This article's lead section may be too short to adequately summarize the key points. Please consider expanding the lead to provide an accessible overview of all important aspects of the article. (October 2023)

Company typePublic
IndustryElectronics & Defence
Founded1882 (as Ferranti, Thompson and Ince); 1885 (as S.Z. de Ferranti); 1901 (as Ferranti Ltd)
DefunctBankrupt 1993 (the Belgian subsidiary lives on as Ferranti Computer Systems and as of 1994 is part of the Nijkerk Holding)
FateBankrupt & broken up
SuccessorGEC-Marconi, Matra Marconi Space
HeadquartersHollinwood, Greater Manchester, United Kingdom
Key people
Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti

Ferranti or Ferranti International PLC was a UK electrical engineering and equipment firm that operated for over a century from 1885 until it went bankrupt in 1993. The company was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.

The firm was known for work in the area of power grid systems and defence electronics. In addition, in 1951 Ferranti began selling an early computer, the Ferranti Mark 1. The Belgian subsidiary lives on as Ferranti Computer Systems and as of 1994 is part of the Nijkerk Holding.



Ferranti steam generating set, c. 1900

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti established his first business Ferranti, Thompson and Ince in 1882.[1] The company developed the Ferranti-Thompson Alternator. Ferranti focused on alternating current power distribution early on, and was one of the few UK experts. In 1885 Dr. Ferranti established a new business, with Francis Ince and Charles Sparks as partners, known as S.Z. de Ferranti.[2] According to J.F. Wilson,[3] Dr. Ferranti's association with the electricity meter persuaded Ince to partner him in this new venture, and meter development was fundamental to the survival and growth of his business for several decades to come.

Despite being a prime exponent of alternating current, Ferranti became an important supplier to many electric utility firms and power-distribution companies for both AC and DC meters.[4] In 1887, the London Electric Supply Corporation (LESCo) hired Dr. Ferranti for the design of their power station at Deptford. He designed the building, the generating plant and the distribution system and on its completion in October 1890, it was the first truly modern power station. It supplied high-voltage AC power at 10,000 volts, which was transformed to a lower voltage for consumer use where required.[1]

Success followed and Ferranti started producing electrical equipment (especially transformers) for sale. Soon the company was looking for considerably more manufacturing space. Land prices in the London area were too high, so the company moved to Hollinwood in Oldham in 1896.[2] In July 1901, Ferranti Limited was formed, specifically to take over the assets of S.Z. de Ferranti Ltd and raise equity, but failed to impress potential new investors as it was still dominated by family ownership. Over-optimistic market projections in the boom of 1896–1903, declining revenues and liquidity problems, forced the company bankers Parrs to send the company into receivership in 1903.[3]

The business was restructured in 1905, Dr. Ferranti's shareholding being reduced to less than 10%.[2] For the next eleven years the company was run by receiver managers and Dr. Ferranti was effectively excluded from commercial financial strategies. He spent much of this period working in partnership with the likes of J.P. Coats of Paisley on cotton spinning machinery and Vickers on re-superheating turbines.[3]


Through the early part of the century power was supplied by small companies, typically as an offshoot of plant set up to provide power to local industry. Each plant supplied a different standard, which made the mass production of domestic electrical equipment inefficient. In 1910, Dr. Ferranti made a presidential speech to the IEE addressing this issue, but it would be another sixteen years before the commencement of the National Grid in 1926.[3]

In 1912, in a move driven by A.B. Anderson, the Ferranti Managing Director, Ferranti formed a company in Canada, Ferranti Electric, to exploit the overseas meter market. But in 1914, two significant events happened, Anderson drowned on his return from Canada in the Empress of Ireland sinking and the outbreak of WWI signalled an opportunity for Dr. Ferranti to once again get involved in day-to-day events in the company.[5] He wanted to get involved in the manufacture of shells and fuzes but it wasn't until 1915 that he finally convinced the board to accept this. As a result of this work Ferranti were in a healthier financial position at the end of the war.[5] High voltage power transformers became an important product for Ferranti;[2] some of the largest types weighed over a hundred tons. Dr. Ferranti's son Vincent joined the transformer department as manager in 1921 and was instrumental in expanding the work started by his father. After the death of Dr. Ferranti in 1930, he became the chairman and chief executive.[3] In 1935, Ferranti purchased a disused wire drawing mill at Moston: from here it manufactured many "brown goods" such as televisions, radios, and electric clocks.[2] The company later sold its radio and television interests to EKCO in 1957. Production of clocks ended in 1957 and other product lines phased out in 1960[6] Ferranti Instruments, based at Moston, developed various items for scientific measurements, including one of the first cone and plate viscometers. Ferranti built a new power transformer works at Hollinwood in the mid-1950s at a time when there was growth in the power supply distribution industry.

