History of General Electric in Waynesboro, Virginia
The General Electric corporation had a presence in the town of Waynesboro, Virginia since 1953. GE sold its holding to the Genicom Corporation in 1981, and Genicom merged to become Tally-Genicom in 2003.
- 1 Background
- 2 Expansion
- 2.1 Construction
- 2.2 Planning
- 2.3 1954 - Operations Begin
- 2.4 Area employment
- 2.5 Infrastructure Renovations
- 2.6 Product variety
- 2.7 1958 - State Resistance to Racial Integration
- 2.8 1960: major expansion
- 2.9 Early 1970's: Division of the Specialty Control Department
- 2.10 1979 - Move from Waynesboro to Charlottesville
- 3 Closure
- 4 See also
- 5 Citation
In the early 1950s the General Electric Company was a highly centralized operation with six major manufacturing "works", as they were called. They were located in Schenectady, NY; Pittsfield, MA; Lynn, MA; Philadelphia, PA, Erie, PA; and Ft. Wayne, IN. At that time, under Ralph Cordiner's presidency, a major decentralization occurred whereby larger business groups were divided into individual operating departments, with new plants built in many different locations across the country.
The previous Industrial Control Division, located in Schenectady, NY, was subdivided into four such departments, each of the first three with a common product line sufficient for efficient and viable operation as separate entities. The Industry Control Department, building control systems for large industry such as cranes, steel, paper, marine and submarine panels, and similar segments of industry, was located in Salem, VA. The General Purpose Control Department, building smaller control components such as relays and contractors for general industrial applications, was located in Bloomington, IL. The Appliance Control Department, building control systems for the company's consumer products; i.e., refrigerators, oil burners, and small switching devices, was located in Morrison, IL. The Specialty Control Department came to Waynesboro, VA, bringing the remaining heterogeneous components of the original Control Division, no one of which could survive as a separate entity as could the first three.
In 1953, GE purchased the old, no longer used, Waynesboro airport, consisting of 75 acres of land located just west of the Norfolk &Western Railroad and north of what was to become Hopeman Parkway—43 of them improved with the plant, parking lots, and finished grounds. Construction of the new plant began, and by the summer of 1954 had reached a point where production of photoelectric devices was begun with the relocation of supervisory personnel from Schenectady, and the hiring of approximately 10 women from the local area.
The original planning group that moved to Waynesboro from Schenectady in 1954 included:
- Dr. L. T. Rader, General Manager
- Maggy Fitzgibbons, Secretary to Mr. Rader
- Ernie Hutton, Engineering
- Charles Hughes, Purchasing
- Cyril Lee, Planning
- Joe Ponzillo, Manufacturing
- Fred Curto, Buildings and Grounds
- Bill Walker, Laboratory
This group became the operating committee to oversee the subsequent startup and transfer of personnel to Waynesboro.
1954 - Operations Begin
In its first full year of operation, the new department hired 400 factory people, who, for the most part, had never had an industrial job before. For many it was their first job ever.
Waynesboro and the surrounding area experienced a major building boom in 1955 as over 140 GE families began relocating to work in the new facility. The old apple orchard west of the city, principally the Cortland Street area, rapidly filled with new homes. Similarly, Club Court became another haven for new arrivals. Others filled many vacant lots, not only in Waynesboro, but Augusta County as well. The local families graciously welcomed the newcomers from the north, and helped to facilitate a smooth transition and assimilation into their new home. Over the next few years there were many new churches built to accommodate an expanding membership, a new hospital was built to replace a sorely out-moded facility on West Main Street, and shopping in the area underwent a major overhaul.
Considering the years of operation and the peak employment of 3200 during the late 1970s when GE was rivaling Dupont as the largest employer in the area, the total number of employees to pass through the Waynesboro works may well match the entire population of the city.[original research?] Many came and found their life's career. Others moved on through while seeking the end of their rainbow while still others, growing weary of the structured working environment, returned to their agrarian roots.
The original entrance to the new plant was a narrow lane across the railroad at the north end of the property, and from US 340, the old entrance to the airport. GE had insisted that a bridge be constructed over the railroad to remove the safety hazard of many vehicles crossing the railroad each day, and this was accomplished within two years.
