information and automation systems for commercial marine and naval markets.

See also

References

  1. ^ New York Times June 1915 Factory on Flatbush Avenue Extension
  • History.navy.mil, Pearson, Lee: Developing the Flying Bomb
  • Fahrney, Delmer S. (RAdm ret): History of Radio-Controlled Aircraft and Guided Missiles

Further reading

  • Gold V. Sanders. The Little top That Aims a Gun, Popular Science, July 1945, Vol. 147, No. 1, pp. 86–93, Bonnier Corporation, ISSN 0161-7370

External links

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