By 1974, Ferranti had become an important supplier to the defence industry, but its power transformer division was making losses, creating acute financial problems. This led to the company being bailed out by the government's National Enterprise Board, taking a 65% share of the company in return.[7]

Defence electronics

Spitfire gyro gunsight

During World War II, Ferranti became a major supplier of electronics, fuzes, valves, and was, through development of the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, heavily involved in the early development of radar in the United Kingdom.[2] In the post-war era, this became a large segment of the company, with various branches supplying radar sets, avionics and other military electronics, both in the UK and the various international offices. In 1943, Ferranti opened a factory at Crewe Toll in Edinburgh to manufacture gyro gunsights for the Spitfire aircraft.[2] After the war they set up Ferranti Research to complement this business which grew to employ 8,000 staff in 8 locations, becoming the birthplace of the Scottish electronics industry,[8] and a major contributor to company profitability. Later products included solid state ring laser gyros.

From 1949, Ferranti-Packard assisted the Royal Canadian Navy develop DATAR (Digital Automated Tracking and Resolving). DATAR was a pioneering computerized battlefield information system that combined radar and sonar information to provide commanders with an "overall view" of a battlefield, allowing them to coordinate attacks on submarines and aircraft.[9]

In the 1950s, work focused on the development of airborne radar, with the company subsequently supplying radars to most of the UK's fast jet and helicopter fleets.[10] Today the Crewe Toll site (now part of Leonardo S.p.A.) leads the consortium providing the Euroradar CAPTOR radar for the Eurofighter Typhoon.[11]

In the 1960s and 1970s, inertial navigation systems became an important product line for the company with systems designed for fast jet (Harrier, Phantom, Tornado), space and land applications.[12] The electro-mechanical inertial navigation systems were constructed at the Silverknowes site in Edinburgh. In addition to their other military and civil applications, they were used in the ESA Ariane 4 and first Ariane 5 launches. Ferranti also produced the PADS (Position and Azimuth Determining System), an inertial navigation system which could be mounted in a vehicle and was used by the British Army.[13]

With the invention of the laser in the 1960s, the company quickly established itself in the electro-optics arena. From the early 1970s, it was delivering the Laser Rangefinder and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) for the Jaguar and Harrier fleets, and later for Tornado.[14] It supplied the world's first man-portable laser rangefinder/designator (Laser Target Marker, or LTM) to the British Army in 1974,[15] and had notable successes in the US market, establishing Ferranti Electro-optics Inc in Huntington Beach, California. Its TIALD Pod (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator) has been in almost constant combat operation on the Tornado since it was rushed into service during the first Gulf War.[16]

From the 1960s through to the late 1980s, the Bristol Ferranti Bloodhound SAM, for which Ferranti developed radar systems, was a key money earner. In 1970, Ferranti became involved in the sonar field through its involvement with Plessey in a new series of sonars, for which it designed and built the computer subsystems. This work later expanded when it won a contract for the complete Sonar 2050. The work was originally carried out at the Wythenshawe factory and then at Cheadle Heath. Takeovers of other companies gave it expertise in sonar arrays. This business later became Ferranti Thomson Sonar Systems.[17]

The selection of the radar for the project that became the Eurofighter Typhoon became a major international issue in the early 1990s. Britain, Italy, and Spain supported the Ferranti-led ECR-90, while Germany preferred the MSD2000 (a collaboration between Hughes, AEG and GEC). An agreement was reached after UK Defence Secretary Tom King assured his German counterpart Gerhard Stoltenberg that the British government would underwrite the project and allow GEC to acquire Ferranti Defence Systems from its troubled parent.[18] Hughes sued GEC for $600 million for its role in the selection of the EFA and alleged that it used Hughes technology in the ECR-90 when it took over Ferranti. It later dropped this allegation and was awarded $23 million; the court judged that the MSD-2000 "had a real or substantial chance of succeeding had GEC not tortuously intervened ... and had the companies, which were bound by the Collaboration Agreement, faithfully and diligently performed their continuing obligations thereunder to press and promote the case for MSD-2000."[19]

Ferranti 837 All-Wave Superhet radio (1937), made of Bakelite
Ferranti radio

Industrial electronics

The company began marketing optical position measuring equipment for machine tools in 1956.[20] Moire fringes produced by diffraction gratings were the basis for the position measurement. In the late 1980s there were several sections of the company involved in non-military areas. These included microwave communications equipment (Ferranti Communications), and petrol (gas) station pumps (Ferranti Autocourt). Both of these departments were based at Dalkeith, Scotland.


Ferranti Pegasus computer in The Science Museum, London

In the late 1940s Ferranti joined with various university-based research groups to develop computers. Their first effort was the Ferranti Mark 1, completed in 1951,[2] with about nine delivered between 1951 and 1957. The Pegasus introduced in 1956 was their most popular valve (vacuum tube) system,[21] with 38 units sold. Circa 1956, Ivan Idelson, at Ferranti, originated the Cluff–Foster–Idelson coding of characters on 7-track paper tape for a BSI committee.[22] This also inspired the development of ASCII.[21]

In collaboration with the Victoria University of Manchester they built a new version of the famous Mark 1 that replaced valve diodes with solid state versions, which allowed the speed to be increased dramatically as well as increasing reliability.[23] Ferranti offered the result commercially as the Mercury starting in 1957, and eventually sold nineteen in total. Although a small part of Ferranti's empire, the computer division was nevertheless highly visible and operated out of a former steam locomotive factory in West Gorton.

