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BTH logo on an electric motor access plate
|Founded||1886 as Laing, Wharton and Down|
British Thomson-Houston (BTH) was a British engineering and heavy industrial company, based at Rugby, Warwickshire, England and founded as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company (GE) of Schenectady, New York, USA. They were known primarily for their electrical systems and steam turbines. BTH was taken into British ownership and amalgamated with the similar Metropolitan-Vickers company in 1928 to form Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), but the two brand identities were maintained until 1960. The holding company, Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), later merged with GEC, the remnants of which exist today as Marconi Corporation.
In the 1960s BTH apprenticeships were highly thought-of, with apprentices exposed to production of a wide range of industrial products. Each year in Rugby there was a big parade of floats run by its apprentices, many of whom lodged in the nearby Coton House apprentice hostel.
In 1980, G.E.C. Turbine Generators Ltd, on the Rugby site, was awarded a Queen's Awards for Enterprise.
This article is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (May 2008)
- 1886: The company Laing, Wharton and Down formed, to sell products from the American Electric Corporation. They soon won a contract for electrical lighting for the east end of London.
- 1892: General Electric in USA was created by the merger of Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric Company.
- 1893: The American Electric Company became Thomson-Houston.
- 1894: British Thomson-Houston was formed.
- 1896 May: Laing, Wharton and Down was renamed as BTH. BTH got production licences for the American Electric Company's products, and soon started setting up factories in the English Midlands. For much of the late 19th century they competed for electrical generation and distribution contracts with British Westinghouse, mirroring the same company's battles in the US between their parents, General Electric (created by the merger of Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric Company in 1892) and Westinghouse. BTH became mainly associated with Rugby, Warwickshire, due to its good accessibility by rail and a local coal supply.
- 1898 December 22: Opened the Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Company
- 1899: BTH chose Rugby.
- 1900: BTH bought Glebe Farm (on the west side of Mill Road north of the railway) for £10,000, from Thos. Hunter & Co., to build their factory on it.
- 1900: The Power Act 1900 was passed. It let BTH and British Westinghouse get new contracts to supply electric power to large areas.
- 1901 April 4: Opened the Isle of Thanet Electric Tramways
- 1902 March: BTH opened their factory in Mill Road in 1902 making electric motors and generators.
- 1902: BTH got a licence to produce the Curtis steam turbine, which became one of their major products.
- 1902 June: Opened the Chatham and District Light Railways Company
- 1904: BTH started making turbines.
- 1905: BTH made its first turbo-alternator.
- 1907: BTH started a joint venture with Wolseley Motors to make petrol-electric buses.
- 1909: BTH supplied major coal-fired steam generators to London to power an electric trolley system that was being set up.
- 1911: BTH got licences for all of General Electric's drawn-wire light bulbs, which they produced under the Mazda trademark.
- 1914-1918 (World War I): BTH expanded into naval electrical equipment, supplying the Royal Navy with various lighting, radio and signalling gear.
- 1916: Howard C. Levis became chairman of BTH.
- 1918 and after: BTH expanded dramatically, adding or expanding factories at Willesden, Birmingham, Chesterfield, and Lutterworth. (It later had factories in Coventry, and in Larne in Northern Ireland.)
- 1921: BTH in Northern Ireland made the turbo generator and propulsion motor for the one of the World's first turbo-electric merchant ships, the banana boat SS San Benito
- 1924: BTH's Building 52, the research laboratory, was purpose-built in 1924.
- 1924: Demetrius Comino joins BTH as an apprentice (leaving in 1927).
- 1926: Gerard Swope, president of General Electric, proposed that BTH, Westinghouse, GEC and English Electric should amalgamate. Lord Hirst of GEC was not interested in Swope’s scheme, but a new holding company was formed, Associated Electrical Industries (AEI).
- 1927 Sold the Chatham and District Light Railways Company to Maidstone and District Motor Services Ltd.
- 1928: AEI bought BTH and Metropolitan-Vickers. Howard C. Levis became chairman of AEI.
- 1928–31: BTH made turbo generators and motors for the turbo-electric ocean liners RMS Viceroy of India, RMS Strathnaver and RMS Strathaird
- 1929: BTH made turbo generators and motors to increase the speed of the ocean liner RMS Mooltan
- 1929: AEI bought Edison Swan (Ediswan) and Ferguson, Pailin & Co, which BTH had been in the process of buying in 1928.
- 1929: Howard C. Levis retired.
- 1930 or earlier: AEI started to build buildings west of the footpath that runs north through the AEI site in Rugby to the Leicester Road (known in the area as the Black Path because it was surfaced with cinders).
- 1930: BTH made the turbo generator and propulsion motor for the banana boats SS Musa and SS Platano
- After 1930: BTH made the turbo generator and propulsion motor to re-engine the banana boat SS Darien.
