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Sperry Gyroscope Company Division photographs and films

Creation: 1915-1962 Creation: Majority of material found within 1940-1960
Accession: 1986-273


The Sperry Gyroscope Company researched, developed, and manufactured navigation equipment; three of the premiere products were the marine gyrostabilizer, the gyrocompass, and the high-intensity searchlight. The company was founded by Elmer A. Sperry (1860-1930) in 1910. Sperry Gyroscope Company photographs and films consists primarily of images of products and inventions developed between 1912 and 1965, a bulk of materials date from 1940 through 1960. The collection has been organized into five series: Personnel; Plants, Sperry School, and Museum; Products; Public Information Department; and Visitors, exhibits, models, and patents.


  • Creation: 1915-1962
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940-1960



100 Linear Feet

Physical Description

100,486 photographic reproductions : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. or smaller. 1,935 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. or smaller. 7 photographic prints : color ; 8 x 10 in. or smaller. 125 negatives : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. or smaller. 2 albums. 169 reels : si., b&w ; 16mm. 27 reels : sd., col. ; 16mm. 9 reels : sd., b&w ; 16mm. 3 reels : si., b&w ; 35mm. 4 film strips : si., b&w ; 35mm. 20 items.

Historical Note

The Sperry Gyroscope Company researched, developed, and manufactured navigation equipment; three of the premiere products were the marine gyrostabilizer, the gyrocompass, and the high-intensity searchlight. The company was founded by Elmer A. Sperry (1860-1930) in 1910. In 1912, Sperry, along with his son Lawrence Sperry (1892-1923), developed the automatic airplane stabilization systems later known as autopilots. 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.

Sperry Gyroscope originally rented quarters in a building in New York, but in 1913 moved to two floors in a factory in Brooklyn. The growth of the firm during World War I led to the construction of their own eleven-story building at the Manhattan Bridge Plaza in Brooklyn in 1916. By 1920 the firm had approximately seventy salaried employees and was working on a myriad of projects, including a pilotless plane, a more powerful searchlight, and a ship stabilizer. Sperry Gyroscope's work on airplane instrumentation increased in the 1920s. Their devices were used in the first completely blind flight in 1929 and Wiley Post's (1898-1935) solo around-the-world flight in 1933.

In 1926, Elmer Sperry retired as president of the company and two years later sold the firm to North American Aviation Inc., a conglomerate formed by Clement M. Keys (1876–1952). In the midst of the depression the Sperry Corporation was formed in 1933 as a holding and management company from the Sperry Gyroscope Co., the Sperry Gyroscope Co., Ltd. (England), and the Ford Instrument Company, which had been founded by Sperry's first chief engineer, Hannibal Ford (1877-1955).

In the late 1930s, Sperry Gyroscope developed the Klystron Tube which was used in microwave radar and as World War II approached, the company became more heavily involved in electronic systems. During the war, Sperry gunsights and directional systems were used extensively by the Allies and the gyroscope company division of the Sperry Corporation grew tremendously.

In 1941, a new plant was built at Lake Success in Nassau County, Long Island, still the main site of Sperry Gyroscope operations. After World War II, Sperry developed inertial guidance systems for ship, plane, and missile use, and continued work in electronic warfare, including radar and countermeasure devices. Development of the Sparrow I, the first air-to-air missile in active service, was carried out entirely by Sperry Gyroscope.

In 1955, the Sperry Corporation merged with Remington-Rand, creating the Sperry Rand Company. The Gyroscope Company continued as a division of that larger corporation. 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.

Scope and Content

The Sperry Gyroscope Company photographs and films collection consists primarily of images of products and inventions developed between 1912 and 1965, a bulk of materials date from 1940 through 1960.

The photographic portion of the collection is mostly reproductions made for the Sperry Gyroscope Archives. These reproductions were not printed on photographic paper. There are a few original photographs in the Personnel and Products series, however, a bulk of the original photographs are in the Public Information Department series. None of the other series contain photographic prints.

The photographic reproductions were bound in folders and transferred to the Sperry Gyroscope Archives. Nearly every image includes a negative number, date, and description. The images have been removed from the bound folders and place in archival folders, however, folder titles and order within folders has been maintained.

The collection has been organized into five series: Personnel; Plants and Sperry School; Products; Public Information Department; and Visitors, exhibits, models, and patents. Most of the series are arranged in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted, materials within folders are in reverse chronological order (oldest images in the back of the folder, earlier images in the front).

The Personnel series is divided into two subseries: Individuals and Groups.

The Individuals subseries consists of portraits of individual employees. The materials are arranged chronologically. Nearly every individual is identified, although identifications are not consistent sometimes the full name is given, sometimes just the initials, and some include the person’s job title. Names of individuals are listed for each folder as they have been provided. Occasionally a person will appear twice within a folder. The images date from 1918 through 1958.

The Groups subseries is arranged chronologically and then alphabetically. The images are both group portraits as well as candid or informal snapshots. There is the occasional image of an individual and not a group. The images are of employees at work anniversary dinners, receiving awards or service pins, departmental staff portraits, outings, events, and parties. Employees pictured includes women and minorities. There is also an album of original photographs of the Army-Navy E awards. The images date from 1919 to 1960 with one group of images from 1911.

Plants and Sperry School series contains interior and exterior views of Sperry facilities. There are some aerials views of plants, building exteriors, and interiors which show various departments laboratories and work areas. There are images that show the construction of the Nassau plant. The views of the school are primarily interiors, many show students at work or with instructors. The images date from 1915 to 1962 and are mostly photographic reproductions, though there are a few original photographs in this series. There are three silent films two contain footage of site construction and one is of a laboratory dedication ceremony.

