General Electric in Schenectady, NY, aerial view, 1896
Plan of Schenectady plant, 1896
During 1889, Thomas Edison had business interests in many electricity-related companies including Edison Lamp Company, a lamp manufacturer in East Newark, New Jersey; Edison Machine Works, a manufacturer of dynamos and large electric motors in Schenectady, New York; Bergmann & Company, a manufacturer of electric lighting fixtures, sockets, and other electric lighting devices; and Edison Electric Light Company, the patent-holding company and the financial arm backed by J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family for Edison's lighting experiments.
In 1889, Drexel, Morgan & Co., a company founded by J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel, financed Edison's research and helped merge those companies under one corporation to form Edison General Electric Company, which was incorporated in New York on April 24, 1889. The new company also acquired Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company in the same year.
In 1880, Gerald Waldo Hart formed the American Electric Company of New Britain, Connecticut, which merged a few years later with Thomson-Houston Electric Company, led by Charles Coffin. In 1887, Hart left to become superintendent of the Edison Electric Company of Kansas City, Missouri. General Electric was formed through the 1892 merger of Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York, and Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts, with the support of Drexel, Morgan & Co. Both plants continue to operate under the GE banner to this day. The company was incorporated in New York, with the Schenectady plant used as headquarters for many years thereafter. Around the same time, General Electric's Canadian counterpart, Canadian General Electric, was formed.
In 1896, General Electric was one of the original 12 companies listed on the newly formed Dow Jones Industrial Average, where it remained a part of the index for 122 years, though not continuously.
In 1911, General Electric absorbed the National Electric Lamp Association (NELA) into its lighting business. GE established its lighting division headquarters at Nela Park in East Cleveland, Ohio. The lighting division has since remained in the same location.
RCA and NBC
Owen D. Young, through GE, founded the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919, after purchasing the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America. He aimed to expand international radio communications. GE used RCA as its retail arm for radio sales. In 1926, RCA co-founded the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which built two radio broadcasting networks. In 1930, General Electric was charged with antitrust violations and decided to divest itself of RCA.
In 1927, Ernst Alexanderson of GE made the first demonstration of his television broadcasts at his General Electric Realty Plot home at 1132 Adams Rd, Schenectady, New York. On January 13, 1928, he made what was said to be the first broadcast to the public in the United States on GE's W2XAD: the pictures were picked up on 1.5 square inch (9.7 square centimeter) screens in the homes of four GE executives. The sound was broadcast on GE's WGY (AM).
Experimental television station W2XAD evolved into station WRGB which, along with WGY and WGFM (now WRVE), was owned and operated by General Electric until 1983.
Led by Sanford Alexander Moss, GE moved into the new field of aircraft turbo superchargers. GE introduced the first superchargers during World War I, and continued to develop them during the interwar period. Superchargers became indispensable in the years immediately prior to World War II. GE supplied 300,000 turbo superchargers for use in fighter and bomber engines. This work led the U.S. Army Air Corps to select GE to develop the nation's first jet engine during the war. This experience, in turn, made GE a natural selection to develop the Whittle W.1 jet engine that was demonstrated in the United States in 1941. GE ranked ninth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. Although their early work with Whittle's designs was later handed to Allison Engine Company, GE Aviation emerged as one of the world's largest engine manufacturers, bypassing the British company Rolls-Royce plc.
Some consumers boycotted GE light bulbs, refrigerators and other products in the 1980s and 1990s to protest GE's role in nuclear weapons production.
In 2002, GE acquired the wind power assets of Enron during its bankruptcy proceedings. Enron Wind was the only surviving U.S. manufacturer of large wind turbines at the time, and GE increased engineering and supplies for the Wind Division and doubled the annual sales to $1.2 billion in 2003. It acquired ScanWind in 2009.
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GE was one of the eight major computer companies of the 1960s along with IBM, Burroughs, NCR, Control Data Corporation, Honeywell, RCA and UNIVAC. GE had a line of general purpose and special purpose computers, including the GE 200, GE 400, and GE 600 series general purpose computers, the GE 4010, GE 4020, and GE 4060 real-time process control computers, and the DATANET-30 and Datanet 355 message switching computers (DATANET-30 and 355 were also used as front end processors for GE mainframe computers). A Datanet 500 computer was designed, but never sold.
In 1962, GE started developing its GECOS (later renamed GCOS) operating system, originally for batch processing, but later extended to timesharing and transaction processing. Versions of GCOS are still in use today. From 1964 to 1969, GE and Bell Laboratories (which soon dropped out) joined with MIT to develop the Multics operating system on the GE 645 mainframe computer. The project took longer than expected and was not a major commercial success, but it demonstrated concepts such as single level store, dynamic linking, hierarchical file system, and ring-oriented security. Active development of Multics continued until 1985.
