Sperry Corporation. Sperry Gyroscope Company Division. Records, 1910-1970.
Sperry Corporation. Sperry Gyroscope Company Division.
Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
76 linear ft.; 100,608 items.
The Sperry Gyroscope Company was incorporated on April 14, 1910. It was reincorporated in New York as the Sperry Gyroscope Company, Inc., on January 21, 1929. In April 1933 it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Sperry Corporation and was merged into it as a division in December 1947. The Sperry Corporation merged with Remington Rand, Inc., on June 30, 1955, to form the Sperry Rand Coproration. Sperry Rand was renamed the Sperry Corporation in July 1979, and in November 1986 it merged with the Burroughs Corporation to form the Unisys Corporation.
The Sperry Gyroscope Company was originally organized by electrical inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry for the purpose of manufacturing and marketing his ship gyrostabilizer, gyrocompass, and high-intensity searchlight. During the years between 1915 and 1925 Sperry worked closely with the United States Navy to develop airplane stabilizers, gyrostabilized bombsights, automatic fire control systems, the aerial torpedo, and a number of anti-aircraft devices.
In 1928, two years before his death, Sperry sold the company to North American Aviation, Inc., a huge aviation holding company organized by Clement M. Keys that combined a number of major aircraft manufacturers and several important airlines. It was for this reason that the company was reincorporated in 1929. North American Aviation came under the control of General Motors but was broken up under the Air Mail Act of 1934. Sperry Gyroscope and an associated firm, the Ford Instrument Company, Inc., were spun off to a new holding company, the Sperry Corporation, in April 1933, which, with the breakup of North American Aviation, became an independent company.
In the 1930s and 1940s Sperry Gyroscope worked with Stanford and MIT to develop the microwave tchnology that was necessary for modern radar systems. During the Second World War the company grew more than ten-fold as it produced computer-controlled and stabilized bomb sights for the B-17 and B-32 bombers, automatic pilots, fire control systems, airborne radar equipment, and automated take-off-and-landing systems. It soon outgrew its Brooklyn plant, and the government built a new facility at Lake Success, Long Island.
After the war Sperry began to look to the civilian market. In 1947 it acquired the New Holland Farm Machine Company. However, with the outbreak of the Cold War, Sperry continued to be primarily a military contractor. It played a major role in the development of surface-to-air missiles and nuclear submarines. The 1955 merger with Remington Rand provided Sperry with access to advanced computer technology, which it applied to the military sector. During the 1960s the company was a major contractor for the Mercury and Apollo projects, as it helped to develop the computerized command and control systems for the Atlas rocket.
Scope & Content Note: The Sperry Gyroscope archive was originally housed in the firm's Public Relations Dept. Consequently, the bulk of the records are a heterogeneous collection assembled to serve advertising and public relations needs.
The records document the history of the company from its beginnings. They describe the development and marketing of the marine and airplane stabilizer, the high-intensity searchlight, fire control systems, the gyrocompass, airplane automatic pilot, bombsights, and the aerial torpedo. They trace the evolving relationship between Sperry and the military and the impact of World Wars I and II. There is also a copy of a 1942 oral history interview of Ford Instrument Company founder and Sperry engineer Hannibal C. Ford by Sperry Vice President Robert B. Lea.
The archive includes the published patents from the Sperry Gyroscope Company (1929-1960) and the Ford Instrument Company (1917-1960). Also included are the records of a number of important patent interference cases: Sperry v. Kellogg (1958, automatic pilot); Sperry v. Collins Radio Company (1958, microwave); Russell H. Varian v. Frederic Llewellyn, Jr. (1948, Klystron, microwave); and Sperry v. Lear (1958, automatic pilot). The patent records include Russell H. Varian's laboratory notebooks (1938-1939) that were compiled at Stanford to document work on the Klystron project.
The financial records include quarterly statements and published annual reports from 1933 to 1967.
The Public Information & Advertising Dept. alphabetical file (1915-1970) includes advertising literature, newsclippings, trade catalogs, correspondence of department managers, technical reports, blueprints, engineering correspondence and press releases. The files also include biographical material on Elmer Sperry and an oral interview with Hannibal Ford of the Ford Instrument Co. Other files document Sperry's efforts to work with the military during World War II to produce a series of films for defense. Of particular interest are papers describing the company's efforts to help produce the motion pictures "The House on 92nd Street" and "The Road to Murmansk."
The Public Relations Dept. literature file (1915-1962) includes trade catalogs, manuals, technical reports, pamphlets and published articles describing Sperry's products. Many of the files contain blueprints and specifications.
The Engineering Dept. reports document the work of the department from the mid-1940s through 1961, primarily in the applications of analog computers. Important projects include: automatic pilots, computerized flight systems, instrument controls for nuclear submarines, space satellite technology, and internal guidance systems for long-range and medium-range missiles, including the Nike-Zeus.
The files of General Manager H. K. Rutherford (1935-1960) are the only surviving departmental correspondence. The files document Sperry's relationship with the military, including letters to procurement officers and subcontractors. There are also files describing defense mobilization plans, military proposals, estimates of post-war aircraft production, and personnel policies.
The Pictorial Collections Department holds over 100,000 still photographs and 122 reels of motion picture film depicting Sperry's major projects. The vast majority are black-and-white 8x10s dating from 1945 to 1960, but significant parts date from the pre-World War I era. The photos are divided into plant views (1915-1962), personnel (1919-1960), and product photographs (1912-1964).
Access: Records subject to 25-year time seal.
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