Sperry Corporation

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Sperry Corporation was a major American equipment and electronics 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, while some other of its former divisions became part of Honeywell.


Early history

The company was founded in 1910 as the Sperry Gyroscope Company by Elmer Ambrose Sperry to manufacture navigation equipment, chiefly his own inventions – the marine gyrostabilizer and the gyrocompass at 40 Flatbush Avenue Extension in Downtown Brooklyn.[1] During World War I 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. Over the years, it diversified to other locations.

In 1918 Lawrence Sperry split from his father to compete over aero-instruments with the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company, including the new automatic pilot. 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.

The company did very well during World War II as military demand skyrocketed; it specialized in high technology devices such as analog computer–controlled bomb sights, airborne radar systems, and automated take off and landing systems. Sperry also was the creator of the Ball Turret Gun that was mounted under the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, as commemorated by the films Memphis Belle and the poem The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. 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 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, Long Island plant (which also served as United Nations headquarters before 1952)—into the 1980s.

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