Sperry Corporation
Sperry Corporation was a major American equipment and electronics
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

 company whose existence spanned more than seven decades of the twentieth century. Through a series of mergers it exists today as a portion of Unisys
Unisys Corporation , headquartered in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, United States, and incorporated in Delaware, is a long established business whose core products now involves computing and networking.-History:...

, while some other of its former divisions became part of Honeywell
Honeywell International, Inc. is a major conglomerate company that produces a variety of consumer products, engineering services, and aerospace systems for a wide variety of customers, from private consumers to major corporations and governments....


Early history

The company was founded in 1910 as the Sperry Gyroscope Company by Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Elmer Ambrose Sperry was a prolific inventor and entrepreneur, most famous as co-inventor, with Herman Anschütz-Kaempfe of the gyrocompass.Sperry was born at Cincinnatus, New York, United States of America...

 to manufacture navigation equipment, chiefly his own inventions – the marine gyrostabilizer and the gyrocompass
A gyrocompass­ is a type of non-magnetic compass which bases on a fast-spinning disc and rotation of our planet to automatically find geographical direction...

 at 40 Flatbush Avenue Extension in Downtown Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn is the third largest central business district in New York City , and is located in the northwestern section of the borough of Brooklyn...

. During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 the company diversified into aircraft components including bomb sights and fire control systems. In their early decades, Sperry Gyroscope and related companies were concentrated on Long Island, New York, especially in Nassau County
Nassau County, New York
Nassau County is a suburban county on Long Island, east of New York City in the U.S. state of New York, within the New York Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,339,532...

. Over the years, it diversified to other locations.
In 1918 Lawrence Sperry
Lawrence Sperry
Lawrence Burst Sperry was an aviation pioneer. He was the third son of gyrocompass co-inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry and his wife Zula. Sperry is noted for having invented the first autopilot, which he demonstrated with startling success in France in 1914...

 split from his father to compete over aero-instruments with the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company, including the new automatic pilot
An autopilot is a mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic system used to guide a vehicle without assistance from a human being. An autopilot can refer specifically to aircraft, self-steering gear for boats, or auto guidance of space craft and missiles...

. In 1924 following the death of Lawrence on December 13, 1923, the two firms were brought together. The company became Sperry Corporation in 1933. The new corporation was a holding company for a number of smaller entities such as the original Sperry Gyroscope, Ford Instrument Company, Intercontinental Aviation, Inc., and others. The company made advanced aircraft navigation equipment for the market, including the Sperry Gyroscope and the Sperry Radio Direction Finder.

Sperry supported the work of a group of Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

 inventors, led by Russell and Sigurd Varian
Russell and Sigurd Varian
Russell Harrison Varian and Sigurd Fergus Varian were brothers who founded one of the earliest high-tech companies in Silicon Valley...

, who had invented the klystron
A klystron is a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube . Klystrons are used as amplifiers at microwave and radio frequencies to produce both low-power reference signals for superheterodyne radar receivers and to produce high-power carrier waves for communications and the driving force for modern...

, and incorporated this technology and related inventions into their products.

The company did very well during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 as military demand skyrocketed; it specialized in high technology devices such as analog computer
Analog computer
An analog computer is a form of computer that uses the continuously-changeable aspects of physical phenomena such as electrical, mechanical, or hydraulic quantities to model the problem being solved...

–controlled bomb sights, airborne radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 systems, and automated take off and landing systems. Sperry also was the creator of the Ball Turret
Ball turret
A ball turret was a particular form of spherical-form, altazimuth mount movement manned aircraft gun turret, accommodating the gunner with nearly all the needed equipment for defensive firepower mounted either within or onto the spherical shell of the turret structure, mounted on aircraft during...

 Gun that was mounted under the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, as commemorated by the film Memphis Belle
Memphis Belle (film)
Memphis Belle is a 1990 film directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Monte Merrick, starring Matthew Modine and Eric Stoltz and introducing Harry Connick Jr. in his screen debut...

and the poem The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner is a five-line poem by Randall Jarrell published in 1945. It is about the death of a gunner in a Sperry ball turret on a World War II American bomber aircraft.From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,...

. Postwar, the company expanded its interests in electronics and computing, producing the company's first digital computer, SPEEDAC, in 1953.

