Hubbell Incorporated History
Orange, Connecticut 06477
Telephone: (203) 799-4100
Fax: (203) 799-4205
Incorporated: 1905 as Harvey Hubbell Incorporated
Sales: $1.42 billion (1998)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: HUBB
NAIC: 335931 Current-Carrying Wiring Device Manufacturing; 35121 Residential Lighting Fixture Manufacturing
Hubbell Incorporated's commitment to the industry; diversification of product and market; a continuing tradition of quality; partnership with the independent electrical distributor; and the experience of accomplishment in research and development have forged Hubbell's exceptional records of growth. The same comprehensive corporate capability will expand Hubbell's growth in the commercial, telecommunications, lighting, utility, industrial, and consumer markets of the future.
Hubbell Incorporated produces electrical and electronic items for commercial, industrial, utility, and telecommunications uses. With over 23 manufacturing divisions and several global subsidiaries, Hubbell produces such items as lighting fixtures, outlet boxes, wire and cable, and insulators and surge arrestors. For many decades, Hubbell maintained a modest and unassuming profile, manufacturing the important products invented by its founder, Harvey Hubbell II; one correspondent for Forbes admonished his readers in 1977 that 'unless you are reading this on safari, there is probably a Harvey Hubbell invention within six feet of you right now.' The company had remained strongly focused on such products until the 1960s, when it embarked on a diversification program. While non-consumer electrical products remain its core business, the company has also gained footholds in the manufacture of telecommunications equipment and high voltage cables.
The Early Years
Hubbell bears the name of inventor and businessman Harvey Hubbell II. Born in Connecticut in 1859, he graduated from high school and began working for companies that manufactured marine engines and printing machinery. During this time, he accumulated several ideas for new inventions, and in 1888 he set out on his own, opening a small manufacturing facility in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Hubbell's first product was taken from his own patent for a paper roll holder with a toothed blade for use in stores that sold wrapping paper. This cutter stand became a tremendous success; it was a common feature of retail stores that used wrapping paper in the early 1900s and remained in wide use into the late 20th century.
Hubbell also designed and built a series of new and improved machine tools during his early years in business. In the early 1890s, he began to consider the opportunities presented by Edison's new electric light bulb, and the fruits of his work would secure both the future of his company and his place in history. On a visit to New York City, Hubbell happened upon a penny arcade, featuring several electrically operated games which, although popular with customers, caused maintenance headaches. Every day, the janitor had to detach each of the power supply wires for the games from separate terminals in the wall so that he could move them and sweep the floor underneath. After he was done, he faced the tedious task of reconnecting the wires, making sure that each one went into the proper terminal--the consequence of not doing so being a short circuit. Watching the janitor gave Hubbell the idea for an electrical plug in which the wires were permanently attached in their proper sequence, so that devices could be easily detached and reattached to their power sources. Hubbell built a prototype, which he tested with the help of the janitor, and later patented it. The two-pronged electrical plug that became standard for electrical appliances is a direct descendant of this innovation. In 1896 Hubbell patented a light bulb socket with an on/off pull chain, another invention in use to this day.
In 1901 Hubbell published a 12-page catalogue that listed 63 electrical products of his company's manufacture, and four years later he incorporated his enterprise as Harvey Hubbell, Incorporated. In 1909 the company began constructing a four-floor factory and office building that would become the first building in New England made of reinforced concrete.
As electricity became the power source of choice in the United States, Hubbell's company did its best to keep up. Its 1917 catalogue was 100 pages long and listed over 1,000 electrical products, including 277 different types and sizes of light bulb sockets. One important product was a toggle light switch, which Hubbell had invented to replace the old two-button switch. A line of 288 heavy-duty 'Presturn' products marked the company's entry into industrial electrical products. In the 1920s, the company produced a line of low-voltage devices for use by farmers who had not tapped into higher-voltage urban electrical grids. Also during this time, Hubbell developed a device that locked streetlamp and household light bulbs firmly in place, filling a need in cities where new trolley cars were producing vibrations that loosened bulbs and caused them to fall out of their sockets.
