Sperry Corporation

Sperry Corporation (1910−1986) was a major American equipment and electronics company whose existence spanned more than seven decades of the 20th century. Through a series of mergers it exists today as a part of Unisys, while some other of its former divisions became part of Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, and Northrop Grumman.

The company is best known as the developer of the artificial horizon and a wide variety of other gyroscope-based aviation instruments like autopilots, bombsights, analog ballistics computers and gyro gunsights. In the post-WWII era they branched out into electronics, both aviation related, and later, computers.

Sperry Corporation
Fate1986, merged with Burroughs and became Unisys, other parts became part of Honeywell
SuccessorUnisys, and some divisions became [part of] Honeywell
FoundedDowntown Brooklyn (1910)
FounderElmer Ambrose Sperry
HeadquartersLake Success, New York
Area served
United States
Productsprecision instruments, computers, information management
Sperry Gyro FBE day jeh
Factory building, Brooklyn
Sperry Horizon
The Sperry Horizon, Sperry Gyroscope Co. Brooklyn N.Y.
Sperry M2 director
M2 gun director 1932 in production
Sperry Coverall full N-Y HS blur jeh
Coverall for female war workers

Early history

The company was founded in 1910 by Elmer Ambrose Sperry, as the Sperry Gyroscope Company, 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. After the death of Lawrence on December 13, 1923, the two firms were brought together in 1924. 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.

Sperry supported the work of a group of Stanford University inventors, led by Russell and Sigurd Varian, who had invented the klystron, and incorporated this technology and related inventions into their products.[2]

The company prospered during World War II as military demand skyrocketed, ranking 19th among US corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.[3] 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 mounted under the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, as commemorated by the film 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 moved to Phoenix, Arizona and soon became the Sperry Flight Systems Company. This was to preserve parts of this defense company in the event of a nuclear war. The Gyroscope division remained headquartered in New York—in its massive Lake Success, Long Island, plant (which also served as the temporary United Nations headquarters from 1946 to 1952)—into the 1980s.

Sperry Rand

In 1955, Sperry acquired Remington Rand and renamed itself Sperry Rand. Acquiring then Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and Engineering Research Associates along with Remington Rand, the company developed the successful UNIVAC computer series and signed a valuable cross-licensing deal with IBM.[4] The company remained a major military contractor. From 1967 to 1973 the corporation was involved in an acrimonious antitrust lawsuit with Honeywell, Inc. (see: Honeywell v. Sperry Rand).

In 1961, Sperry Rand was ranked 34th on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies in the United States.[5]

In 1978, Sperry Rand decided to concentrate on its computing interests, and sold a number of divisions including Remington Rand Systems, Remington Rand Machines, Ford Instrument Company and Sperry Vickers. The company dropped "Rand" from its title and reverted to Sperry Corporation. At about the same time as the Rand acquisition, Sperry Gyroscope decided to open a facility that would almost exclusively produce its marine instruments. After considerable searching and evaluation, a plant was built in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in 1956, Sperry Piedmont Division began producing marine navigation products. It was later renamed Sperry Marine.

In the 1970s, Sperry Corporation was a traditional conglomerate headquartered in the Sperry Rand Building at 1290 Avenue of Americas in Manhattan, selling typewriters (Sperry Remington), office equipment, electronic digital computers for business and the military (Sperry Univac), construction and farm equipment (Sperry New Holland), avionics (e.g., gyroscopes, radars, Air Route Traffic Control equipment) (Sperry Vickers/Sperry Flight Systems), and consumer products (electric razors) (Sperry Remington.) In addition, Sperry Systems Management (headquartered in the original Sperry Gyroscope building in Lake Success) did a fair amount of government defense contracting. Sperry also managed the operation from 1961 to 1975, of the large Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant near Minden. Sperry bought out and continued the RCA line of electronic digital computers: architectural cousins to the IBM System/360. In 1983, Sperry sold Vickers to Libbey Owens Ford (later to be renamed TRINOVA Corporation and subsequently Aeroquip-Vickers).

Burroughs takeover

In 1986, after the success of a second hostile takeover bid engineered by Burroughs CEO and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Michael Blumenthal, Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys. The takeover came about even after Sperry used a "poison pill" in the form of a major share price hike to dissuade the hostile bid, as a result of which Burroughs had to borrow much more from the banks than was anticipated in order to complete the bid.