During the 1950s, a large part of Sperry Gyroscope was moved to Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the U.S. state of Arizona, as well as the sixth most populated city in the United States. Phoenix is home to 1,445,632 people according to the official 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data...

 and soon thereafter became the Sperry Flight Systems Company. This was to try to preserve parts of this vital defense company in the event of a thermonuclear conflagration. Yet the Gyroscope division remained headquartered on New York—in its massive Lake Success
Lake Success, New York
Lake Success is a village in Nassau County, New York in the United States. The population was 2,934 at the 2010 census.Lake Success is in the Town of North Hempstead on northwest Long Island. Lake Success was the temporary home of the United Nations from 1946 to 1951, occupying the headquarters of...

, Long Island, plant (which also served as the temporary United Nations headquarters
United Nations headquarters
The headquarters of the United Nations is a complex in New York City. The complex has served as the official headquarters of the United Nations since its completion in 1952. It is located in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, on spacious grounds overlooking the East River...

 from 1946 to 1952)—into the 1980s.

Sperry Rand

In 1955 Sperry acquired Remington Rand
Remington Rand
Remington Rand was an early American business machines manufacturer, best known originally as a typewriter manufacturer and in a later incarnation as the manufacturer of the UNIVAC line of mainframe computers but with antecedents in Remington Arms in the early nineteenth century. For a time, the...

 and renamed itself Sperry Rand. Acquiring then Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation
Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation
The Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation was founded by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, and was incorporated on December 22, 1947. After building the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania, Eckert and Mauchly formed EMCC to build new computer designs for commercial and military applications...

 and Engineering Research Associates
Engineering Research Associates
Engineering Research Associates, commonly known as ERA, was a pioneering computer firm from the 1950s. They became famous for their numerical computers, but as the market expanded they became better known for their drum memory systems. They were eventually purchased by Remington Rand and merged...

 along with Remington Rand, the company developed the successful UNIVAC computer series and signed a valuable cross-licensing deal with IBM. The company remained a major military contractor. From 1967 to 1973 the corporation was involved in an acrimonious antitrust
The United States antitrust law is a body of laws that prohibits anti-competitive behavior and unfair business practices. Antitrust laws are intended to encourage competition in the marketplace. These competition laws make illegal certain practices deemed to hurt businesses or consumers or both,...

 lawsuit with Honeywell
Honeywell International, Inc. is a major conglomerate company that produces a variety of consumer products, engineering services, and aerospace systems for a wide variety of customers, from private consumers to major corporations and governments....

, Inc. (see: Honeywell v. Sperry Rand
Honeywell v. Sperry Rand
Honeywell, Inc. v. Mc'Donalds., et al. 180 USPQ 673 was a landmark U.S. federal court case that in April 1973 invalidated the 1964 patent for the ENIAC, the world's first general-purpose electronic digital computer, thus putting the invention of the electronic digital computer into the public...


In 1978 Sperry Rand decided to concentrate on its computing interests, and sold a number of divisions including Remington Rand Systems, Remington Rand Machines, Ford Instrument Company and Sperry Vickers
Harry Franklin Vickers
Harry Franklin Vickers was an American inventor and industrialist. He grew up in Montana and southern California...

. The company dropped "Rand" from its title and reverted to Sperry Corporation. At about the same time as the Rand acquisition, Sperry Gyroscope decided to open a facility that would almost exclusively produce its marine instruments. After considerable searching and evaluation, a plant was built in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in 1956, Sperry Piedmont Division began producing marine navigation products. It was later renamed Sperry Marine
Sperry Marine
Sperry Marine is a division of Northrop Grumman. The company manufactures many types of marine equipment such as marine radars, gyrocompasses, and navigation equipment. Sperry Marine was formed in 1997 from three well-known brand names in the marine industry - Sperry Marine, Decca Radar, and C....