Products series is divided into eleven subseries: Aeronautical Systems; Air armament; Aircraft sights and turrets; Army Fire Control (AFC), Bomber Navigation Systems (BNS); Marine systems; Microwave and electronic equipment; Navy Fire Control (NFC) and Navy systems; Radio and electronics; Surface armament; and Searchlights.

Throughout the subseries many folders are titled with “AN/” followed by a series of letters and numbers. The United States military use letter combinations to designate electronic and communications equipment. This designation system is called the "Joint Communications-Electronics Nomenclature System" or “AN” for short (Army-Navy). All designations have the “AN/” prefix followed by three letters, a number, and potentially followed by another single letter and a version. The letters in different positions signify the installation, equipment type, and purpose. See the Wikipedia entry for Joint Communications-Electronics Nomenclature System for the full explanation of the letters in the system.

Aeronautical systems subseries are images of parts and components for aircraft related to autopilots, gyros, and navigation. There are many folders containing images of products from various Sperry departments. Departments were assigned numbers, however, there is no key within the collection that explains what the numbers mean or what the name of the department was. The images date from 1912 to 1918 and from 1926 to 1964. The films in this subseries are primarily of flight tests, there are a few films not produced by Sperry that show old versus new methods of manufacturing or installing different parts, and there is a three part series about weighted guidelines.

Air Armament subseries are images of components primarily related to radar. There are also images of parts, components and the production of aircraft bombers Hustler B-58 and Tempo I, and the air-to-air guided missile, the Sparrow. The images date from 1948 to 1962. There is one film showing various tests of targeting by air.

Aircraft sights and turrets subseries contains images of bombsights, gunsights and turrets. The images date from 1916 to 1947. There are many films showing tests of gunsights, particularly the Airborne Gunlaying System (AGL). There are also films showing various turret experiments, specifically with the Central Station Computer and the M-33 turret.

Army Fire Control (AFC) subseries has images of automatic gun control equipment, fire control systems, and the flight attitude indicator T-38. The images date from 1928 to 1952.

Bomber Navigation Systems (BNS) subseries consists of images of components of amplifiers, power supply, transmitters, sights, periscopes, indicators and computers related to Bomber Navigation Systems (BNS). The images date from 1946 to 1958.

Marine systems subseries contains images of components of the gyro compass, steering indicators and controls, and computers related to ships and submarines. The images date from 1912 to 1963. There is a series of films about the Advanced Range Instrumentation Ships (ARIS) that provide progress reports. There is also footage related to the Conte di Savoia and the S.S. Mariposa.

Microwave and electronic equipment subseries consist of images primarily related to radar equipment for aircraft. There are also images of components for Aviation Support Detachment (ASD) equipment, Instrument Landing System (ILS), and shipborne doppler system. The images date from 1941 to 1952. There are three films in this subseries showing footage of the Gyrotron, Instrument Landing System (ILS), and Pulse Compression Applied to High Power Radar.

Navy Fire Control (NFC) and Navy systems subseries includes gunsights, directors, a search light, and an album of WWI products. The images date from 1930 to 1954. There is one film reel containing footage of Naval Fire Control Anti-aircraft.

Radio and electronics subseries contains images primarily related to radar and radio communication, including images related to the Klystron tube, Long Range Navigation (LORAN), and Long Range Navigation version C (LORAN-C). The images date from 1940 to 1965. There are two films which show footage related to the LORAC-C and Tactical Early Warning Radar (TEW).

Searchlights subseries consists of images of searchlights, primarily the 60 inch high intensity searchlights. The subseries dates from 1913 to 1949. There is one film containing footage about the manufacturing of the 60" searchlights.

Surface armament subseries are images primarily related to radar, target and guidance tracking. There are images of components of the Nike Zeus (anti-ballistic missile), and military aircraft the T-38 and T-41. This subseries dates from 1947 to 1964. There are a few films in this subseries which contain footage related to fleet ballistic missiles, the Nike-Zeus missile, the Talos missile, Polaris missile, FPS-35 Radar and T-38 director.

Public Information Department series are photographic prints intended for publicity purposes. Many photographs appear to be for press releases, newsletters, and reports. There are many images related to Lawrence Sperry and his various achievements in aviation. There are aerials, views of plants and buildings, and images of various instruments. These images date from the 1910s through to the 1950s. There are several informational and promotional films intended for an outside audience; three about space flight (All Systems Go!, The Flight of Apollo 11: Eagle Has Landed, and Where Am I?); two about the Univac computer (At the Forefront and The Catalyst); one about the relationship between man and machine (Army-Navy Instrumentation Program) and a film Honoring the 100th Anniversary of Elmer A. Sperry's birth celebrating achievements in navigation and aviation (Guideposts to Tomorrow). There are a few films intended for internal personnel purposes: Gateway to Careers: Tour Through Univac; The Time is Now; The Veteran Returns to Work (film strips); and Tips for Teachers. A few films contain raw footage: An American Passenger - to Heligoland, Wilhelmshaven and Bremen!; Around the Northern Irish Coast and into Belfast Harbor; Growth of Crystals; and Information Handling System patented by William L. Poland. One film reel contains personal footage of the Sperry family and one reel is a Pathe News reel about the Sperry Messenger Airplane. There is also an audio recording of the Dedication of H.H. Arnold/Thunderbirds Field.

Visitors, exhibits, models and patents series are images related to the Sperry museum and show models and patents of Sperry products. There are images of exhibits and visitors to those exhibits. There are also images related to a gift of Sperry objects to the Smithsonian Institute. These images date from 1915 to 1962.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research. Litigators may not view the collection without approval.

Use Restrictions

Literary rights retained by depositor.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


On Deposit from Northrop Grumman.

Related Names



Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Sperry Gyroscope Company Division photographs and films
Laurie Sather
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Audiovisual Collections Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA