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Courtesy GE
GE’s “collection of shops and factories” in 1895

GE’s history in Fort Wayne

GE sponsored men’s and women’s sports teams, such as this baseball team from 1907.
Kenneth H. Cummings visits his wife Ruth at GE while home on furlough in 1943. Ruth Cummings took a job in Kenneth’s department while he was off at war.
Wood
McDonald

Oct. 15, 1878: Edison General Electric Light Company founded.

September 1880: Wabash, Ind., becomes world’s first electrically lighted city.

1881: Fort Wayne Electric Light Co. is founded at 100 W. Superior St. James A. Jenney and his son, Charles, lead the new company, which becomes known as Jenney Electric.

1883: In June, baseball’s first night game, in Fort Wayne, is lighted by arc lights on the outfield fences provided by Jenney. In August, Ranald McDonald, described as a “showman and supersalesman” becomes general manager.

1884: Jenney arc lights used at World’s Fair in New Orleans.

June 1885: The Statue of Liberty is successfully floodlighted with Jenney arc lamps.

October 1886: To gain production space, the company moves to its present location on Broadway.

June 1887: Chief engineer Marmaduke Marcellus Michael Slattery perfects an incandescent lighting system and develops an armature for an alternating current generator.

August 1888: Fort Wayne Jenney is purchased by Thomson-Houston Company.

Nov. 23, 1888: Fort Wayne Electric Light’s Broadway plant is destroyed by fire, but Thomson-Houston quickly gives McDonald permission to rebuild it.

December 1890: Inventor James J. Wood moves his factory and employees from Brooklyn to Fort Wayne; he replaces the ailing Slattery as chief engineer.

April 1892: General Electric, Thomson-Houston companies merge.

Jan. 3, 1893: The local company suffers aftershocks from another major fire, coupled with financial problems stemming from the Panic of 1893.

Walter Font, curator of the Allen County-Fort Wayne historical society, wrote in 2009:

“Eastern investors, including General Electric, were determined to close the Fort Wayne plant and move it to New York, but McDonald was able to outmaneuver them in the courts, and formed a new company, the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation. The receivers of the old bankrupt company allowed the new corporation to lease its assets but the obligation to repay the General Electric loans remained on the books.”

March 1895: Monte Butler, reporter for The New York World, describes the Fort Wayne operation as “the great collection of shops and factories which turn out the arc-lighting apparatus for half a continent, besides manufacturing almost everything else in the line of electrical supplies.”

Dec. 24, 1898: McDonald dies on a business trip to Dallas.

April 1899: General Electric acquires the company’s assets at public auction.

Wood, now general manager as well as chief electrician, persuades GE to let Fort Wayne Electric Corporation, which is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, stay in Fort Wayne.

Font quotes an October 1899 article in the Fort Wayne News:

“The plant would have been dismantled and moved out of town had it not been for the stand taken by Mr. Wood, who owned the several patents under which the concern was operating.”

1902: Wood patents a croquet-ball-sized motor for stationary and revolving fans.

May 4, 1903: Machinists strike, demanding more pay and a nine-hour workday.

January 1905: GE markets first electric iron and first electric toaster.

June 1908: GE supplies motor and electrical equipment for the first vacuum cleaner.

April 29, 1911: GE absorbs Fort Wayne Electric into the main company and renames it Fort Wayne Electric Works of General Electric.

August 1911: Building 18, the main office building on Broadway, opens. The Journal Gazette describes it as the most modern office building in Indiana.

1915: Fort Wayne plant begins to specialize in fractional horsepower motors; it also produces rock drills, automotive transmissions, refrigerators and small electric motors.

1917: Limited production of the first household refrigerator begins in Fort Wayne.

1918: As women become a significant part of the local plant’s workforce, the June issue of the Fort Wayne Works News reprints a poem by Rufus Strohm from American Machinist:

If a helper dropped a castin’

An’ it mashed him on the toe,

He uncorked his best dod-gastin’

Just to let the others know;

Now his pain he’s got to swaller,

An his langwidge has to stop,

For he dassen’t cuss an’ holler

When there’s women in the shop.

1919: “Motors,” Font wrote, “were manufactured for numerous applications: washing machines, vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, player pianos, water pumps, hairdryers, mangles, knife sharpeners and numerous industrial uses. Motor manufacturing remained important to General Electric in Fort Wayne through the 1990s.”

August 1926: GE Club recreational building constructed on Swinney Avenue.

March 4, 1927: Fort Wayne’s General Electric News reports on an exciting new development elsewhere at GE:

“When the irate husband comes home earlier than he is expected and slaps the cowering villain in the face with a folded newspaper, the movie audience of the future will be able to hear the slap, as well as see it. Talking motion pictures in which the timing of action and sound is perfect, have been developed by our Company, and broad fields for the use of this new method of reproducing sound and sight together are already seen.”

February 1936: Fort Wayne General Electric Employees Federal Credit Union started.

World War II: GE’s Fort Wayne operations produce specialized motors for ships, planes and large diesel generators for military uses. The U.S. government funds construction of a Taylor Street plant dedicated to producing superchargers that allow warplanes to fly higher and faster. Fort Wayne GE employment reaches 20,000.

1947-49: A GE Club-sponsored baseball team wins national semi-pro tournaments.

1966: GE operations reach record levels in sales, earnings and employment.

1969-1977: GE employment in Fort Wayne falls from 10,000 to 5,500.

1983: Fort Wayne operation begins producing aircraft controls.

May 2002: As concerns about GE’s future in Fort Wayne begin to surface, the then-general manager issues a statement that says in part: “Despite the challenges we are facing, our commitment to the community remains solid.”

November 2004: GE announces it plans to eliminate about 200 Fort Wayne jobs – a quarter of its workforce.

August 2009 : GE announces intent to shut down its last Fort Wayne production lines – for electric motors for golf carts and lift trucks. About 200 employees to remain in design, marketing and other areas.

November 2013: British defense contractor BAE Systems, which had leased space from GE on Taylor Street, announces plans to move its operations and 1,100 employees to a site near Fort Wayne International Airport.

Jan. 27, 2014: GE announces plans to close its last two Fort Wayne operations. Plans aren’t to be finalized until after a 60-day bargaining period with two unions that represent some of the 88 remaining employees.

Sources: The Old Fort News and the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society; “General Electric at Fort Wayne, Indiana – A 110-Year History,” by Clovis E. Linkous; The Journal Gazette archives

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