The variety of products that was produced at the new location was as extensive as it was varied. Such variety attests to the incredible breadth and degree of technical and application expertise that existed throughout the first 20 years. At least one person on the staff was knowledgeable about practically every scientific phenomenon except medicine and genetics. A partial list included:
- Hermetically sealed relays primarily for aerospace and military applications
- Numerical Control Systems for machine tools, with input from tracers, punched tape, punched cards, magnetic tape, and digital switches. Ultimately, some were computer directed.
- Thy-Mo-Trol and Statotrol adjustable speed drives for the white print industry, winding/loop control, and many others where regulated, but adjustable, speed was required
- Regulators and static exciters for electrical power generation systems
- Photoelectric devices for a wide range of applications, including pinhole detectors, register controls, speed, and loop controls
- The marketing of selsyns (manufactured in Ft. Wayne) for remote indication and control
- Hot-box detectors for detecting over-heated bearings on railroad cars
- Aircraft and military products, (mostly at 400 Hz) including airborne protective panels, static exciters, regulators, military ground power supplies, regulators (navy) and amplidyne regulators, and, the power supply for the Lunar Excursion Module of the early moon probe.
- Machinery Automation systems that included weighing systems, test and inspection systems, and automated material control systems
- Width (thickness) gages for sheet steel using nuclear radiation.
This diversity had a positive effect as the department was in a better position to weather the ups and downs of the normal business cycles that occurred over the years, requiring fewer layoffs and having a leveling effect on GE's and the local area's economic stability, than that which occurred elsewhere. It should be noted that the Specialty Control Department was the only GE component that had turned a profit in the first year of its move.
1958 - State Resistance to Racial Integration
In 1958, a major crisis occurred when Sen. Harry Byrd, who controlled the politics in Virginia, launched a program of massive resistance to the integration of blacks and whites, with the result that most public schools in Virginia were closed. Because 10,000 children had no means of public education, private schools began to be formed. Specialty Control felt that this was an issue that should be addressed, and after discussion with GE management most likely to be affected, Specialty Control became the GE spokesman for the effort. An association was formed in northern Virginia and Dr. Rader, representing the GE plants in Virginia, joined the organization. He gave many talks on the subject, mainly in northern Virginia, and his main point was that if the State continued with this policy, no Fortune 500 Company would locate in Virginia. It had a positive effect on the issue. It may not have been just a rumor that Dr. Rader threatened to remove the General Electric presence from Virginia. Feelings ran very high on the subject of school closings.
The governor appointed a legislative committee to study the matter, and they recommended that the State cease its resistance. The recommendation was put to a vote in the Virginia Assembly and it passed by one vote. This was the first time that the GE presence in Virginia took an active part in the State's political activity.
1960: major expansion
In 1960, a major expansion took place, adding both office and manufacturing space plus a new auditorium and cafeteria to the growing facility. It also included the addition of a "white room" for the assembly of critical hermetically sealed relays.
The Waynesboro GE plant grew and prospered with many new developments. Within the first decade of their arrival, existing products expanded and by the late1960's a new product line known as 'Terminet' came into being. A special development team under Kirk Snell, with John Larew, Seymour Depew and others, temporarily took over a small facility (formerly an independent used car agency) in Fishersville to develop the new product, utilizing solid-state technology and printed circuit boards, thus offering a line of printer terminals for the computer and business data field dominated primarily by Teletype. Of the 25 or so employees in that group, only one, Paul Morris, is still working in the local printer works. The belt printer technology they developed was so viable that it was shipped in printers for nearly 20 years.
Early 1970's: Division of the Specialty Control Department
In the early 1970s, the original Specialty Control Department was divided into two separate departments with the growing numerical control group becoming the Numerical Equipment Control Department. Joe Ponzillo and Warren Kindt headed these departments as General Managers, respectively.
From the beginning of operations in Waynesboro, the Specialty Control Department had five general managers: Dr. Louis T. Rader, who later became Vice President of the Division. Dr. John Hutton succeeded Dr. Rader, followed by Paul Ross. Joe Ponzillo and Warren Kindt were each general managers of Specialty Control, having changed positions after the formation of the Numerical Equipment Control Department.
1979 - Move from Waynesboro to Charlottesville
By 1979, GE-Waynesboro was bulging at the seams. This resulted in the transfer of the Numerical Equipment Control Department into a new facility north of Charlottesville, VA, where it became a part of the Manufacturing Automation Systems Division and now partnered with long-time competitor Fanuc.
