Astronics Corporation History

1801 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, New York 14207

Telephone: (716) 447-9013
Fax: (716) 447-9201

Public Company
Incorporated: 1968
Employees: 500
Sales: $50.64 million (1999)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: ATRO
NAIC: 322212 Folding Paperboard Box Manufacturing; 334119 Other Computer Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing; 334511 Search, Detection, Navigation, Guidance, Aeronautical, Nautical System and Instrument Manufacturing; 335122 Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional Electric Lighting Fixture Manufacturing; 335129 Other Lighting Equipment Manufacturing; 336321 Vehicular Lighting Equipment Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Growth opportunities are targeted that can benefit from our technical and operational superiority. Continuous investment into process and systems technology enables Astronics to provide unique product diversity and performance capabilities, competitive market pricing, and performance with exceptional response standards. Astronics enjoys substantial market share dominance within its selected business areas. In each of its segments, the company aims to be the sole source or the preferred provider for the majority of the business.

Company History:

Astronics Corporation is involved in two distinct niches: high-tech electroluminescent lamps and keyboards, and specialty packaging. Astronics supplies various types of lighting for military aircraft and 300 commercial airlines; its Aerospace and Electronics division counts commercial and military clients in 47 countries. Specialty Packaging has 10,000 customers in two dozen countries. Continually investing a hefty portion of earnings into RD and process improvements, Astronics has placed more than once on the Forbes list of the "200 Best Small Companies."

Luminous Origins

French physicist G. Destriau discovered electroluminescence in 1937. In this phenomenon, a cool light emits from an electroluminescent material sandwiched between two electrodes under alternating current (ac power). Scientists spent the next couple of decades making the discovery practical.

In December 1968, Thomas L. Robinson, Sr. established the Astronics Corp., the first company solely dedicated to developing electroluminescent panels. (It was founded independently of the Santa Monica-based Lear Astronics, formed in 1958 by aviation pioneer Bill Lear.) Robinson had been a project engineer at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, where he developed electro-optical devices. He formed Astronics because existing technology was not advanced enough to allow him to complete an electroluminescent flat screen display for the Goddard Space Center while he was at Cornell. (This was completed in 1972.)

Flexible, lightweight, and thin as paper, these solid-state devices produced more light at lower voltage and lower frequencies than conventional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. They stayed cool and wore out gradually rather than burning out like light bulbs.

The company's first home was the Gardenville Industrial Park in West Seneca, near Buffalo, New York. It later rented space from Moog Inc. at 300 French Road in Cheektowaga. Peter Gombirch, formerly a regional sales manager at Singer Co.'s Industrial Control Division, headed sales and marketing. Its four other employees were all related: Robinson's wife, Bessie, and two sons Thomas, Jr., and Roy.

First year revenues were only $13,000. Sales volume fell to just $1,777 in 1970 as the company devoted its time to research and development. Robinson called on George F. Rand III, chairman of Rand Capital Corp., for financial backing. Rand sent Kevin T. Keane to evaluate the company's business prospects. Keane liked them; he left Maday Body Equipment Corp. (of which he was part owner) at the end of 1970 to help the inventor's company along. He became president two years later when Robinson retired.

Rand Capital's investment in late 1970 allowed Astronics to document its RD efforts and gain a contract from NASA via the Singer Co. That project involved making displays for Skylab. The panels also were used in aircraft and sea vessels. Sometimes called Astronics Luminescent Inc., Astronics had about eleven employees and billed $14,000 during 1971. At year end, Keane asked John Kerr, an engineer and Harvard MBA, to join the company as a vice-president. The company filed a stock offering in December 1971 to raise $1.8 million. Before the offering, the Robinson family and Rand Capital Corp. each owned a third of the stock. Half of the money was to fund research and development and establish production facilities. After expenses, however, only about $800,000 was raised; the company decided to use some of it for acquisitions.

Contained Growth in the 1970s and 1980s

Astronics bought A~T-O Inc.'s Scott Aviation Division for $120,000 in May 1972. Scott manufactured panel lighting for Piper and Cessna aircraft. The Scott purchase also gave Astronics entr

Further Reading:

  • Dearlove, Ray, "Small East Aurora Firm Has Glowing Future," Courier Express, October 14, 1973, p. 52.
  • Dodsworth, Terry, "GEC Buys Lear Avionics Arm," Financial Times, August 1, 1987, p. 1.
  • Levy, Michael, "Astronics: A Glowing Business," Buffalo News, April 23, 1978, p. B10.
  • McKeating, Mike, "Astronics Corp.--State-of-the-Art Pioneer," Buffalo News, January 20, 1980, p. B4.
  • Meyer, Brian, "Aircraft Parts Maker Details Plans for New Plant in East Aurora, NY," Buffalo News, April 21, 1999.
  • Robinson, David, "Astronics Moving Unit Here from Massachusetts," Buffalo News, Bus. Sec., December 29, 1993.
  • ------, "Astronics Says It's Better Off Than Numbers Show," Buffalo News, Bus. Sec., April 30, 1994.
  • ------, "Buffalo, N.Y.-Based Aerospace Manufacturer Expects Sales To Climb," Buffalo News, April 21, 2000.
  • ------, "Buffalo, N.Y. Packaging Firm To Add Employees After Winning Big Contract," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, March 8, 2000.
  • ------, "Buyback May Help Investors; Earnings Per Share Boosted on the Remaining Stock," Buffalo News, Your Money, December 21, 1994, p. 1.
  • ------, "It's Time To Place Bets on Length of Annual Meeting," Buffalo News, Bus. Sec., May 8, 1994.
  • Spies, Tom, "Robots for PC Board Assembly? Think Small," Production Engineering, August 1987, pp. 74+.
  • Sullivan, Margaret, "High Technology Industry Continues To Flourish," Buffalo News, January 18, 1981, p. E13.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 35. St. James Press, 2001.