History of Nela Park

August 22, 2016

Aerial View of Nela Park

On April 18, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio, 400 employees of the National Quality Lamp Division of the General Electric Company, located on 45th St., packed equipment and other business materials for a move by horse-drawn vans and motorcade to one of the world’s most unique industrial parks ever conceived and created – Nela Park.

 

More than 200 vans were used to make the massive move that was completed in 19 hours. Employees missed only three hours of work! Transported were 18,000 crates and tons of company records and miscellaneous equipment.

 

Over the years, many of the world’s most significant lighting inventions and innovative research and development have taken place within the historic buildings of Nela Park. That ingenuity continues today, in the tradition of the Edison spirit, through a variety of creative projects, led by talented employees of GE Lighting and Current, powered by GE

 

Merger Mania of the 1880s!

Going back into history, the 1880-90 period was a time of rapid development in the infant lighting industry. Thomas Edison’s 1879 invention of the first practical incandescent light bulb caused much excitement and a desire by many companies to participate in this new industry’s growth.

 

Acquisitions and consolidations of companies were commonplace. Edison’s own manufacturing companies consolidated, and in 1889, the reorganization was completed with the merger of all units into Edison General Electric Company. The merging didn’t stop there. Edison General Electric then consolidated into a more efficient company called Thomson-Houston, which had a considerably better rate of return on its invested capital. This new company, formed in 1892, was called simply: The General Electric Company.

 

The lighting business continued to boom. Numerous small electrical companies were eager for a piece of the action. Two businessmen who competed against the two giants – General Electric and Westinghouse – were Franklin S. Terry of the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company of Chicago, and Burton G. Tremaine of the Fostoria Incandescent Lamp Company of Fostoria, Ohio. If they were to effectively compete against the major players of the day, they decided they would have to form an association of smaller companies and pool their engineering and research resources. But they didn’t have the capital to do it.

Nela Founders and executives

NELA Founders and Original Executives

 

General Electric, Will You Give Us the Money to Compete Against You?

Terry and Tremaine’s solution? Ask competitor General Electric to back their efforts! Since General Electric’s president, Charles A. Coffin, often extolled the value of both internal and external competition to obtain the best in employee effort and product quality, Terry and Tremaine felt asking General Electric for funds to back their competing enterprise seemed appropriate. Another advantage: General Electric could better achieve bulb base standardization in the industry, because all companies that entered the merger used the Edison screw base used by General Electric. 

 

Nela is Born 

On May 3, 1901, General Electric bought 75% of this Terry/Tremaine-created organization called the National Electric Lamp Company. GE held an option to buy the remaining 25%. The arrangement with General Electric called for National to buy the Brush Electric facility on East 45th St. in Cleveland to use as its headquarters.

 

Terry and Tremaine were named co-managers of the business. In 1906, National was renamed National Electric Lamp Association (NELA). Business thrived. National’s lamp divisions were producing equal to General Electric, a degree of success that surprised everyone.

 

Nela Park – A Novel Idea

National’s East 45th St. headquarters became overcrowded due to the business’s growth. Management, scientists, engineers and others desired a location away from the smoke, fumes and mechanical and electrical disturbances of the city.

 

In 1910, Terry and Tremaine conceived an idea to relocate the business to the “suburbs” in a park-like setting … a place, they agreed, that would be more conducive to the flow of ideas and imagination at work.

 

While talk of creating a “Nela Park” continued, in 1911 the federal courts ordered General Electric to dissolve National and do business under its own name. So General Electric exercised its option for the remaining 25% of National’s stock and the business became the National Quality Lamp Division of the General Electric Company.

 

Nela Park Takes Shape

Terry and Tremaine wanted a spacious location with natural beauty. They found what they were looking for seven miles from the East 45th St. location. They purchased about 40 acres of former vineyards from German farmers. Known originally as Panorama Heights, the land was on a raised plain – a small plateau – 234 feet above Lake Erie in a setting of dense woods with a winding gorge in a deep, picturesque ravine.

 

Architects selected for the project went to England to study Georgian architecture, the style ultimately used for several Nela Park buildings.

 

Moving Day – April 18, 1913

Eight buildings were ready for occupancy within 19 months after ground was broken. An article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer the day after the April 18th move said (paraphrased):

 

The biggest moving job in the history of Cleveland was completed yesterday when all of the paraphernalia of the National Quality Lamp Division of the General Electric Company was transferred from East 45th St. out to the end of the East Cleveland car line, a distance of seven miles. Nela Park is said to represent a new ideal for office buildings for an industrial corporation. The main objects sought in the new home are freedom for the brain workers and laboratory staffs from the noise and dirt of the congested business district of the city. Healthier working conditions are gained, it is maintained, and high rents are avoided.

Nela park building

View of Building from The Institute

 

Nela Park Today 

nela park today

Like yesteryear, Nela Park’s natural beauty is still ever-present. And as in the early 1900s … exciting, creative and imaginative projects by “brainworkers,” with a variety of expertise, continue to be developed at Nela Park. 

Previous Article
Thomas Edison and GE
Thomas Edison and GE

By aligning multiple businesses to bring innovation to the marketplace, Thomas Edison laid the path for tod...

Next Article
Meet The Institute Staff

Introducing, The Institute staff members - Read staff bios and learn more about our instructors' level of e...