Updated 04-I-2019

Franklin Silas Terry

This article is based on a document of fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, which appeared on his website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017 and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved and subsequently expanded with new material by this author, to maintain continued access to the research he initiated.

Franklin Silas Terry

The worth of a human being is determined, in part, by character, accomplishments and humanistic deeds. A person who stands above the throng can be a role model for others and attain the respect of contemporaries. It certainly isn't necessary that one be notable in the historical sense, and it is assumed that the past has been witness to many of these noble persons, whose names are essentially lost in the dust of time. It is concluded by this writer that Franklin Silas Terry, because of his activities and achievements, was one person whose name and life should be memorialized. Terry's accomplishments do not pale when compared with those contemporary figures who received more press coverage than he. It was his nature to be in the background and remain anonymous.

Ideally a biographer would be a contemporary of the subject and quite knowledgeable of the person. If that is so, the work is apt to be more than a compendium of facts. Unfortunately that is not the case with this writer and Mr. Terry. In addition, personal files of the subject person should be available so that an accurate description of the life can be revealed . That, too, is not the case here. One can always hope to interview persons who knew the subject if that is possible and convenient. Unfortunately that, too, is not the situation here. As Franklin Terry passed away before the birth of the writer, difficulties stood in the way of a writing that would do justice to his life. However, the situation could not be changed and his story, such as it is, is one that deserves to have a permanent place on the shelf of biographies of outstanding people.

Franklin Silas Terry was born in Connecticut in 1862 and came from a family whose members established their own marks on the pages of history. With no formal education beyond high school he was able to achieve great importance in the community of man and attain respect from it. Terry did what many others would never do—stray from the well-worn paths of life to approach problems from a humanistic, as well as a practical, side.

Terry consolidated a group of incandescent lamp manufacturers into a cohesive whole and made that situation profitable, even when their competition had better engineering and financial stability. He then formed what is one of the first industrial parks in the United States where the dirt and grime from the city-center were left behind. His efforts were so successful that today the headquarters of the General Electric Lighting organization remains at that location and the once "competitive" Edison Works has been abandoned. Terry went into semi-retirement from that location in East Cleveland, Ohio, called "Nela Park," as a Vice-President of the General Electric Company.

A little-known humanitarian effort of gargantuan proportion was undertaken by Terry during World War I when he organized a fund for the benefit of French orphans and mutilated French soldiers. Because of his effort, and financial support, he became known as the "American Godfather."

Franklin Terry was the antithesis of the robber baron of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His was a life of harmony, generosity and justice. He had a co-worker for a quarter of a century, Burton Gad Tremaine, which resulted in a partnership that brought respect, loyalty and success to the lighting business of the General Electric Company.

Early Years in Ansonia, Connecticut
Ansonia is located at the confluence of the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers, about 12 miles from Long Island Sound. It was a natural location choice for the early settlers because the locale provided transportation, food and water for power. While it was fortuitous that William Terry, Franklin's father, decided to settle in the region, it undoubtedly was an excellent location to nurture the likes of Franklin Terry.

Franklin exhibited extraordinary degrees of organization and industry as a youth. His creative activities were able to blossom to marked degrees. It's no surprise that these same traits were exhibited in adult life. At the age of 13 Franklin published a monthly paper. At age 15 he and a friend published a larger paper that met with some success. At age 16 Franklin was witness to a meeting that proved to be of great importance.

There existed in Ansonia a man who was a manufacturer, as well as an inventor. William Wallace was the first person in the United States to manufacture dynamos. It was in September, 1878 that Thomas Alva Edison traveled to Ansonia with Professor George F. Barker to visit the shops of Wallace, partner of Moses Farmer. In the words of Matthew Josephson:

"After receiving the inventor and his party warmly, Wallace exhibited eight brilliant arc lights of 500 candlepower each as well as the Wallace-Farmer dynamo of 8 horsepower that supplied them. As an eye-witness related: "Edison was enraptured...He fairly gloated...He ran from the instruments to the lights and then again from the lights back to the electric instruments. He sprawled over a table and made all sorts of calculations. He calculated the power of the instruments and the lights, the probable loss of power in transmission, the amount of coal the instrument would use in a day, a week, a month, a year...
"He then turned to Mr. Wallace and said challengingly, 'I believe I can beat you making the electric light. I do not think you are working in the right direction.' They shook hands in friendly fashion and, with a diamond-pointed stylus, Edison signed his name and date (September 8, 1878) on a wine goblet served by his host at dinner."

