Creating Opportunity

All Things Electric

The invention of the telephone in 1876 and the incandescent lamp in 1879 opened up a world of new opportunities for Western Electric. Despite the rivalry between Alexander Graham Bell
Inventor and scientist who is credited with the patent of the telephone and a founding member of the National Geographic Society.
and Elisha Gray over the patent for the telephone, Western Electric won a contract to manufacture telephones for the American Bell Telephone Company
1881 American Bell Telephone Company (a predecessor of AT&T) acquires majority ownership of Western Electric Manufacturing Company from Western Union. Western Electric shortens its name to Western Electric Company.
, the predecessor of AT&T.

American Bell eventually acquired a majority ownership of Western Electric from Western Union and subsequently awarded Western Electric
1882 Western Electric becomes the exclusive U.S. manufacturer of telephone equipment for Bell companies.
an exclusive contract to manufacture Bell telephones in the United States.

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent bulb 1879 Thomas Edison invents the incandescent light bulb., leading to the birth of the electrical industry. Barton, who was serving as president of Western Electric, wanted a piece of the action. In the 1890s, Western Electric began manufacturing electrical equipment including transformers, fans and motors. Barton also saw a huge opportunity in distribution and envisioned a “department store of electrical apparatus” that would not only distribute Western Electric’s own products but also those of other leading manufacturers. With hard work and perseverance, Western Electric opened its supply department in 1890, offering products from Klein Tools, Square D, Westinghouse Electric Company, Bryant Electric Company and General Electric. This department also developed a sizable business selling Western Electric telephone equipment.

The rapid spread of electrical service to homes across America provided the supply department with an opportunity in the household appliance business, and the company began offering items such as Western Electric washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

As Western Electric’s business expanded beyond the manufacturing of telephone equipment, American Bell grew increasingly concerned. In 1921, Western Electric decided to split its manufacturing business and the supply department. Eventually, this led the company to spin off its supply business as a separate entity in 1925.

Many names were in contention for the new supply business, but in honor of its co-founders, management chose Graybar Electric Company, Inc.
1925 Western Electric forms a separate subsidiary, Graybar Electric Company, to take over the activities of the supply department. Albert Salt is named president.
as the name of the company, which officially opened on December 11, 1925.

Western Electric’s Vice President of purchasing, Albert Salt
As Graybar’s first president in 1925, Salt was a publicity mastermind and wasted no time in making Graybar a household name.
, was chosen to lead the new company. Through a fortunate turn of events, Salt was able to establish Graybar’s first corporate office and put Graybar’s name on the world’s largest office building in the world at the time. To this day, the building at 420 Lexington
1927 Graybar moves its headquarters office to the newly completed Graybar Building adjacent to Grand Central Terminal in midtown New York.
is still known as the Graybar building. As of February 2015, we're back in the Graybar Building!

Continue to the next chapter: Sale of the Century