. In the 1970s, Sperry Corporation was an old-school conglomerate headquartered in the Sperry Rand Building at 1290 Avenue of Americas in Manhattan, selling typewriters (Sperry Remington), office equipment, electronic digital computers for business and the military (Sperry Univac), farm equipment (Sperry New Holland), avionics (e.g. gyroscopes, radars, Air Route Traffic Control equipment) (Sperry Vickers/Sperry Flight Systems), and consumer products (electric razors) (Sperry Remington.) In addition, Sperry Systems Management (headquartered near New York City with an office at Long Island MacArthur Airport
Long Island MacArthur Airport
Long Island MacArthur Airport, formerly known as Islip Airport is a public airport located on Long Island, in Ronkonkoma, Town of Islip, Suffolk County, New York, United States. It is seven miles northeast of the central business district of Islip hamlet...

) did a fair amount of government defense contracting. Sperry bought out and continued the RCA line of electronic digital computers: architectural cousins to the IBM System/360
The IBM System/360 was a mainframe computer system family first announced by IBM on April 7, 1964, and sold between 1964 and 1978. It was the first family of computers designed to cover the complete range of applications, from small to large, both commercial and scientific...

. In 1983 Sperry sold Vickers to Libbey Owens Ford
Libbey Owens Ford
The Libbey–Owens–Ford Company was a producer of flat glass for the automotive and building products industries both for original equipment manufacturers and for replacement use. The company's headquarters and main factories were located in Toledo, Ohio, with large float glass plants in Rossford,...

 (later to be renamed TRINOVA Corporation and subsequently Aeroquip-Vickers).


In 1986, after the success of a second hostile takeover
In business, a takeover is the purchase of one company by another . In the UK, the term refers to the acquisition of a public company whose shares are listed on a stock exchange, in contrast to the acquisition of a private company.- Friendly takeovers :Before a bidder makes an offer for another...

 bid engineered by Burroughs' CEO and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
United States Secretary of the Treasury
The Secretary of the Treasury of the United States is the head of the United States Department of the Treasury, which is concerned with financial and monetary matters, and, until 2003, also with some issues of national security and defense. This position in the Federal Government of the United...

, Michael Blumenthal
W. Michael Blumenthal
Werner Michael Blumenthal served as United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Jimmy Carter from 1977-1979.-Life and career:...

, Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys
Unisys Corporation , headquartered in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, United States, and incorporated in Delaware, is a long established business whose core products now involves computing and networking.-History:...

. The takeover came about even after Sperry used a "poison pill
Poison pill
A shareholder rights plan, colloquially known as a "poison pill", or simply "the pill" is a type of defensive tactic used by a corporation's board of directors against a takeover...

" in the form of a major share price hike to dissuade the hostile bid, as a result of which Burroughs had to borrow much more from the banks than was anticipated in order to complete the bid.

Certain internal divisions of Sperry such as Sperry New Holland and Sperry Marine were sold off after the merger. Also sold—to Honeywell
Honeywell International, Inc. is a major conglomerate company that produces a variety of consumer products, engineering services, and aerospace systems for a wide variety of customers, from private consumers to major corporations and governments....

—was Sperry Flight Systems, while Sperry Defense Products Group was sold to Martin Marietta
Martin Marietta
Martin Marietta Corporation was an American company founded in 1961 through the merger of The Martin Company and American-Marietta Corporation. The combined company became a leader in chemicals, aerospace, and electronics. In 1995, it merged with Lockheed Corporation to form Lockheed Martin. The...

; those two units whose functions were originally at the heart of the venerable Sperry Gyroscope division. This group is now part of Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....


British Sperry

Sperry in Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 started with a factory in Pimlico
Pimlico is a small area of central London in the City of Westminster. Like Belgravia, to which it was built as a southern extension, Pimlico is known for its grand garden squares and impressive Regency architecture....

, London in 1913, manufacturing gyroscopic compasses for the
Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, and becoming the Sperry Gyroscope Co Ltd in 1915. In 1923 Lawrence Sperry was killed in an air crash near Rye, Sussex
Rye, East Sussex
Rye is a small town in East Sussex, England, which stands approximately two miles from the open sea and is at the confluence of three rivers: the Rother, the Tillingham and the Brede...

. The company subsequently expanded to the Golden Mile
Golden Mile (Brentford)
The Golden Mile is the name given to a stretch of the Great West Road north of Brentford running west from the western boundary of Chiswick in London, United Kingdom.It was so called due to the concentration of industry along this short stretch of road...