The outcome of that "challenge" is history. Edison perfected the incandescent lamp and his name became a household word. Also present during those discussions between Wallace and Edison was an office boy who worked in the Wallace concern. He listened attentively to what was being said by these two remarkable men. Their words were inspirational and a driving force for that high school youngster. The name of the office boy who witnessed that dramatic time in history was Franklin Silas Terry.

The Electrical Supply Company
Franklin Terry graduated from high school in 1880, ranking at the top of his class in scholarship and deportment. During the summer, after graduation, Franklin worked for Wallace & Sons. He then planned to enter Phillips Exeter Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. However, a job was offered him in a new Wallace concern, The Electrical Supply Company, which he accepted. The new firm was to manufacture electric light, telephone and telegraph supplies. Terry worked in Ansonia for the new firm until October of 1884. The Wallace family then decided to open a branch of the company in Chicago and they chose Terry to manage it. Thus, in November of 1884 Franklin Terry traveled to Chicago and opened the branch office.

By December of 1893 The Electrical Supply Company was the largest such concern in the United States. Terry made the supply house famous through the care and originality shown in his successful method of advertising. In 1892 a catalog of their goods was put out and 5000 copies were printed. That venture cost ,000, a sum considered more than adequate to start a new business. However, the printing paid off when orders began to be received, which indicated that the purchasing public appreciated the graphical display of items that had proven worthy of manufacture in the past.

It was while he worked for The Electrical Supply Company that Terry helped to found the National Electric Light Association. Mr. George S. Bowen, owner of the central station in Elgin, Illinois, invited Terry to go to Elgin in December of 1884 to witness the appearance of a new installation of arc street lighting, similar to what had been installed in Detroit, Michigan. Mr. Bowen made the suggestion to Terry that it might be a good idea to call together the electric companies to band together to form a national organization, modeled after the Gas Association group. Terry made the suggestion to several concerns that were interested in electrical applications but little interest was generated at first. The matter was brought up again in February of 1885 and a meeting was held to discuss a possible convention, which was to be held in Chicago. That meeting was held and a committee on invitations and arrangements was organized with Messrs. George S. Bowen, E.A. Sperry and Franklin Terry being members. The details of the invitations and requests for papers to be presented were left up to Terry. About February 18, 1885 a meeting was held at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago and after the meeting had concluded they elected J. Frank Morrison as president. The National Electric Light Association had been born and it remained an active and productive organization for many years.

The Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company
Franklin Terry was successful with The Electrical Supply Company but his interminable energy pushed him to take on other challenges. As he was no stranger to the subject of incandescent lamps it's not surprising that he decided to enter that business also. Thus, in 1889 he founded The Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company but he remained with The Electrical Supply Company until December of 1893. He did not want to devote full time to any new business so he hired other persons to assume the major roles.

The years between 1889 and 1894 were turbulent ones for the independent lamp makers. For years these manufacturers supposedly ignored the basic Edison patent No. 223,898 of January 27, 1880, which described a high resistance filament sealed into a glass enclosure using platinum lead-in wires, with the bulb being evacuated of gases. The patent was to expire on November 17, 1894. Manufacturers in the late 1880s concluded that no infringement problems would be encountered with the patent because no action had been taken prior to that time.

After the formation of the General Electric Company in 1892 infringement suits were introduced into court however. Franklin Terry responded to this situation by writing letters to the editor of the Electrical World. Franklin's older brother, Albert, had moved from Ansonia in February of 1892 to become Secretary and Treasurer of Sunbeam, and he, also wrote a letter giving his view of the lamp situation from the perspective of one independent manufacturer. The letter pointed out that the independents had no intention of infringing the patent but licenses were not being granted. Eventually these matters were resolved and business went on essentially as before.

On October 1, 1896, Franklin Terry wrote a letter to the Western Electric Company in Chicago to propose that they become the exclusive selling agent for Sunbeam incandescent lamps. The proposal was accepted. An overseer of the Sunbeam business, from 1895 to 1931, was Henry B. Vanzwoll. He started in 1895 as Secretary and became President in 1904, remaining at the helm until his retirement.

