S&C Electric Company
S&C Electric Company
Founded: 1911 as Schweitzer & Conrad Inc.
Sales: $130 million
SICs: 3613 Switchgear and Switchboard Apparatus
S&C Electric Company develops and manufactures products for the highly competitive electric power industry. The company primarily focuses on high-voltage switching and protection products, including such items as trademarked SMD Power Fuses, Pad-Mounted Gear, Fault Filter Electronic Power Fuses, and Scada-Mate Switching Systems. These products help ensure the delivery of electrical power and the continuity of service under the most severe weather conditions by minimizing damage to circuits and high-voltage equipment.
The company was founded by Nicholas J. Conrad and Edmund O. Schweitzer. Around the turn of the century, Conrad worked as a electrical engineer for a man named Schweitzer, an electrical engineer and chief testing engineer for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago, Illinois. Both men were involved in the construction of central power stations, of which Commonwealth Edison was a leader in the field. In the early part of the 20th century, numerous breakdowns of electrical power stations were a regular occurrence. During one of these breakdowns at the Fisk Street station on Chicago’s north side, Schweitzer and Conrad discovered that the cause was a fuse failure. Immediately both men recognized the need for a new fuse design.
Joining together, Conrad and Schweitzer developed the S&C Electric Fuse, a highly innovative fuse unlike anything manufactured up to that time. In 1911, the two men formed a partnership and began to market their invention. The fuse became hugely popular, especially since it was developed with enough protection that it could be used outdoors, and led to the construction of outdoor distribution substations by electrical utility companies. Soon the S&C Electric Fuse was sold in Australia, Germany, Canada, Japan, Italy, and England. In the United States, Conrad and Schweitzer’s fuse dominated the high-voltage fuse market with a 75 percent share.
By 1916, the company was growing at such a fast pace that Conrad decided to leave Commonwealth Edison and concentrate on developing new products at S&C while Schweitzer remained at the utility firm. One year later, S&C relocated to Wilson and Ravenswood Avenues on Chicago’s far north side. To augment their production of the liquid fuse, the two men began to develop fuse mountings, disconnect switches, lightning arresters, voltage detectors and choke coils. Throughout the 1920s, the company improved upon its development of innovative fuse designs. Operating voltages of this second generation of liquid fuse designs increased from 15,000 volts to 138,000 volts by the end of the decade. Conrad, the driving force behind the firm, had applied for and was granted 49 patents for developing liquid fuse and switching apparatuses by 1930.
Yet by the end of 1930, Conrad had withdrawn from managing the daily operations of the firm due to ill health. With Schweitzer still committed to working at Commonwealth Edison, as he always had done, the controlling interests in the firm were sold to Cutler-Hammer, a larger midwestern manufacturer of motor control parts for the automobile industry. Yet the onset of the Great Depression during the 1930s seriously affected S&C, and sales of liquid fuses declined dramatically. Nonetheless, the men who were Conrad’s earlier associates were committed to developing new products for the company. One of the most important product developments during this time was the SM Power Fuse, one of the first solid-material fuses which significantly expanded the use of power fuses for the electrical utility industry. From 1930 to 1940, these men were granted patents for 111 new products.
The advent of World War II brought new challenges to the company, and S&C retooled its facility in Chicago to meet the requirements of a war-time industry. Products such as high-voltage channel selectors were developed and manufactured for radars used by ships in the U.S. Navy, and fused load interrupters were designed for use by companies engaged in war-related production. Due to the increased demand and new areas of application for power fuses at this time, S&C was able to pursue its specialty in electrical fuses and high-voltage protection even though construction within the electrical utility industry had virtually come to a complete standstill during the war.
The postwar years for S&C signaled great changes. S&C reviewed and reorganized its product line, dropping items that were incompatible with the company’s growing list of highly specialized products for high-voltage circuit interruption. Most important, however, was the return of Nicholas Conrad. Having fully recovered from his illness, he acquired all of Cutler-Hammer’s controlling interest, purchased all of Edmund Schweitzer’s minority interest, and assumed complete control of the company’s operations. His first decision was to keep S&C Electric as the company’s name, while his second decision involved a complete overhaul and re-equipment of the plant in Chicago. From 1945 to 1949, Conrad implemented measures that doubled the company’s production capacity.
S&C Electric Company grew by leaps and bounds during the 1950s. Under the new leadership of John Conrad, Nicholas Conrad’s son who had been working for the firm since 1945, the company remained committed to developing better uses for its specialty power fuses and interrupter switches. With electrical consumption within the United States nearly doubling every 10 years, the continuity of electrical service had to be assured with the least possibility of power shortages. This development required substantially improved switching flexibility, and S&C responding by developing its Alduti Interrupter Switch. But management recognized that there was an entirely new, and rapidly growing, group of large electrical power consumers. The demand for more power brought on by such new products as air-conditioning, space heating, automation, and more lighting, compelled companies and owners of office buildings to distribute electrical power at higher voltages than ever used before. S&C discovered that an entirely new market for their fuses and interrupter switches was being created by the demand for ever-increasing electrical power.