Certain internal divisions of Sperry were sold off after the merger, such as Sperry New Holland (1986, to Ford Motor Company,[6] who in 1991 sold the Ford-New Holland line to Fiat[7]) and Sperry Marine (To Tenneco, in 1987,[8] and is currently part of Northrop Grumman[9]). Also sold—to Honeywell—was Sperry Flight Systems, while Sperry Defense Products Group was sold to Loral; those two units whose functions were originally at the heart of the venerable Sperry Gyroscope division. This group is now part of Lockheed Martin.

British Sperry

Sperry in Britain started with a factory in Pimlico, London, in 1913, manufacturing gyroscopic compasses for the Royal Navy. It became the Sperry Gyroscope Co Ltd in 1915. In 1923, Lawrence Sperry was killed in an air crash near Rye, Sussex. The company subsequently expanded to the Golden Mile, Brentford in 1931, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire[10] in 1938, and Bracknell in 1957.[11] By 1963, these sites employed some 3,500 people.[10] The Brentford site closed in 1967, with the expansion of Bracknell. Stonehouse closed around 1969. By 1969, the Sperry Gyroscope division of Sperry Rand Corporation employed around 2,500.[12]

The site of the Bracknell factory and development center (sold to British Aerospace in 1982) is commemorated by a 4.5 meter aluminum sculpture by Philip Bentham, Sperry’s New Symbolic Gyroscope (1967).[13]

In 1989, the Bracknell site was downsized and work was moved to the Sperry manufacturing site in Plymouth by then under the British Aerospace brand. State of the art, high technology MEMS gyroscopes (together with other avionics equipment) are still made on the site today, although the company is now owned by United Technologies Corporation and is part of UTC Aerospace Systems.

Sperry since 1997

The name Sperry lives on in the company Sperry Marine, headquartered in New Malden, UK. This company, formed in 1997, from three well-known brand names in the marine industry—Sperry Marine, Decca, and C. Plath—is now part of Northrop Grumman Corporation. It is a worldwide supplier of navigation, communication, information and automation systems for commercial marine and naval markets.



Missiles and rockets

In popular culture

The 1986 comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash features many Sperry computers in the bank where the protagonist (played by Whoopi Goldberg) works. Jim Belushi plays the role of a Sperry "repairman".[14]

See also


  1. ^ New York Times June 1915 Factory on Flatbush Avenue Extension
  2. ^ Lécuyer, Christophe (2008). Making Silicon Valley: innovation and the growth of high tech, 1930-1970. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-12281-8., p.100
  3. ^ Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis (1962) Harvard Business School p.619
  4. ^ "Unisys Company History".
  5. ^ "FORTUNE 500: 1961 Archive Full List 1-100". archive.fortune.com. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  6. ^ 1986-Ford bought Sperry-New Holland and formed Ford-New Holland
  7. ^ 1991-Fiat buys Ford-New Holland
  8. ^ Sperry Marine and its far flung international organization were acquired by Tenneco. These purchases were formalized in 1987 with day to day operation of Sperry Marine being taken over by Newport News, a substantial division of Tenneco, in the early months of 1988.
  9. ^ Headquartered in the United Kingdom, Sperry Marine is since 2001 part of Northrop Grumman Corporation
  10. ^ a b "Fifty Years of British Sperry". Flight International. 28 March 1963. p. 434.
  11. ^ "Sperry Gyroscope Company (Bracknell)". Hansard. 29 April 1966.
  12. ^ "Britain's Aircraft Industry 1969". Flight International. 4 September 1969. p. 378.
  13. ^ "Sperry's New Symbolic Gyroscope" (PDF). Bracknell Forest Borough Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-27.
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 10, 1986). "SCREEN: WHOOPI GOLDBERG IN 'JUMPIN' JACK FLASH'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  • History.navy.mil, Pearson, Lee: Developing the Flying Bomb
  • Fahrney, Delmer S. (RAdm ret): History of Radio-Controlled Aircraft and Guided Missiles

Further reading

External links


The AN/FPS-35 radar was a long range radar used in the early 1960s. It was one of the largest air defense radars ever produced, with its antenna and supporting structure mounted on one of the largest rolling-element bearings in the world (with a ball pitch of 12 ft 7 inches in diameter.).Sperry Corporation built 12 long range radars (picking up objects 200 miles away) in the 1960s to succeed existing Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) to provide enhanced electronic countermeasures (ECM). The systems operated at 420 to 450 MHz. The antennas weighed 70 to 80 short tons (64 to 73 t) and had numerous problems. The concrete tower bases were 84 feet 6 inches (25.76 m) high and 60 feet 3 inches (18.36 m) square in side dimensions.

