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Sperry Gyroscope Company Division records

1910-1970
 Collection
Accession: 1915

Abstract

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. The records 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.

Dates

  • 1910-1970

Creator

Extent

76 Linear Feet

Historical Note

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 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.

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 technology that was necessary for modern radar systems. During the Second World War the company grew more than tenfold 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 and Content

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 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.

Access Restrictions

Some records subject to a 25-year time seal.

Use Restrictions

Literary rights retained by depositor.

Related Material

Elmer A. Sperry papers (Accession 1893), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Sperry Corporation records (Accession 1910), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

Deposit of Unisys Corporation

Separated Material

Sperry Gyroscope Company Division photographs (Accession 1986.273), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Bibliography

  • Nash, Michael. Computers, Automation, and Cybernetics at the Hagley Museum and Library (Greenville, Del.: Hagley Museum and Library, 1989).

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Sperry Gyroscope Company Division records
Status:
Author:
Michael H. Nash
Date:
1994
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400