The Sunbeam Company made carbon, GEM, and tungsten (MAZDA) lamps. A label identifying the lamp as "Sunbeam" was not used after about 1924.

The National Electric Lamp Association
The sequential steps in the formation of National have been presented in somewhat different terms by writers in the past. This writer prefers to accept the story as written by Franklin Terry in 1910.

At an early date Mr. Jotham Potter of the Buckeye Electric Company in Cleveland spearheaded a movement to consolidate the small independent manufacturers in an effort to strengthen one and all, excluding, of course, the General Electric Company. Then, in the winter of 1900-1901 Franklin Terry attended a banquet in Chicago given by electrical supply dealers. He was seated next to Burton Gad Tremaine, who had financial interests in several businesses and, with others, had founded the Fostoria Incandescent Lamp Company in Ohio in 1897. Burton Tremaine was interested in what Terry had to say. Terry, too, had been advocating consolidation of the independents with the purpose of sharing research results, but in a friendly competitive manner.

According to Terry, a short time after that meeting TremaineTremaine traveled to New York to talk with him regarding the consolidation idea. Apparently Tremaine thought favorably of the idea because he and one of his Fostoria partners, John B. Crouse, had talked the idea over with Charles A. Coffin, President of the General Electric Company. Their thought was - any consolidation without the approval of GE would be doomed to failure. Now, the reason(s) behind that visit of Tremaine and Crouse to Coffin aren't entirely clear to this writer. It's surprising that Terry was left out of the discussion.

Several authors have attributed the consolidation of independents into the National Electric Lamp Company to have been an idea originated with Coffin. This writer has no evidence of that. In fairness to the issue, however, it should be pointed out that John White Howell, a dynamic figure with the Edison group, stated in a small book written for his children that Coffin was the force behind that move. More recently, George Wise, of the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, implied that the same scenario occurred. Perhaps the point is unimportant now as the history books would be little affected.

More than a consolidation of the independents was to occur. Terry's thought was that consolidation would enable them to work harmoniously together, share research results and compete, but on a friendly rather than an antagonistic basis. The approval by Coffin to the plan was to be accompanied with a loan of money. At the time of consolidation, General Electric had about 75% of the incandescent lamp market and the independents, about 25%.

The National Electric Lamp Company was formed on May 1, 1901 by five individuals and initially they constituted the Advisory Board. Their names were: Franklin S. Terry, Burton G. Tremaine, John B. Crouse, Henry A. Tremaine and J. Robert Crouse.

According to Terry's write-up he and Tremaine visited the independents to discuss the possibility of coming together in a move of friendly competition. Generally the response to the suggestion was negative. It appeared that many manufacturers were not able to make money and were interested in selling their businesses. None of the parties contacted thought the consolidation could compete against General Electric. What the parties were not told, however, was that GE would be a silent partner in such a change. Terry and Tremaine started to buy the various lamp concerns but had considerable difficulty in doing so because the amount of money GE would loan was limited and their money reserves were limited for several years. However, they continued their acquisitions and the consolidated companies enjoyed success.

The name change in 1906 from the National Electric Lamp Company to the National Electric Lamp Association was convenient, in that an acronym could be derived from the new name. After the move to East Cleveland from 45th Street in Cleveland, and the word "Park" was added, the location known as "Nela Park" was born.

The 1911 Federal Incandescent Suit
In the years following the Civil War, companies that sold similar goods banded together and agreed to charge high prices for their products. Such a monopoly is called a trust and the citizenry grew tired of such "underhanded" tactics. As a result of these corporation combinations Senator John Sherman of Ohio introduced a bill in Congress to make such trusts illegal. As a result, a bill was passed in 1890, called the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which forbade this tactic.

In retrospect, one might look at the combination of incandescent lamp companies that formed the National Electric Lamp Company in a different light. Although it is difficult to reconstruct the events of the time, it is of interest to reexamine any negative view of the consolidation.

The National Electric Lamp Company was formed for the purpose of sharing engineering costs by having a laboratory from which all members could share in the results and at the same time enjoy friendly competition. There was not to be any collusion on price fixing. However, as early as May, 1908 it was reported that the Navy Department took bids for an order of 340,000 incandescent lamps. Fourteen bids were received and 13 of them were for exactly the same amount, ,631.23. It's difficult to conclude that collusion did not exist.