The prototype was developed at the Thomasville Aircraft Control and Warning Station in Thomasville, Alabama. All of the radars have been dismantled except for the one at Camp Hero on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. Fishermen on the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound lobbied to save it since the massive radar tower was a better daytime landmark than the Montauk Point Lighthouse.The radar complex is now part of Camp Hero State Park which adjoins Montauk Point State Park. The radar has worked its way into an urban legend that it was used in time travel experiments called the Montauk Project.

The structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.The 85 foot (26 m) enclosed radar towers that supported all 12 of the FPS-35 antennas were prominent landmarks. All these radar towers were of the same basic design with 10 made primarily from concrete and two based on a steel frame structure (Baker and Finley). Only the radar tower at Baker has been demolished. The AN/FPS-35 at Montauk was the last to operate (Jan 1981) and the radar tower is the only one that still has an antenna on the roof and contains some of the radar set equipment and cabinets. The antenna was repaired with parts from Sault St Marie after this station closed in Oct 1979. Presently The Montauk antenna is very corroded and can not be rotated.The 23 radar towers used by the AN/FPS-24 and the AN/FPS-35 radar sets were of similar designs (concrete or steel frame) and were designed under the direction of the Rome Air Development Center (RADC). The radar tower at Thomasville has an RADC plaque next to the one from the Sperry Corporation. Only the AN/FPS-35 tower at Baker included a radome to protect the antenna. This radome was attached to a separate steel tower called a Radome Support Structure (RSS) that surrounded the radar tower to its full height of 85 feet (26 m).

AL Thomasville 31.9382°N 87.7502°W / 31.9382; -87.7502

CA Boron 35.0823°N 117.5823°W / 35.0823; -117.5823

MI Sault St Marie 46.4565°N 84.3878°W / 46.4565; -84.3878

MI Selfridge 42.6275°N 82.8300°W / 42.6275; -82.8300

NV Fallon 39.4054°N 118.7224°W / 39.4054; -118.7224

NY Montauk 41.0622°N 71.8740°W / 41.0622; -71.8740

ND Finley 47.5161°N 97.8687°W / 47.5161; -97.8687 (steel tower, present)

ND Fortuna 48.9042°N 103.8665°W / 48.9042; -103.8665

PA Benton 41.3574°N 76.2930°W / 41.3574; -76.2930

VA Manassas 38.6288°N 77.4385°W / 38.6288; -77.4385

WI Antigo 45.048333°N 89.233889°W / 45.048333; -89.233889

OR Baker 44.586389°N 117.787222°W / 44.586389; -117.787222 (steel tower, demolished)


The AN/UYK-44 is the standard 16-bit minicomputer of the United States Navy. The AN/UYK-44 was developed in the early 1980s by Sperry Corporation and was completed in early 1984. The AN/UYK-44 was used in surface ships, submarines, ground C4I platforms, radar and missile control systems. The system was designed to replace the older AN/UYK-20 model.

Arthur Jackson (sport shooter)

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Charles Jackson (May 15, 1918 – January 6, 2015) was an American competitive sport shooter. In his international career, he captured numerous medals across three Summer Olympic Games, three ISSF World Shooting Championships, and two editions of the Pan American Games. He began shooting in the seventh grade and joined the rifle team at Brooklyn Technical High School in 1934. He competed in local and regional tournaments prior to World War II, during which he worked at the Sperry Corporation and later served as a bombardier in the Pacific Theater of Operations. His first international tournament was the 1948 Summer Olympics and his last was the 1956 edition, at which point he began a career in public service with the Central Intelligence Agency in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He stopped competing at the international level in 1957 and retired from the CIA at the end of 1974. After several years as an instructor and coach, he continued participating in smaller tournaments through the 1990s.

Ball turret

A ball turret was a spherical-shaped, altazimuth mount gun turret, fitted to some American-built aircraft during World War II. The name arose from the turret's spherical housing.

It was a manned turret, as distinct from remote-controlled turrets also in use. The turret held the gunner, two heavy machine guns, ammunition, and sights. The Sperry Corporation designed ventral versions that became the most common version; thus, the term "ball turret" generally indicates these versions.

Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation

The Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) (March 1946 – 1950) was founded by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. It was incorporated on December 22, 1947. After building the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania, Eckert and Mauchly formed EMCC to build new computer designs for commercial and military applications. The company was initially called the Electronic Control Company, changing its name to Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation when it was incorporated. In 1950, the company was sold to Remington Rand, which later merged with Sperry Corporation to become Sperry Rand, and survives today as Unisys.

