Robert C. Sprague

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Robert C. Sprague
Robert C. Sprague (Spargue Electric Founder).jpg
Sprague in 1952
Born(1900-08-02)August 2, 1900
DiedSeptember 27, 1991(1991-09-27) (aged 91)
OccupationEngineer and businessman
Known forFounder of Sprague Electric, manufacturer of capacitors

Robert C. Sprague (August 2, 1900 – September 27, 1991) was the son of Frank J. Sprague and Harriet Sprague. Sprague founded Sprague Electric (originally Sprague Specialties Company), Quincy, MA in 1926, and served as president from 1926-1953 and chief executive from 1953-1971. He invented the tone control for radio and the paper capacitor that launched his business.

Sprague was appointed by President Eisenhower to serve as Undersecretary to the Air Force in 1953. He first accepted, then declined the position, due to financial difficulties.

Education and early career[edit]

After graduating from The Hotchkiss School in 1918, Robert Sprague followed his father Frank's (a business associate to Thomas Alva Edison) footsteps, and went to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. He later attended the Naval Post Graduate School and completed his graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While a naval officer he invented the tone control for amplifiers and radio sets. In 1921 he married Florence Antoinette van Zelm. They were married until her death in 1987. Sprague patented the paper condenser (capacitor) and tone control in 1926, and this provided the capital to start a business.

Sprague Electric[edit]

Sprague founded Sprague Specialties Company in 1926 in Quincy, Massachusetts; it moved to North Adams in 1930. Sprague was an electronic component maker best known for making a large line of capacitors used in a wide variety of electrical and electronic in commercial, industrial and military/space applications. Other products include resistive components, magnetic components (transformers and coils), filter assemblies, semiconductors and integrated circuits. The company was renamed Sprague Electric in 1942.

Sprague had two brothers, Frank Desmond, and Julian Sprague, who assisted in company operations.

Family and philanthropy[edit]

During his business life, Robert Sprague served on the board for the following organizations and businesses:[1]

Other Notable Awards, Memberships and Appointments[2]

Robert C. Sprague was the driving force behind the annual Williamstown Theatre Festival. Aside from business and family, theater arts was his greatest love. In the 1940s he (as Sprague Electric) sponsored a symphony orchestra which later became the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra at Williams College.[3] In addition his favorite sport was skiing. He was the author of two books ("Sprague Electric" of North Adams: a pioneer in electronics in New England, Newcomen Publishing (1958) and Parallel Skiing for Weekend Skiers, self-published (1970). Robert and his wife Florence Antoinette van Zelm had two children, Robert C. Sprague Jr and (Dr.) John L. Sprague. John L. Sprague was head of Sprague Electric from 1981 until its closing in 1993. Robert C. Sprague died at home in Williamstown, Mass on September 27, 1991.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Robert C. Sprague, 91; Began Sprague Electric". The New York Times. 1 October 1991.
  2. ^ Sprague, Robert C. Memorial Tributes. National Academy of Engineering. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
  3. ^ Marino, Paul W. "Company Town". Retrieved 2013-03-07.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sprague, John L. (2015). Sprague Electric: An Electronics Giant's Rise, Fall, and Life after Death. ISBN 978-1503387812.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Photo of Mr. Sprague at 1976 Tall Ships Review in Newport, RI with Lilia Kowalsky, wife of Sprague Elec. Marketing Mgr., Jerry Kowalsky