On March 3, 1911 the Attorney-General of the United States, George Woodward Wickersham, brought suit against the General Electric Company, Westinghouse Lamp Company, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, National Electric Lamp Company and about 31 other companies for restraint of trade. The suit was brought through the United States Circuit Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland Ohio. On October 12, 1911 Judge John M. Killits, sitting in Toledo, Ohio, handed down a decree against the manufacturers.

The General Electric Company had owned a 75.2% share of the stock of the National Electric Lamp Company and was, therefore, a hidden partner of the National group. As a result of the ruling, the lamps made by National were to be marked as being GE lamps. Such a suit by the Attorney-General was bound to carry a stigma with it. However, very little really changed after the ruling.

There can be another side to a story that appears to reek of underhandedness and profiteering. An article came from the News Bureau in Boston on October 14, 1911 that addresses that other side. In part, the article said:

"General Electric through this lamp pool held control of 95% of the lamp business of the country. It sounds like an oppressive monopoly and yet it has been one that has made possible the wonderful development of electric lighting, while prices have come down from 85 cents 15 years ago for an ordinary carbon lamp to 16 cents or 14 cents in quantity. There was chaos in the lamp business 20 years ago. The lamp pool restored the industry to a commercial basis and this led to wonderful inventions, so that for 16 cents the consumer gets a lamp 50% more powerful and efficient than the lamp for which he paid 85 cents in 1896."
It would appear that Franklin Terry deserves much credit for the positive aspects of the consolidation.

An Industrial Park in Rural Cleveland
Far from the maddening crowd, the vibrations from the railroad, the noise, the dirt and grime of industrial areas and the dizzying heights of tall buildings - that's what was needed! It was a bold and innovative step for Franklin Terry to take but analysis showed that one could build the needed buildings on a plot of land for about the same cost as the required floor area in a 45-story building on a 100 x 100-foot lot in the downtown area. And so Franklin Terry began to look for some land that was suited for the needs of the National Electric Lamp Association.

In 1911 if one boarded the trolley and rode east on Euclid Avenue the end of the line was in east Cleveland, about seven to eight miles from downtown Cleveland. It was to that location that Terry was interested in moving. After one climbed the hill and reached the plateau south of Euclid Avenue the land contained a vineyard, wooded area, ravine with a trickling stream, fruit trees and a panoramic view of Lake Erie. The land is about 275 feet in elevation about Lake Erie. That move to the rural area of Cleveland by National established one of the first, if not the first, industrial parks in the United States, and it has served as a model for industrial organizations since.

The buildings that were erected on that plateau were to be standing monuments to not only Frank Edwin Wallis, the architect, but also to Franklin Terry.

The history of the land at Nela Park, its improvements, the buildings and equipment during the years 1911 to 1957 has been thoroughly documented by Townsend.

Terry's Management Style
Franklin Terry's business philosophy eventually became known as the Authority Reserved System within GE Lighting. After Terry's death it was formalized and printed, but not published, in 1930, by T. W. Frech and Zay Jeffries. It carried no authors' names. It was accepted enthusiastically company-wide and remained in effect for years.

While the Authority Reserved System was successful in itself, it was those things that impacted on the morale of the workers that were just as important. The establishment of a park atmosphere in which one felt as though he/she were in pleasant and safe surroundings was of particular importance. These "perks" were enjoyed by all levels of employees.

In 1911 a five-year savings fund was implemented. The fund opened on the first day of March of each year and was closed on the last day of February of the following year. It was a mutual fund type of investment and the first investment was made in 1916 with earnings at 8%, compounded annually. The second through fifth earnings were at the rates of 11, 5.4, 14.25 and 33%. It was Terry's goal for the person on the factory floor to become astute enough in saving so that earnings from investments equaled take-home pay. An employee could invest an amount not exceeding 20% of the paycheck compensation.

It should be clear that Terry was concerned with the well-being of his employees. That concern distinguished him from many employers of the day. Perhaps he felt that way because he was always trying to build something, or trying to make things better than what they were before. He considered how business decisions would affect the worker. That is not to say that hard times didn't bring hard decisions. The accumulation of personal wealth was not a consuming activity for him. Public loyalty to the GE name exists yet today, and that is due in some measure to Franklin Terry's management style.