GE got into computer manufacturing because in the 1950s they were the largest user of computers outside the United States federal government, aside from being the first business in the world to own a computer. Its major appliance manufacturing plant "Appliance Park" was the first non-governmental site to host one. However, in 1970, GE sold its computer division to Honeywell, exiting the computer manufacturing industry, though it retained its timesharing operations for some years afterwards. GE was a major provider of computer time-sharing services, through General Electric Information Services (GEIS, now GXS), offering online computing services that included GEnie.
In 2000 when United Technologies Corp. planned to buy Honeywell, GE made a counter-offer that was approved by Honeywell. On July 3, 2001, the European Union issued a statement that "prohibit the proposed acquisition by General Electric Co. of Honeywell Inc.". The reasons given were it "would create or strengthen dominant positions on several markets and that the remedies proposed by GE were insufficient to resolve the competition concerns resulting from the proposed acquisition of Honeywell."
On June 27, 2014, GE partnered with collaborative design company Quirky to announce its connected LED bulb called Link. The Link bulb is designed to communicate with smartphones and tablets using a mobile app called Wink.
Acquisitions and divestments
In 1986, GE reacquired RCA, primarily for the NBC television network (also parent of Telemundo Communications Group). The remainder was sold to various companies, including Bertelsmann (Bertelsmann acquired RCA Records) and Thomson SA, which traces its roots to Thomson-Houston, one of the original components of GE. Also in 1986, Kidder, Peabody & Co., a U.S.-based securities firm, was sold to GE and following heavy losses was sold to PaineWebber in 1994.
In 2002, Francisco Partners and Norwest Venture Partners acquired a division of GE called GE Information Systems (GEIS). The new company, named GXS, is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. GXS is a provider of B2B e-Commerce solutions. GE maintains a minority stake in GXS. Also in 2002, GE Wind Energy was formed when GE bought the wind turbine manufacturing assets of Enron Wind after the Enron scandals.
In 2004, GE bought 80% of Universal Pictures from Vivendi. Vivendi bought 20% of NBC forming the company NBCUniversal. GE then owned 80% of NBC Universal and Vivendi owned 20%. By January 28, 2011 GE owned 49% and Comcast 51%. On March 19, 2013, Comcast bought GE's shares in NBCU for $16.7 billion. In 2004, GE completed the spin-off of most of its mortgage and life insurance assets into an independent company, Genworth Financial, based in Richmond, Virginia.
Genpact formerly known as GE Capital International Services (GECIS) was established by GE in late 1997 as its captive India-based BPO. GE sold 60% stake in Genpact to General Atlantic and Oak Hill Capital Partners in 2005 and hived off Genpact into an independent business. GE is still a major client to Genpact today, for services in customer service, finance, information technology and analytics.
In May 2007, GE acquired Smiths Aerospace for $4.8 billion. Also in 2007, GE Oil & Gas acquired Vetco Gray for $1.9 billion, followed by the acquisition of Hydril Pressure & Control in 2008 for $1.1 billion.
GE Plastics was sold in 2008 to SABIC (Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation). In May 2008, GE announced it was exploring options for divesting the bulk of its consumer and industrial business.
On December 3, 2009, it was announced that NBCUniversal would become a joint venture between GE and cable television operator Comcast. Comcast would hold a controlling interest in the company, while GE would retain a 49% stake and would buy out shares owned by Vivendi.
Vivendi would sell its 20% stake in NBCUniversal to GE for US$5.8 billion. Vivendi would sell 7.66% of NBCUniversal to GE for US$2 billion if the GE/Comcast deal was not completed by September 2010 and then sell the remaining 12.34% stake of NBCUniversal to GE for US$3.8 billion when the deal was completed or to the public via an IPO if the deal was not completed.
On March 1, 2010, GE announced plans to sell its 20.85% stake in Turkey-based Garanti Bank. In August 2010, GE Healthcare signed a strategic partnership to bring cardiovascular Computed Tomography (CT) technology from start-up Arineta Ltd. of Israel to the hospital market. In October 2010, GE acquired gas engines manufacture Dresser Inc. in a $3 billion deal and also bought a $1.6 billion portfolio of retail credit cards from Citigroup Inc. On October 14, 2010, GE announced the acquisition of data migration & SCADA simulation specialists Opal Software. In December 2010, for the second time that year (after the Dresser acquisition), GE bought the oil sector company British Wellstream Holding Plc., an oil pipe maker, for 800 million pounds ($1.3 billion).