By the late 1960s the aircraft business had already been transferred to other GE plants located in Johnson City, NY and Erie, PA. By 1974, the adjustable speed drives business had been transferred to GE's plant in Erie, PA. The photoelectric business was absorbed by the General Purpose Control Department in Bloomington, IL, and the power systems components, consisting of static exciters and power regulators, were transferred to the Industry Control Department in Salem, VA. The residual products remaining in Specialty Control were now reduced to the Terminet printers and the relay business. The name Specialty Control now became Data Communications Products Department and, at one time, Data Communications Products Business Department.
In the late 70's, a major development was undertaken to design a non-impact printing technology to compete with laser printers. General Electric's Research and Development group in Schenectady, NY, prepared the initial concepts. A temporary satellite group of engineers continued the product development in the former Wilson building (formerly Wilson Trucking Co.) on W. Main Street across New Hope Road from the Purple Foot restaurant in Waynesboro. The new printer was to become Terminet 8000, printing 8000 lines per minute. At that time printers were operating at 300 to 600 lines per minute and were producing 6 to 9 copies (plies). In order for this new single-ply technology to compete, a speed at least ten times 600 lines per minute was adopted. The technology incorporated in it was so far ahead of its time that Product Planning and Marketing were unable to build a market for it --- and it died aborning.
Relays & High-Speed Impact Printers - The Creation of Genicom Corporation
Of the many product lines that existed in Waynesboro, two confounded the strategic planning of GE corporate management. For nearly 20 years it had predicted the perennial demise of the relay business. Likewise, in the early 1980s, as the computer businesses had been sold, it didn't see the long-term viability of high-speed impact printers. At that time the darlings of the family became unwanted children and their future was deemed uncertain, as they didn't fit anywhere in the corporate business structure.
In 1981, GE made preparations to sell both the relay and the printer businesses and the management-buyout was completed in October of 1983. The announcement was made to the employees on October 21. GE financed a small portion of the buyout price.
A new company was formed with the name Genicom Corporation. This new venture included both relays and printers but the emphasis was to exploit the market for the printer business under the direction of Curtis Powell as CEO. Genicom ultimately sold the relay business to a firm, CII Technology, a group of venture capitalists that were combining all such manufacturers into one operation in North Carolina.. The sale was made in the early 1990s.
The Growth & Evolution of Genicom Corporation
Genicom was quite successful in its early operations, and its stock went public in 1987-8. However, as the impact printer technology began to be replaced by the laser print engine and the ink jet technology, it became more and more difficult to compete as those technologies were almost completely patented by others, and a license was required to build them. Early on, Genicom realized that just manufacturing and selling printers was not enough. It started a very successful service business a.k.a. Enterprising Service Solutions Company (ESSC) that eventually serviced all makes of printer and printer-related products. A very large warehouse for this business was built in Louisville, KY for this endeavor and much of the Waynesboro service operation moved there. Also, there were many country-specific corporations owned by Genicom across the globe. At its zenith, Genicom had $400 million in sales.
The Bankruptcy Genicom Corporation
Several attempts were made to buy/merge with others already in the field (such as Centronics, Texas Instruments, and Digital EquipmentCorporation's printer division), but these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. On March 10, 2000, Genicom declared bankruptcy. On July 17, 2001, a group of venture capitalists, Sun Capital Corporation, bought (for $9.3 million) the printer division of the bankrupt company, and its name became Genicom LLC. It was then resold in 2003 and became fragmented.
A very narrow portion of the printer line continued to be built under the name Genicom LP. Northrop-Grumman Information Technology took over the parts and service of Genicom printers existing in the field under the name Genicom, PLC, and it now operates as an on-line Customer Service Center in a portion of the Waynesboro Outlet Village.
A merger of Tally and the residual Genicom was announced on August 3, 2003 under the name Tally-Genicom and this new company, with manufacturing at its Mexican affiliate or by manufacturing partners, is continuing the design and manufacturing support of dot-matrix and shuttle-matrix printers in a portion of the plant formerly occupied by General Electric. Corporate headquarters still resides at Chantilly, VA.
Solutions Way Management
Reo Hatfield, et al., a.k.a. Solutions Way Management, as part of the[which?][when?] bankruptcy settlement, purchased the former GE property for $750,000 and now operates it as an incubator for fledgling new businesses including Tally-Genicom, providing manufacturing space, and offering support services as required by the newcomers.
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