Terry and Tremaine Booklets
In a letter dated April 22, 1920 Terry and Tremaine announced that they intended to publish, from time to time, articles in book form. It stated, in part, that:

"The purpose of these articles is to give our employees the essential facts, as well as some of our own opinions, on the important topics of the day, and also on any other subjects from the discussion of which they may receive some benefit."
They considered it an obligation on their part to give the employees a better understanding of their relations with the employer and with society. The intent was to lessen friction caused by the employees' misconception of these subjects. The final objective was to establish better relations between the employees and management.

Thirty five books were issued between the years 1918 and 1926. Their size was about five by seven inches with the number of pages varying from 30 to 83. For the writing task Miss Katherine Irvin Woods was hired. Miss woods obtained subject ideas and suggestions from Terry and Tremaine, as well as others, and then prepared the manuscript. The manuscript was then read for approval. In some of the books Terry and Tremaine wrote Foreword sections.

Association Island
Franklin Terry's name is associated with many "firsts", and the idea of managers gathering from across the United States for a week of fun and fellowship was one of those important firsts. To this end an island at the eastern shore of Lake Ontario was purchased and it came to be known as Association Island.

The first meeting on the island of about 60 acres was held in 1907. Sleeping quarters were in large tents with wooden floors. Facilities included a theater, landing docks, boathouse, store, bakery. recreation halls, laundry and support facilities. Sports of many kinds were played. Executive training programs were held on the island for over 40 years. Today that facility has been replaced by one at Crotonville, New York, where year round meetings are held. GE donated Association Island to the New York State YMCA in 1959.

Franklin Terry asked participants at the island to write a note to him with comments after their visit. One letter that he valued, because he felt it was written by someone who was observant and capable of analyzing, was from Zay Jeffries, then at the Aluminum Company of America in Cleveland. Excerpt's from Jeffries' letter follow:

"...I could see clearly, as the days passed by, that the Island had a function which I had not anticipated and which, I believe, no one can properly appreciate from the outside. Here were men from all parts of the United States working for a common purpose - the success of the National Lamp Division of the General Electric Co. Each had a separate portion of the whole work to do and each was dependent in more or less measure on each other man present. I realized the great significance of your few words, 'If men cannot play well together, it is probable that they cannot work well together. A person will think twice before he will lie to or about another person with whom he has played.' You mentioned these fundamentals to me during the first few days of the 1919 Camp National. Here was opportunity for play seldom given to men, and such a play ground! The differences of opinion seldom get worse with more personal contact. If such is to be the case the sooner it is found out the better. The overwhelming tendency of personal contact is to smooth out differences."

The Nela Fund
In March of 1916 Franklin Terry became aware of a consequence of the war in Europe that he felt he could do something about. Orphans of French families would have no opportunity to obtain a higher education because it was not possible to "work" one's way through a university in France. In addition, the immediate needs of those children - food, clothing and housing also had to be met. He generously contributed to these needs for about two years and then set up what was called the Nela Fund to invite others to participate. This plan was presented to the managers in June of 1917 at the annual gathering at Association Island. The Fund was not connected formally to the National Lamp Works; the name was chosen simply for convenience. Eventually the fund benefited war orphans, soldiers and their widows. It was to differ from other organizations of charity in the personal touch around which it was developed.

About 625 children were "adopted" by December 14, 1922, with Terry personally adopting 57. Terry and Tremaine also gave a Peerless automobile to the American Clearing House. The war contributions from the National Lamp Works and its people amounted to about 4,000. Terry received letters of gratitude from several French generals after the war, including Generals de Garets and Foch.

End of an Illustrious Career
In 1922 the lamp business of the General Electric Company was under the direction of an Advisory Board, which included Franklin Terry and Burton Tremaine. In May of 1922 Gerard Swope became President of GE and change was to take place. Manufacturing plants that Swope thought were not being utilized adequately and operations that were autonomous were to be eliminated. In June of 1923 the autonomous rule of the GE lamp business by Terry and Tremaine was history. All but 15 lamp plants were closed. At that same time Terry was elected to the position of Vice-President.

Franklin Terry was born on May 8, 1862 and passed away in his home in Black Mountain, NC on July 23, 1926. He succumbed to a stroke. Franklin Terry's final resting place is in a mausoleum in the Riverside Cemetery, Asheville, NC.

  1. "Franklin Silas Terry (1862-1926), Industrialist - Paragon of Organization, Harmony and Generosity", Edward J. Covington, 1994.