Floyd Firestone

Floyd Alburn Firestone (1898–1986) was an acoustical physicist, who in 1940 while a professor at the University of Michigan invented the first practical ultrasonic testing method and apparatus. He was granted US Patent 2,280,226 for the invention in 1942. Manufactured by Sperry Corporation, the testing device was known variously as the Firestone-Sperry Reflectoscope, the Sperry Ultrasonic Reflectoscope, the Sperry Reflectoscope and sometimes also just as a Supersonic Reflectoscope, the name Firestone had originally coined for the instrument. The technology is not just used in quality control in factories to reject defective parts before shipment, but also revolutionized transportation safety. For example, ultrasonic testing is used for safety maintenance inspection of railroad cars, particularly axles and wheels, aircraft, particularly fuselages, and other transportation vessels for material fatigue. Dr. Firestone’s ultrasonic pulse echo technique for metal defect testing was also later applied in medical diagnosis, giving birth to the field of Echocardiography and to the field of Medical Ultrasonography, generally. Dr. Firestone was the editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America from 1939-1957. Among Firestone’s many other inventions in his field are in a single year an “automatic device for the minute inspection of flaws”, “a new and useful improvement in hook-up of electrical apparatus”, and “[a] device for measuring noise”, and, even, later a “musical typewriter”.In 1933 Firestone proposed an alternative to the mechanical-electrical analogy of James Clerk Maxwell in which force is made the analogy of voltage (the impedance analogy). Firestone's analogy (now called the mobility analogy) makes force the analogy of current. In this work he introduced the concept of "through" and "across" variables and demonstrated that there were analogies for these variables in other energy domains, making it possible to treat a complex system as a unified whole in analysis. Firestone's analogy became popular amongst mechanical filter designers because it has the property of preserving network topologies when transforming between the mechanical and electrical domains.

Harry Franklin Vickers

Harry Franklin Vickers (October 1, 1898 – January 12, 1977) was an American inventor and industrialist. He grew up in Montana and southern California. He was called the "Father of Industrial Hydraulics" by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who gave him the Society's highest award, the ASME Medal, in 1956.

James Rand Jr.

James Henry Rand Jr. (November 18, 1886 – June 3, 1968) was an American industrialist who revolutionized the business record industry. He founded American Kardex, an office equipment and office supplies firm which later merged with his father's company, the Rand Ledger Corporation. Rand later bought out and merged with several other companies, notably the Remington Typewriter Company, to form Remington Rand. In 1955, Rand merged his corporation with the Sperry Corporation to form Sperry-Rand, one of the earliest and largest computer manufacturing companies in the United States.

List of UNIVAC products

This is a list of UNIVAC products. It ends in 1986, the year that Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to form Unisys.

List of radars

This is a list of radars. A radar is an electronic system used to detect, range (determine the distance of), and map various types of targets.

Paoli Research Center

The Paoli Research Center was a research and development facility established in 1954 by the Burroughs Corporation, then known as the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. It was created a university campus like setting in the Philadelphia suburb of Paoli, Pennsylvania for the Burroughs Research Laboratory, then located at 511 North Broad Street in Philadelphia. The initial focus was for the development of business accounting systems and experimental work in electromechanics. The Paoli Research Center grew over the years and was the source of many research contribution to computing, including work on computing hardware design, programming languages, algorithms and defense applications.

The research center continued after Burroughs and Sperry Corporation merged to become Unisys and performed both research for the Unisys corporation as well as for government sponsors. Research topics included artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, database systems, software engineering and bioinformatics. In the 1990 the research staff was relocated to Unisys' nearby Great Valley facility and the Paoli building was sold in 1992, demolished and replaced with condominiums and an assisted living center.


For the filing system, see L.B. SpeedacSPEEDAC, the SPErry Electronic Digital Automatic Computer, was an early digital computer built by Sperry Corporation in 1953.It used 800 vacuum tubes and had magnetic drum storage of 4096 18-bit words.

System Development Corporation

System Development Corporation (SDC) was a computer software company based in Santa Monica, California. Founded in 1955, it is considered the first company of its kind.

Time Sharing Operating System

Time Sharing Operating System, or TSOS, is a discontinued operating system for RCA mainframe computers of the Spectra 70 series. TSOS was originally designed in 1968 for the Spectra 70/46, a modified version of the 70/45. TSOS quickly evolved into the Virtual Memory Operating System (VMOS) by 1970. VMOS continued to be supported on the later RCA 3 and RCA 7 computer systems.RCA was in the computer business until 1971 when it sold its computer business to Sperry Corporation. Sperry renamed TSOS to VS/9 and continued to market it into the early 1980s. In the mid seventies, an enhanced version of TSOS called BS2000 was offered by the German company Siemens.