The company started developing a brand-new product line of switchgear, fuses, and fuse interrupters, and soon innovative new designs and expanded versions of older products began to multiply. The company’s revenues increased astronomically and, as a reward, S&C’s research and development department was given greater autonomy than ever before. A new marketing strategy was put into place, along with a larger staff and additional sales offices throughout the country. An S&C testing site was added in Arnhem, The Netherlands, one of the first instances of an American company arranging to test its products overseas on a regular basis. The company’s manufacturing facilities in north Chicago were also expanded during the years 1951 to 1957. In the midst of all the growth and increasing profitability, Nicholas Conrad gradually withdrew from his daily supervisory activities at the firm. He eventually died in 1956 after an extended illness.
During the late 1950s, company sales continued to increase. Although S&C had sold and even manufactured its products primarily through licensing agreements started in the 1920s, management thought it more cost-effective to eliminate this process by making and marketing all of its own product line. As a result, the company established S&C Canada, Ltd., to manufacture its products. Originally located in Toronto, the factory grew rapidly until a new factory was built in Rexdale, adjacent to Toronto International Airport. By the end of the decade, the Rexdale plant and the Chicago factory were producing some of the most important, and also the most innovative, items for the electrical power industry, including SMD-2D Power Fuses, SM Power Fuses with interrupting capacities, SM Metal-Enclosed Fuses, Switch Operators, Potential Devices, Control Panels, Fusistor Fuses, Loadbuster Disconnects, XS Open Cutouts, Pad-Mounted Gear, New Heavy-Duty Indoor Alduti Interrupter Switches, and many more. The company also used its technical expertise to introduce new models of old products, such as High Voltage Detectors, various Handling Tools, and Liquid Fuses with Resistors.
In 1961, S&C Electric developed one of the most innovative products in the electric power industry: the Circuit Switcher. A combination of circuit breaker and interrupter, the name described a new product line of switchgears for transmission breakers. With the invention of this product, utility companies were able to adopt entirely new methods for protecting transmission systems. Along with this new development in switch-gears, the company celebrated its Golden Jubilee Anniversary by dedicating the brand new Nicholas J. Conrad Laboratory. At a cost of $2 million, the laboratory was the largest building heated by electricity in the city of Chicago.
When first built, the Nicholas J. Conrad Laboratory was a state-of-the-art experimental and research facility, one of the best in the country for developing products for the electric power industry. The laboratory included high-voltage rooms for flashover testing, an indoor short-circuit test cell, an experimental arcing room, a generator room with two motor-generated machines, an outdoor substation used for load-switching and short-circuit testing, and an environmental test chamber where various weather conditions such as icing, salt spray, and humidity could be controlled and maintained with precision in order to test switchgear. The laboratory’s control room was the company’s showcase, with its master test consoles, cathode-ray oscillography machine, recording instruments, automatic programmer, and various other kinds of monitoring equipment. By the end of the 1960s, S&C’s Conrad Laboratory had developed high-voltage circuit interruption into an art form.
During the 1970s, S&C concentrated on developing its Conrad Laboratory, and devoted large sums of money to hiring personnel in technical fields such as electrical, mechanical, chemical, electronic, and metallurgical engineering. The company also spent generously on updating its state-of-the-art facilities, from design and prototype development equipment to experimentation and testing mechanisms. Management was convinced, and their judgement was vindicated, that the future of development and research in the electrical power industry was largely dependent upon a company’s ability to reproduce field conditions in the laboratory setting to test and rate various products such as circuit breakers and fuses. By the end of the decade, S&C’s Conrad Laboratory had garnered the reputation as the most sophisticated, comprehensive, and reliable research and development facility in the entire electrical power industry.
The 1980s mirrored the 1970s in many way for S&C Electric. Company revenues continued to increase and profitability also rose. The firm’s reputation as the undisputed leader in the development, design, and manufacture of products for the electrical power industry was known throughout the United States. Management remained committed to providing adequate funding for the Conrad Laboratory, evident in its installation of a 1.6 million-volt impulse testing generator which reproduces voltage surges similar to lightning strikes, a test generator designed to bear extreme electrical, mechanical, and thermal stresses, a high-speed video system that is able to record 12,000 frames per second, a robotic welding system, and modern manufacturing operations such as four-axis turning centers. Perhaps the most important addition to the Conrad Laboratory’s research and development capabilities during this time was the inclusion of a Computer Aided Design System (CAD). This system allows engineers to employ computer-aided modeling and analysis to explore the various alternatives in designing a product, and minimizes the time between development and product introduction.
By the mid-1990s, S&C Electric Company was still known as the pre-eminent firm in the development and manufacture of high-voltage switching and protection products. The company was selling more power fuses, fuse cutouts, regulator bypass switches, recloser bypass connectors, interrupter switches pad-mounted gear, and metal-enclosed switchgear than any other firm within the electrical power industry. Sales for S&C Electric were reported to approach the $150 million mark.
S&C Electric Canada, Ltd.
The Hidden Energy of S&C, company document, Chicago: S&C Electric, 1995.
S&C Electric Company: High-Voltage Switching and Protection Products,Information Bulletin 102, company document, 1994.
The S&C Story. . . Its First Fifty Years as a Specialist in High-Voltage Circuit Interruption,Chicago: S&C Electric, 1961.