Thomson-Houston Electric Company

The Thomson-Houston Electric Company was a manufacturing company that was one of the precursors of General Electric.

Thomson-Houston Electric Company
Founded1882; 142 years ago (1882)
Defunct1892; 132 years ago (1892)
SuccessorGeneral Electric
HeadquartersLynn, Massachusetts, U.S.


Brochure for the Thomson-Houston Electric Company

The company began as the American Electric Company, founded by Elihu Thomson and Edwin Houston. In 1882,[1] Charles A. Coffin led a group of investors—largely shoe manufacturers from Lynn, Massachusetts—in buying American Electric from investors in New Britain, Connecticut. They renamed the company Thomson-Houston Electric Company and moved its operations to a new building on Lynn's Western Avenue. [2]

Coffin led the company and organized its finances, marketing, and sales operations. Elwin W. Rice organized the manufacturing facilities, and Elihu Thomson ran the Model Room, a precursor to the industrial research lab. With their leadership, the company grew into an enterprise with sales of $10,000,000 (equivalent to about $339,000,000 in 2023) and 4000 employees by 1892.

In 1884, Thomson-Houston International Company was organized to promote international sales.

In 1885, the Lynn G.A.R. Hall was constructed using electric incandescent lighting by Thomson-Houston.[3]

In 1888, Thomson-Houston supplied the Lynn and Boston Railroad with the generation and propulsion equipment for the Highland Circuit in Lynn,[4][5] the first electric streetcar in Massachusetts.[6][7]

In 1889, Thomson-Houston bought out the Brush Company (founded by Charles F. Brush) which resolved the arc lamp and dynamo patent disputes between them.

In 1892, Thomson-Houston was merged with the Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York (arranged by J. P. Morgan), to form the General Electric Company. The Lynn plant, along with one in Schenectady, remain to this day as the two original GE factories.

International companies


British Thomson-Houston

"Bijou" Crystal receiver manufactured in 1923 by the "British Thomson-Houston Co., Ltd."

British Thomson-Houston (BTH) was created as a subsidiary of (American) General Electric in May 1896. It was previously known as Laing, Wharton, and Down which was founded in 1886.

BTH became part of Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) in 1928, which saw BTH merged with its rival Metropolitan-Vickers. This deal made AEI the largest military contractor of the British Empire during the '30s and the '40s, so during World War II. AEI would itself be acquired by the General Electric Company plc or GEC in 1967. GEC demerged its defense businesses in 1999 to become Marconi plc and Marconi Corporation plc, now Telent plc.

Compagnie Française Thomson-Houston


In 1893, the Compagnie Française Thomson-Houston (CFTH) was formed in Paris, a sister company to GE in the United States. It is from this company that Alstom would evolve. A demerger in 1999 formed what is now Technicolor SA and Thomson-CSF (now Thales Group).

References and sources

  1. ^ "Elihu Thomson Papers, 1853–1955". Smithsonian Institution. July 23, 2014. Retrieved October 19, 2019. in 1882, founded one of the early electrical corporations in the United States, the Thomson-Houston Company
  2. ^ "Elihu Thomson Papers". Retrieved October 19, 2019. Elihu Thomson Papers at the American Philosophical Society
  3. ^ "Lynn's G. A. R. Memorial". The Boston Herald. Boston, Massachusetts. April 22, 1886. p. 8. The edifice is lighted by the Thomson-Houston incandescent system, and presents a delightful appearance upon the interior when illuminated.
  4. ^ The Thomson-Houston Road at Lynn, Mass., The Electrical World, Dec. 8, 1888, page 303
  5. ^ Electric Railway at Lynn, Mass., Electric Power, January, 1889, page 21
  6. ^ "Famous Firsts in Massachusetts". History of Massachusetts. Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved October 20, 2019. 1888 The first electric trolley in the state runs in Lynn.
  7. ^ "A BRIEF HISTORY OF LYNN". About Lynn. City of Lynn. Retrieved October 19, 2019. The first Electric Trolley in the state ran from Lynn in 1888
  • Hammond, John Winthrop. Men and Volts, the Story of General Electric published 1941. 436 pages.
  • Carlson, W. Bernard. Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  • Woodbury, David O. Elihu Thomson, Beloved Scientist (Boston: Museum of Science, 1944)
  • Haney, John L. The Elihu Thomson Collection American Philosophical Society Yearbook 1944.