45 West Gude Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20850-1160
Fax: (301) 738-4323
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Tracor Inc.
Incorporated: 1950 as Vitro Manufacturing Co.
Sales: $315 million
SICs: 7373 Computer Integrated Systems Design; 8711 Engineering Services
Vitro Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Tracor Inc. since 1993, is one of the Washington D.C. area’s largest uefense contractors, providing systems and information engineering for the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Federal agencies, defense contractors, international governments, and the intelligence community. Vitro’s subsidiary, Quality Systems, Inc. (QSI), headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, complements Vitro’s primary business by providing customers with software development services, which consist of analyzing and designing new computer systems and providing technical support and training programs.
Company data traces Vitro’s formation to 1948, the onset of the Cold War, a period characterized military build-ups resulting from increasing ideological conflict and mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. During this time, Vitro developed test systems for military applications. With headquarters in New York City, Vitro was incorporated in 1950 as Vitro Manufacturing Co. That year, Vitro acquired Kellex Corp. and a J.R. Simplot plant, and, in 1953, these subsidiaries were merged with the parent to create Vitro Corp. of America. The corporation established significant and long-standing connections with the U.S. Navy during this time and later affirmed that it had “provided services for virtually every guided missile system installed by the U.S. Navy on its ships since 1948.” The Navy remained one of Vitro’s primary customers in the 1990s.
Vitro built an on-site laboratory at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida in 1951, where the company surveyed test ranges and designed, installed, operated, and maintained ground-based test instrumentation and equipment. The company also designed, manufactured and installed precision tracking and meteorological radar systems and intrusion detection systems. In the mid-1950s, Vitro acquired Thieblot Aircraft Co., Inc. and NEMS-Clark, Inc., and Vitro’s headquarters were moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. Vitro’s sales increased rapidly, while Cold War defense and military budgets multiplied; by the late 1960s, the company’s annual sales stood at over $70 million.
Vitro operated independently until 1968, when it was acquired by Automation Industries, Inc. through an exchange of stock. As a subsidiary of Automation Industries, the company was renamed Vitro Engineering Corp. When Automation Industries and General Cable Corp. merged a decade later, Vitro was included as part of the agreement. The new conglomeration, named GK Technologies Incorporated, had interests in a wide variety of concerns, including cable and wire manufacture and household products.
In 1981, GK Technologies and Vitro were acquired by Penn Central Corp., which had survived bankruptcy by selling its rail properties to the federal government and diversifying into energy, defense, and manufacturing. Significant Vitro projects during the 1980s included ship communications and air support systems for such projects as the Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident ballistic missiles as well as the Tomahawk cruise missile system. As the federal government opened increasingly more of its contracts to competitive bidding during the decade, Vitro increased its marketing capabilities and expenditures to maintain and obtain business from the Air Force and Army.
During the mid-1980s, Vitro became involved in a legal battle with a subcontractor, California-based Systems Exploration Inc. (SEI), which specialized in software. SEI sued Vitro in 1985, alleging, according to The Washington Post, that Vitro’s “entire purpose was to lure SEI into teaming agreements so that SEI’s expertise and availability could be held out to the government in order to win the proposals and to then give SEI as little work as possible, thus keeping the work and profit in-house.” After four years of depositions, Vitro paid SEI a settlement of over $707,000, without admitting any wrongdoing.
By the early 1990s, Penn Central had shifted its focus from manufacturing industries to service industries, such as insurance. Vitro, which had 1991 sales of $419.7 million, was put up for sale in 1992. At the time, Vitro’s book value was estimated at $100 million by The Washington Post. Tracor Inc., based in Austin, Texas, purchased the defense contractor for $94 million the following year. Tracor, a 37-year-old electronics and technical services firm, had recently emerged from bankruptcy after racking up nearly $500,000 in losses for the 1988, 1989, and 1990 fiscal years. Vitro became Tracer’s largest subsidiary.
Cuts in defense budgets in the early 1990s prompted a decline in the defense industry, and Tracor planned to focus on “those portions of the defense market which will support a smaller military force, upgrade current systems for longer operation before replacement, and develop new technologies to provide advanced capabilities in the event they are required.” Moreover, the company was also encouraged to court business from foreign countries, with which the United States was on friendly terms, such as Egypt.
Quality Systems, Inc.
Sugawara, Sandra, “Perm Central Looking to Sell Silver Spring-Based Vitro,” Washington Post, December 11, 1992, p. Dl.
Tucker, Elizabeth, “Vitro Corp. Settles Suit by California Subcontractor,” Washington Post, January 21, 1989, p. D12.
—April Dougal Gasbarre