Smiths Origins

The origins of Smiths Group of companies


COPYRIGHT Barrie Smith 2005
Please do not steal any part of this publication and republish it on the Internet or in any other form.

Smiths trace their ancestry back to a craftsman named Samuel Smith who in 1851 opened a shop in Newington Causeway, London, where he made and sold watches, clocks and precision instruments.

Samuel had a son, another Samuel, who presumably learnt the business from his father.

Samuel junior opened his own business at 85 Strand and later had other premises at 9 Strand, Trafalgar Square and 68 Piccadilly. In 1899 he turned his business into a private limited company, S. Smith & Son Ltd.

A picture of 9 Strand and of the interior.

Samuel junior's son, Sir Allan Gordon-Smith, joined him as Manager at 9 Strand in 1903 and laid the foundation of the vast Smiths organisation of the future, leading the company towards the supply of accessories for the then developing motor industry.

Smiths' earliest connection with the motor trade was the supply of watches for fitting to cars. Then when it became obvious that people using the new horseless carriage would want to know how fast they were going and how far they had been the Smiths Speedometer was designed in 1904

The business' development of the first British speedometer proved to be the foundation on which the automotive manufacturing business was then built, branching into aircraft instruments as flight was developed.

In July 1914 a new company was formed under the name S. Smith & Sons (Motor Accessories) Ltd., to take over the motor accessory business of S. Smith and Son Ltd. and this became the main company of the group which eventually grew to become Smiths Industries Ltd.

The original company, S Smith and Sons Ltd., continued as jewellers and clock and watch makers and the Shentons, in their book "Collectable Clocks" refer to a number of handsome longcase clocks dated c1900 with the S Smith and Sons name.

I understand the business ceased in 1930 and the premises were taken over by Bravingtons, the retail jewellers. In later years the name S Smith and Sons Ltd. appears on a spare parts leaflet for Smiths clocks.

When the early expansion of the business was taking shape in 1914, the war, which saw the start of the flying machine and the mechanisation of the land forces, brought specialised production problems and throughout the war the company increased its production of vehicle accessories and manufactured fuses and aircraft instruments. A factory was built at Cricklewood. Towards the end of the war Smiths purchased Trier & Martin, which had a small lighting and starting business, and another concern making air-speed indicators. Smiths also manufactured sparking plugs for the Air Ministry under licence

In 1919 Smiths acquired the issued share capital of M.L. Magneto Syndicate Ltd., a manufacturer of patented magnetos.

In the latter part of 1927 Smiths made two important acquisitions, viz. the whole of the share capital of K.L.G. Sparking Plugs Ltd. (giving control of the K.L.G. plug business) and 75 per cent of the share capital of Ed. Jaeger (London) Ltd. (Jaeger was a manufacturer of clocks, watches, speedometers and other instruments and held exclusive licences to make some of these goods).

In 1928 Smiths were producing nearly 100,000 car clocks per year and were importing the platform escapements for these. Allan Gordon-Smith formed the "All British Escapements Co Ltd " (ABEC) to manufacture escapements for "Smiths" and "Jaeger" car clocks.

Smiths was the majority shareholder; the other shares were held by the French and Swiss interests which had retained shareholdings in the English Jaeger company. Swiss foremen were installed to teach the manufacturing technique.

Although the company was formed in 1928, production did not start until 1932

From 1932 until 1945 A.B.E.C. operated as a manufacturing unit alongside ED Jaeger (London) Ltd {renamed British Jaeger Instruments Ltd. in 1931} in the latter's Chronos Works, North Circular Road, N.W.2, making escapements and components for domestic and car clocks and various other instruments.

Smiths' development as a supplier of components to the motor vehicle industry reached a turning point in 1930. In that year the company sold all the assets of its Lighting, Starting and Ignition Department and the whole of the share capital of M.L. Magneto Syndicate Ltd. to Joseph Lucas Ltd., and the two companies made a trading agreement under which each party undertook not to make certain products which were regarded as within the other's field of interest.

In 1931 Smiths decided to enter the domestic clock market and formed a new company, Smiths English Clocks Ltd., as the Clock and Watch division of S Smith & Sons (Motor Accessories) Ltd.

This is the point taken as the start of "Smiths Clocks" for the purposes of this book because this is when they began to manufacture domestic clocks in quantity. Moreover they set out to produce these clocks at a price that the average householder could afford.

The next section of this website sets out a Brief History of the Clock and Watch Division

S Smith & Sons (Motor Accessories) was at this time the main company in the Smiths group of companies and their business developed both in the motor vehicle field and outside it. Smiths began to make automatic pilots for aircraft and, through the acquisition of a majority interest in Henry Hughes & Sons Ltd., entered the field of marine instruments.

During the war from 1939 to 1945, Smiths' production expanded. There was a demand for motor, aircraft and marine instruments for the Services and the production of industrial instruments, hitherto imported, was begun. Fuses were also manufactured.

In 1944 a number of changes were made in Smiths' organisation. The name of the principal company was changed from S Smith & Sons (Motor Accessories) to: S. Smith & Sons (England) Ltd. and four new subsidiary selling companies were set up.

These were: Smiths Motor Accessories Ltd., Smiths Aircraft Instruments Ltd., Smiths Industrial Instruments Ltd., and Smiths English Clocks Ltd.

In 1958 Smiths Aviation and Marine was created and in 1961 a separate aviation division was formed.

In 1966 the company changed its name again, from S. Smith & Sons (England) Ltd. to Smiths Industries Ltd.

In 1977 Smiths Industries made a further change to the Clock & Watch Division by forming two separate companies, "Smiths Industries Clock Company " and "Smiths Industries Watch Company" . This was reported in HJ Aug 1977.

Manufacture of clocks and watches ceased in 1979 and in 1983 Smiths withdrew from the motor industry.

In 1987 Smiths acquired the US avionics businesses of Lear Siegler Holdings Corp (and their 'major position' with Boeing). The end result was that by the late 1980s aerospace had evolved into Smiths' major core business.

To bring the story up to date, in late 2000 Smiths Industries merged with the T I Group and as a result of that merger the company name was changed to Smiths Group plc.


Dumped in here by a search engine? Get back to the main menu of Smiths Clocks