Harvey Hubbell died in 1927 and was succeeded as president of the company by his son, Harvey Hubbell III. The 26-year-old Hubbell had been trained as an electrical engineer and was already at work for the family firm. Under Harvey Hubbell III, the company went public in 1936, a timely move considering that, during the later years of the Great Depression, some employees occasionally had to accept company stock in lieu of pay. He also proved his business acumen by establishing a network of independent distributors to help market and disseminate the company's products, a system that would help offset the low profile that the company has traditionally kept.
During World War II, much of the company's capacity was devoted to manufacturing electrical components for the military, including battery-charging systems for the M-4 Sherman tank. Hubbell also opened a plant in Lexington, Kentucky, in part to meet demand for its military products and also because its original factory in Connecticut was considered vulnerable to air attack.
Postwar Expansion and Diversification
After the war, Harvey Hubbell Inc. shifted its focus back to making products for the civilian economy. It custom designed and produced electrical devices for the luxury ocean liner United States, which was launched in 1952 and required electrical wiring that would resist the corrosive effects of salt air while fitting into narrow stateroom partitions. At the end of the 1950s, the company began to ponder the benefits of diversification. Until that point, Hubbell had always been a conservative company with a reputation for making high quality products that sold for higher than average prices. Its narrow range of products, however, limited opportunities for growth and left it vulnerable to cyclical ups and downs. Even with its strong desire to diversify, however, Hubbell chose its targets carefully and did not stray far from its field of expertise. In 1962 it acquired Kellems, a Connecticut-based manufacturer of mesh grips, cord connectors, and wire management products. In 1963 it bought Grelco, an English company that made industrial controls, the California-based Shalda Lighting, and the Chicago-based Ralco Manufacturing. Hubbell later merged Grelco into its British subsidiary, Harvey Hubbell Limited. In 1966 Hubbell purchased Euclid Electric, which it later renamed Hubbell Industrial Controls. The following year, Harvey Hubbell Limited acquired Watford Electric & Manufacturing, solidifying its presence as a producer of industrial controls in Great Britain.
Continued Growth in the 1970s and 1980s
Harvey Hubbell III died in 1968 and was succeeded as CEO by George Weppler, who became the first non-Hubbell to run the company in its 80 years of existence. Under Weppler, the pace of Hubbell's acquisition campaign was maintained. In 1969 the company acquired Kerite, a Connecticut-based manufacturer of high voltage electrical cables used mainly by utility companies and railroads. The next year, it acquired Steber Lighting to augment its light fixtures business. In 1972 Hubbell entered the telecommunications equipment field when it purchased Pulse Communications, a Virginia-based manufacturer of voice and data signal processing components. Also that year Hubbell acquired Southern Industrial Diecasting. Moreover, the company established a presence in South America with its Brazilian subsidiary, Harvey Hubbell do Brasil, after acquiring H.K. Porter do Brasil in 1973 and Metal-Arte Industrias Sao Paolo in 1974.
Weppler was succeeded by Robert Dixon in 1975. Dixon had spent 12 years studying electrical and mechanical engineering in night school and was a firm believer in Hubbell's odyssey through diversification and expansion. 'If we had stayed only in the wiring business, our numbers would look better but we wouldn't be as strong,' he told a Forbes correspondent in 1982, adding that 'I even question whether we'd still be independent.' Under Dixon, Hubbell acquired Hermetic Refrigeration, a Phoenix-based re-manufacturer of air conditioning compressors, in 1976. In 1978 it purchased Ohio Brass, which made insulation and surge arrestor for high voltage electrical equipment, as well as mining equipment. In 1981 the company spun off Harvey Hubbell do Brasil, and picked up Arrestor, an American manufacturer of switch, junction, and outlet boxes and electrical fittings.
By this time, Hubbell's diversifications had produced mixed results. On the one hand, the company's original wiring and light fixture business accounted for a disproportionate share of profits into the 1980s, a sign that acquired companies were not proving terribly lucrative despite the fact that Hubbell had made few outright missteps. On the other hand, Hubbell generated record profits every year from 1961 to 1983. In 1961, the company posted a relatively modest $22 million in sales; by 1981 sales had reached $445.8 million. Robert Dixon retired as CEO in 1983 and was succeeded by Fred Dusto, who presided over the final acquisitions of Hubbell's long spree: Miller Lighting and Killark Electric Manufacturing, both purchased in 1985. In 1986 the company shortened its name to its current form.