- 1937: Frank Whittle's Power Jets company built the world's first prototype jet engine at the BTH works in Rugby. BTH had a major role in developing it. Development was later moved to the Lutterworth works, which were falling into disuse at the time. BTH's directors seemed skeptical of the design and offered little help.
- 1939–45 (World War II): BTH expanded north of the River Avon into the Boughton Road site to make magnetos for aircraft engines and other war products.
- 1940: BTH decided they were not really interested in making jet engines due to their commitment to electrical equipment. Rover was soon selected to make jet engines.
- 1943: Rover exchanged jet engine production with Rolls-Royce for making tank engines.
- 1944: The Lutterworth Power Jets work was nationalized.
- 1945: After World War II Oliver Lyttelton took over AEI, and started a massive expansion.
- 1947: The Hungarian scientist Dennis Gabor invented holography at the BTH site in Rugby.
- 1951: BTH supplied a 890 kW (1,200 bhp) gas turbine for the Auris, the first commercial ship to use gas-turbine propulsion.
- 1953: AEI acquired Siemens Brothers.
- 1954–1963: Lord Chandos was chairman of AEI.
- 1955: BTH supplied 18 New Zealand DSC class locomotive Rolls-Royce powered locomotives for New Zealand Railways.
- 1956: Ediswan trademark appeared on semiconductors.
- 1957: The massive new £8 million turbine works was opened at Larne as a result.
- 1957 or after: BTH won the contract to build the new Buenos Aires Central Costanera S.A. power station, valued at £35 million. Rivalry with Metrovick intensified. Lyttelton continued to try to reduce this friction, leading to several unsuccessful reorganizations and slipping profits.
- 1957: British Rail Class 15 diesel-electric locomotives designed by BTH
AEI (Associated Electrical Industries)
- 1957: Building of Britain's first commercial nuclear power facility began at Berkeley.
- 1957: Siemens Edison Swan subsidiary formed.
- 1 January 1960: To try to cure internal political and efficiency problems, AEI stopped using the names BTH and Metrovick. This led to a huge decline in sales because no-one had heard of "AEI" before, and in turn, a massive drop in AEI's stock price. Continued attempts to streamline what was two separate management structures continued to fail, and by the mid-60's the entire AEI group was in financial trouble.
- 1960: The AEI research lab was built (building BR57 in the Boughton Road site).
- about 1960: The size of BTH's Rugby site peaked. By then all the BTH Rugby's land west of the Black Path was built over.
- 1961: The name AEI was first used on products.
- 1962: Commissioning of Britain's first commercial nuclear power facility at Berkeley.
- 1963–67: Building and commissioning of the 25M Chilbolton (radar) Dish at Chilbolton Observatory.
- 1967: AEI brands included Metropolitan-Vickers, BTH, Edison Swan and Ediswan, Siemens Brothers & Co, Hotpoint, Birlec and W.T. Henley.
GEC (General Electric Company)
- 1967: GEC bought AEI outright. GEC thus became the UK's largest electrical group.
- 1969: Marconi Radar Systems Ltd. (MSRL) formed from GEC-AEI Electronics (Blackbird Road and New Parks, Leicester), Marconi's Radar Division (Chelmsford) and Elliott's Aerospace Control Division.
- 1980: G.E.C. Turbine Generators Ltd received The Queen's Award for Enterprise: International Trade (Export)
- 1980s: GEC Rugby shrank and buildings were demolished. The south part of the area to the west of the Black Path became a supermarket site. The Boughton Road site became several separate small firms.
- 1989: GEC in Rugby split into GEC Alsthom and Cegelec Projects.
- 1998: GEC Alsthom and Cegelec Projects were reunited as Alstom.
- 2007: The firm's clubhouse on Hillmorton Road was demolished, and the south edge of its surrounding sports field was encroached along for house building.
- 2011: The former BTH Rugby site was greatly changed and included Rugby College. Quartzelec, and Converteam  worked on electrical engineering projects in some of the early BTH buildings, notably buildings 4, 193 and 140. A public road was built through the site between its former east and west gates.
- 2012: Converteam was bought out by GE, therefore coming full circle back to when they were partnered in AEI. Converteam (now GE) produced rotating machines and used former-BTH equipment (machines) for running tests.
During post-World War II Britain, AEI established a consolidated research effort at Aldermaston in Berkshire, England. The research centre was based at Aldermaston Court a large stately home owned by AEI that had been requisitioned for military use in the war era.
One of the BTH-built batch of New Zealand Railways DSC class Bo-Bo shunters has been preserved and is used in industrial service, complete with original Rolls-Royce engines. The locomotive (DSC406) is the primary motive power at Alliance Ltd, Pukeuri, New Zealand. All the others were scrapped between 1986 and 1990.