In March 2011, GE announced that it had completed the acquisition of privately held Lineage Power Holdings, Inc., from The Gores Group, LLC. In April 2011, GE announced it had completed its purchase of John Wood Plc's Well Support Division for $2.8 billion.
In 2011, GE Capital sold its $2 billion Mexican assets to Santander for $162 million and exit the business in Mexico. Santander additionally assumed the portfolio debts of GE Capital in the country. Following this, GE Capital focused in its core business and shed its non-core assets.
In June 2012, CEO and President of GE Jeff Immelt said that the company would invest ₹3 billion to accelerate its businesses in Karnataka. In October 2012, GE acquired $7 billion worth of bank deposits from Metlife Inc.
In April 2013, GE acquired oilfield pump maker Lufkin Industries for $2.98 billion.
In April 2014, it was announced that GE was in talks to acquire the global power division of French engineering group Alstom for a figure of around $13 billion. A rival joint bid was submitted in June 2014 by Siemens and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) with Siemens seeking to acquire Alstom's gas turbine business for €3.9 billion, and MHI proposing a joint venture in steam turbines, plus a €3.1 billion cash investment. In June 2014 a formal offer from GE worth $17 billion was agreed by the Alstom board. Part of the transaction involved the French government taking a 20% stake in Alstom to help secure France's energy and transport interests and French jobs. A rival offer from Siemens-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was rejected. The acquisition was expected to be completed in 2015. In October 2014, GE announced it was considering the sale of its Polish banking business Bank BPH.
Later in 2014, General Electric announced plans to open its global operations center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Global Operations Center opened in October 2016 as home to GE's multifunctional shared services organization. It supports the company's finance/accounting, human resources, information technology, supply chain, legal and commercial operations, and is one of GE's four multifunctional shared services centers worldwide in Pudong, China; Budapest, Hungary; and Monterrey, Mexico.
In April 2015, GE announced its intention to sell off its property portfolio, worth $26.5 billion, to Wells Fargo and The Blackstone Group. It was announced in April 2015 that GE would sell most of its finance unit and return around $90 billion to shareholders as the firm looked to trim down on its holdings and rid itself of its image of a "hybrid" company, working in both banking and manufacturing. In August 2015, GE Capital agreed to sell its Healthcare Financial Services business to Capital One for US$9 billion. The transaction involved US$8.5 billion of loans made to a wide array of sectors including senior housing, hospitals, medical offices, outpatient services, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Also in August 2015, GE Capital agreed to sell GE Capital Bank's on-line deposit platform to Goldman Sachs. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but the sale included US$8 billion of on-line deposits and another US$8 billion of brokered certificates of deposit. The sale was part of GE's strategic plan to exit the U.S. banking sector and to free itself from tightening banking regulations. GE also aimed to shed its status as a "systematically important financial institution."
In September 2015, GE Capital agreed to sell its transportation-finance unit to Canada's Bank of Montreal. The unit sold had US$8.7 billion (CA$11.5 billion) of assets, 600 employees and 15 offices in the U.S. and Canada. Exact terms of the sale were not disclosed, but the final price would be based on the value of the assets at closing, plus a premium according to the parties. In October 2015, activist investor Nelson Peltz's fund Trian bought a $2.5 billion stake in the company.
In January 2016, Haier Group acquired GE's appliance division for $5.4 billion. In October 2016, GE Renewable Energy agreed to pay €1.5 billion to Doughty Hanson & Co for LM Wind Power during 2017.
At the end of October 2016, it was announced that GE was under negotiations for a deal valued at about $30 billion to combine GE Oil and Gas with Baker Hughes. The transaction would create a publicly-traded entity controlled by GE. It was announced that GE Oil and Gas would sell off its water treatment business as part of its divestment agreement with Baker Hughes. The deal was cleared by the EU in May 2017, and by the DOJ in June 2017. The merger agreement was approved by shareholders at the end of June 2017. On July 3, 2017, the transaction was completed and Baker Hughes became a GE company.
In April 2017, GE announced the name of their $200 million corporate headquarters would be "GE Innovation Point". The groundbreaking ceremony for the 2.5-acre, 800-person campus was held on May 8, 2017, and the completion date is expected to be sometime in mid-2019.
In May 2017, GE had signed $15 billion of business deals with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of GE's largest customers.
In September 2017, GE announced the sale of its Industrial Solutions Business to ABB. The deal closed on June 30, 2018.