While Sperry – now Unisys – discontinued VS/9, the BS2000 variant, now called BS2000/OSD, is still offered by Fujitsu Siemens Computers and used by their mainframe customers primarily in Europe.

As the name suggests, TSOS provided time sharing features. Beyond that it provided a common user interface for both time sharing and batch, which was a big advantage over IBM's OS/360 or its successors MVS, OS/390 and z/OS.


UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) is a line of electronic digital stored-program computers starting with the products of the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation. Later the name was applied to a division of the Remington Rand company and successor organizations.

The BINAC, built by the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, was the first general-purpose computer for commercial use. The descendants of the later UNIVAC 1107 continue today as products of the Unisys company.

UNIVAC 1100/60

The UNIVAC 1100/60, introduced in 1979, continued the venerable UNIVAC 1100 series first introduced in 1962 with the UNIVAC 1107. The 1107 was the first 1100 series machine introduced under the Sperry Corporation name.

Like its predecessors, it had support for multiple CPUs; initially only two, but later up to four. It continued the naming convention introduced with the 1100/10, where the last digit represented the number of CPUs (thus, a four CPU system would be an 1100/64).

The 1100/60 introduced a new feature to the line: the CPUs used microcode that was loaded during the booting process. The booting process was controlled by a microcomputer (called the "SSP" - "System Support Processor") that ran from 8-inch floppy disks. The microcode was stored on these disks.

The system included an optional (extra-cost) set of additions to the instruction set (referred to as the Extended Instruction Set or EIS), which contained features to enhance the execution of COBOL programs, when appropriately compiled.

The UNIVAC 1100/70 shared much of the same architecture, including the same console and microcode.

Unisys ICON

The ICON was a networked personal computer built specifically for use in schools, to fill a standard created by the Ontario Ministry of Education. It was based on the Intel 80186 CPU and ran an early version of QNX, a Unix-like operating system. The system was packaged as an all-in-one machine similar to the Commodore PET, and included a trackball for mouse-like control. Over time a number of GUI-like systems appeared for the platform, based on the system's NAPLPS-based graphics system.

The ICON was widely used, mostly in high schools in the mid to late 1980s, but disappeared after that time with the widespread introduction of PCs and Apple Macintoshes. They were also known as the CEMCorp ICON, Burroughs ICON, and finally Unisys ICON when Burroughs and Sperry Corporation merged to form Unisys in 1986. The machine was also nicknamed the bionic beaver.

Varian Data Machines

Varian Data Machines was a division of Varian Associates which sold minicomputers. It entered the market in 1967 through acquisition of Decision Control Inc. (DCI) in Newport Beach, California. It met stiff competition and was bought by Sperry Corporation in 1977.The DCI 1966 DATA/620 was a parallel, binary 16-bit general-purpose digital computer with magnetic-core memory expandable to 32,768 words. An 18-bit word length (for data, not addresses) was optionally available. A basic machine cycle took 1.8 microseconds, and the core memory read time was 700 nanoseconds. The computers uses two's complement arithmetic and had four main registers - accumulator A, accumulator extension B, an index register X and a program counter register. Addressing modes were direct, immediate and indexed. The instruction set had more than one hundred arithmetic, logic and control instructions and some variants supported microprogramming. These models used a hardware front panel console that allowed starting and stopping the machine, examining memory and registers and changing memory or registers with front-panel switches. It used "Versalogic" (discrete transistorized) circuits with a bit-sliced architecture.:21The 620/i:1 shipped in June 1967; it and subsequent series were made with integrated circuit transistor–transistor logic from the 7400 series. The system was packaged in a 19-inch rack and consumed 340 watts at 120 V AC. The 620/F was a variation with a faster machine cycle time of 750 nanoseconds.

The ruggedized R-620/i was announced in 1968.A lower cost 520/i shipped in October 1968The 620/L-100 was released in 1973. It had a cycle time of 950 nanoseconds and a more compact system chassis than the 620/F. The Sperry V70 series had semiconductor memory, but could also support magnetic core. Various models were released between 1972 and 1977.Varian V72 computer systems were installed at Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on the eastern shore of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, as the digital control computer system that monitors and controls the major reactor and power plant functions. As of February 2017 these were still in operation and scheduled to be replaced by more modern systems in 2018 and 2019.

Legacy products
Joint ventures


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