, Brentford
Brentford is a suburban town in west London, England, and part of the London Borough of Hounslow. It is located at the confluence of the River Thames and the River Brent, west-southwest of Charing Cross. Its former ceremonial county was Middlesex.-Toponymy:...

 in 1931, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire
Stonehouse, Gloucestershire
Stonehouse, Gloucestershire is an urban area within the Stroud District, in the UK. It is home to a number of factories, such as Dairy Crest and Schlumberger. The town is close to the M5 motorway. Stonehouse railway station has a regular train service to London...

  in 1938 and Bracknell
Bracknell is a town and civil parish in the Borough of Bracknell Forest in Berkshire, England. It lies to the south-east of Reading, southwest of Windsor and west of central London...

 in 1957. By 1963 these sites employed some 3,500 people. The Brentford site closed in 1967 with the expansion of Bracknell. Stonehouse closed around 1969. By 1969 the Sperry Gyroscope division of Sperry Rand Corporation employed around 2,500.

The site of the Bracknell factory and development centre (later sold to British Aerospace
British Aerospace
British Aerospace plc was a UK aircraft, munitions and defence-systems manufacturer. Its head office was in the Warwick House in the Farnborough Aerospace Centre in Farnborough, Hampshire...

) is commemorated by a 4.5 metre aluminium sculpture by Philip Bentham, Sperry’s New Symbolic Gyroscope (1967).

Sperry today

The name Sperry lives on in the company Sperry Marine, headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville is an independent city geographically surrounded by but separate from Albemarle County in the Commonwealth of Virginia, United States, and named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the queen consort of King George III of the United Kingdom.The official population estimate for...

. This company, formed in 1997 from three well-known brand names in the marine industry—Sperry Marine, Decca
Decca Radar
The Decca Company, a British gramophone manufacturer that, as Decca Records, released records under the Decca label, contributed to the British war effort during the Second World War...

, and C. Plath—is now part of Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman Corporation is an American global aerospace and defense technology company formed by the 1994 purchase of Grumman by Northrop. The company was the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world as of 2010, and the largest builder of naval vessels. Northrop Grumman employs over...

 Corporation. It is a worldwide supplier of navigation, communication, information and automation systems for commercial marine and naval markets.

See also

  • Hendrik Wade Bode
    Hendrik Wade Bode
    Hendrik Wade Bode , was an American engineer, researcher, inventor, author and scientist], of Dutch ancestry. As a pioneer of modern control theory and electronic telecommunications he revolutionized both the content and methodology of his chosen fields of research.He made important contributions...

  • Director (military)
    Director (military)
    A director, also called an auxiliary predictor, is a mechanical or electronic computer that continuously calculates trigonometric firing solutions for use against a moving target, and transmits targeting data to direct the weapon firing crew....

  • Gun data computer
    Gun Data Computer
    The gun data computer is a series of artillery computers used by the U.S. Army, for coastal artillery, field artillery, and antiaircraft artillery applications...

  • Fire-control system
    Fire-control system
    A fire-control system is a number of components working together, usually a gun data computer, a director, and radar, which is designed to assist a weapon system in hitting its target. It performs the same task as a human gunner firing a weapon, but attempts to do so faster and more...

  • Kerrison Predictor
    Kerrison Predictor
    The Kerrison Predictor was one of the first fully automated anti-aircraft fire-control systems. The predictor could aim a gun at an aircraft based on simple inputs like the observed speed and the angle to the target...

  • Rangekeeper
    Rangekeepers were electromechanical fire control computers used primarily during the early part of the 20th century. They were sophisticated analog computers whose development reached its zenith following World War II, specifically the Computer Mk 47 in the Mk 68 Gun Fire Control system. During...

  • Sperry Sun
    UNIVAC is the name of a business unit and division of the Remington Rand company formed by the 1950 purchase of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, founded four years earlier by ENIAC inventors J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, and the associated line of computers which continues to this day...

Further reading

  • Gold V. Sanders. The Little top That Aims a Gun, Popular Science, July 1945, Vol. 147, No. 1, pp. 86–93, Bonnier Corporation, ISSN 0161-7370

  • Mindell, David A.; "Between Human and Machine — Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics," Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, ©2002. ISBN 0-8018-6895-5

External links

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