Charles A. Coffin
Charles Albert Coffin

(1844-12-31)December 31, 1844
DiedJuly 14, 1926(1926-07-14) (aged 81)
Resting placeLocust Valley Cemetery, Locust Valley, New York, U.S.
OrganizationGeneral Electric

Charles Albert Coffin (December 31, 1844 – July 14, 1926) was an American businessman who was the co-founder and first president of General Electric corporation.

Early life

He was born in Fairfield, Maine, the son of Albert Coffin and his wife Anstrus (Varney). He married Caroline Russell of Holbrook, Massachusetts, and had three children.


At age 18, he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, to join his uncle Charles E. Coffin and his shoe company, at which he spent the next twenty years. Eventually he established his own shoe factory named Coffin and Clough in Lynn.[1]

In 1883, he was approached by another Lynn businessman, Silas A. Barton, to bring to town a struggling electric company from New Britain, Connecticut, finance it and lead it.[2] With the engineering work of Elihu Thomson and Edwin J. Houston,[3][4] Coffin was able to build up the company, renamed Thomson-Houston Electric Company, to be an equal to Thomas Edison's companies.

Under Coffin, Thomson-Houston deployed power plants in the South, including two in Atlanta, Georgia, to run the electric lighting and in 1889, Joel Hurt's electric streetcar line.[5]

When General Electric was formed from Thomson-Houston and Edison's companies, Coffin was its first chief executive officer. The company was tested quickly during the Panic of 1893, where Coffin negotiated with New York banks to advance money in exchange for GE-owned utility stocks.[1]

He established a duopoly of important electric patents with Westinghouse Electric in the late 1890s, and in 1901 established a research laboratory for the company.[6] Suggested by Charles Proteus Steinmetz, this was the first industrial research lab in the US.[7] He supported GE engineers in the adaptation and development of the Curtis steam turbine, which advanced electric power generation. He retired from the board in 1922, and retained a large amount of GE stock. Upon his death in 1926, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world.


  1. ^ a b Charles A. Coffin Archived March 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Coffin". Time. July 26, 1926. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2008.
  3. ^ Gifford, Jonathan (September 15, 2013). 100 Great Business Leaders: Of the world's most admired companies. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. p. 34-35. ISBN 9789814484688.
  4. ^ "Elihu Thomson". The Immigrant Learning Center. Retrieved October 19, 2019. Between 1870 and 1880 Thomson started experimenting with electricity with fellow teacher Edwin J. Houston.
  5. ^ Garrett, Franklin, Atlanta and Its Environs, 1954, Vol.II, p.189
  6. ^ Charles A. Coffin | 20th Century American Leaders Database | Leadership at
  7. ^ "About Us – History". Archived from the original on February 23, 2009.

Further reading

Business positions Preceded by(none) President of General Electric 1892 – 1912 Succeeded byEdwin Rice Preceded by(none) Chairman of General Electric 1913 – 1922 Succeeded byOwen Young