1901:Harvey Hubbell publishes his first catalogue.
1905:Harvey Hubbell, Incorporated is established.
1909:Company builds its first factory.
1927:Harvey Hubbell dies and is succeeded at helm of company by Harvey III.
1968:George Weppler chairs the company and quickens Hubbell's pace of acquisitions.
1972:Hubbell enters the telecommunications equipment field.
1986:Harvey Hubbell Inc. shortens its name to its current form.
Dusto retired in 1987 and was succeeded by George Ratcliffe, who had once served as the company's chief counsel. Under Ratcliffe, Hubbell spent aggressively on upgrading and automating its capital equipment as well as on research and development. This reinvestment produced profit margins higher than those of its competitors during the 1980s, as the company was able to cut labor costs and also sell innovative products that commanded relatively high returns. Hubbell also made further acquisitions during this time. In 1991 it purchased Westinghouse's Bryant Electric division, which made wiring devices for industrial applications. In 1993 Hubbell acquired Hipotronics, a manufacturer of high-voltage cables, test and measurement equipment, and E.M. Weigmann and Co., Inc., a manufacturer of industrial enclosures.
Hubbell continued to add to its roster of companies those that performed well in its core lighting operations. Recognizing that electricity's central role would not be diminished in the coming years, Hubbell's electrical equipment empire spanned across the globe and across applications. Because no alternative power source even remotely threatened to challenge electricity, Hubbell's strategy was sound, as its acquisitions provided for stable long-term growth.
In March 1994, Hubbell purchased A.B. Chance Industries, a powerful presence in the electrical utility sector with a number of products such as overhead and underground distribution switches, fuses, cutouts, insulators, and safety equipment. Hubbell's next acquisition was in 1996, when it bought Gleason Reel Corp., an industrial-grade electrical cable producer. In September 1997, Hubbell acquired Namar/Wirecon, a leading producer of self-contained electrical switches and receptacle tools used in the manufacture of pre-fabricated housing and recreational vehicles. Buoyed by its new operations, Hubbell's sales soared from $832.4 million in 1994 to $1.38 billion in 1997. Even more impressive was the company's profits which increased from $66.3 million in 1993 to $130.3 million in 1997.
The year 1998 witnessed several key acquisitions. On November 17, Hubbell announced its impending purchase of Sterner Lighting, a designer and manufacturer of specification-grade outdoor lighting fixtures, as well as custom lighting products. Sterner's wares could often be found in indoor sports arenas. This producer of light fixtures for corrosive and hazardous locations, complemented Hubbell's existing businesses. Sales kept rising through 1998, as Hubbell achieved over $169 million in profit.
At the close of the century, Hubbell's four key divisions remained centered on lighting and its application in a variety of spheres. With manufacturing facilities in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Hubbell had grown considerably beyond its humble origins. Joint ventures in Germany, South America, and Taiwan, as well as sales offices in Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East, rounded out Hubbell's far-flung operations.
Although Harvey Hubbell II is not widely remembered today, his inventions were instrumental in facilitating and disseminating the pioneering work of more famous inventors such as Edison and Westinghouse. Similarly, the company that Hubbell founded has labored for over a century without widespread recognition for the company's name or products. Nevertheless, the success of its products, which people use and rely upon daily, signaled profitable years ahead for Hubbell.
Principal Subsidiaries: A.B. Chance Co., Inc.; Gleason Reel Corp.; Hipotronics, Inc.; Hubbell Premise Wiring, Inc.; Hubbell Canada Inc.; The Kerite Co.; Killark Electric Manufacturing Co.; The Ohio Brass Co.; Hubbell Lighting, Inc.; Hubbell Industrial Controls, Inc.; RACO, Inc.
Principal Competitors: Cooper Industries, Inc.; Graybar Electric Company; Rexel, Inc; Anixter International Inc.
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Second Century of Solutions, Orange, Conn.: Hubbell Incorporated, 1988.
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Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 31. St. James Press, 2000.