Work on a completely new design, the Atlas,[21] started soon after the delivery of the Mercury, aiming to dramatically improve performance. Ferranti continued their collaboration with the University of Manchester, and Plessey Co., plc, became a third partner. The second generation supercomputer first ran in December 1962. Eventually six machines were built, one of which was a stripped-down version that was modified for the needs of the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory; the Titan (or Atlas 2) was the mainstay of scientific computing in Cambridge for nearly 8 years. Atlas was the first computer in the world to implement virtual memory.

By the early 1960s their mid-size machines were no longer competitive, but efforts to design a replacement were bogged down. Into this void stepped the Canadian division, Ferranti-Packard, who had used several of the ideas under development in England to very quickly produce the Ferranti-Packard 6000.[9] By this time Ferranti's management had tired of the market and were looking for someone to buy the entire division. Eventually it was merged into International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) in 1963, becoming the Large Systems Division of ICL in 1968. After studying several options, ICT selected the FP 6000 as the basis for their ICT 1900 series line which sold into the 1970s.

The deal setting up ICT excluded Ferranti from the commercial sector of computing, but left the industrial field free. Some of the technology of the FP 6000 was later used in its Ferranti Argus range of industrial computers which were developed in its Wythenshawe factory. The first of these, simply Argus, was initially developed for military use.[24]

Meanwhile, in Bracknell the Digital Systems Division was developing a range of mainframe computers for naval applications. Early computers using discrete transistors were the Hermes and Poseidon and these were followed by the F1600 in the mid-1960s.[25] Some of these machines remained in active service on naval vessels for many years. The FM1600B[26] was the first of the range to use integrated circuits and was used in many naval and commercial applications. The FM1600D was a single-rack version of the computer for smaller systems. An airborne version of this was also made and used aboard the RAF Nimrod. The FM1600E was a redesigned and updated version of the FM1600B, and the last in the series was the F2420, an upgraded FM1600E with 60% more memory and 3.5 times the processing speed, still in service at sea in 2010.[17]


Ferranti ULA 2C210E on a Sinclair ZX81 (a.k.a. Timex Sinclair 1000) motherboard

Ferranti had been involved in the production of electronic devices, including radio valves, cathode-ray tubes and germanium semiconductors for some time before it became the first European company to produce a silicon diode, in 1955. In 1972 they launched the ZN414, a single-chip AM radio integrated circuit in a 3-pin package.

Ferranti Semiconductor Ltd. went on to produce a range of silicon bipolar devices, including, in 1977, the Ferranti F100-L, an early 16-bit microprocessor with 16-bit addressing.[27] An F100-L was carried into space on the amateur radio satellite UoSAT-1 (OSCAR 9). Ferranti's ZTX series bipolar transistors gave their name to the inheritor of Ferranti Semiconductor's discrete semiconductor business, Zetex Semiconductors plc.[28]

In the early 1980s, Ferranti produced some of the first large uncommitted logic arrays (ULAs), used in home computers such as the Sinclair ZX81, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron and BBC Micro. The microelectronics business was sold to Plessey in 1988.[29]

Acquisition of International Signal and Control

In 1987 Ferranti purchased International Signal and Control (ISC), a United States defence contractor based in Pennsylvania.[30] The company subsequently changed its name to Ferranti International PLC. and restructured the combined business into the following divisions: Ferranti Computer Systems, Ferranti Defence Systems, Ferranti Dynamics, Ferranti Satcomms, Ferranti Telecoms, Ferranti Technologies and International Signal and Control.


Unknown to Ferranti, ISC's business primarily consisted of illegal arms sales started at the behest of various US clandestine organizations. On paper the company looked to be extremely profitable on sales of high-priced "above board" items, but these profits were essentially non-existent. With the sale to Ferranti all illegal sales ended immediately, leaving the company with no obvious cash flow.[30]

In 1989 the UK's Serious Fraud Office started criminal investigation regarding alleged massive fraud at ISC. In December 1991 James Guerin, founder of ISC and co-chairman of the merged company, pleaded guilty before the federal court in Philadelphia to fraud committed both in the US and UK. All offences which would have formed part of any UK prosecution were encompassed by the US trial and as such no UK trial proceeded.[30]

The financial and legal difficulties that resulted forced Ferranti into bankruptcy in December 1993.[2]


De Havilland Heron operated from Manchester Airport 1962–1970 as an executive transport, particularly between the factories in Lancashire and Scotland. The company name is on the lower fin.

The company had factories in Greater Manchester at Hollinwood, Moston, Chadderton (Gem Mill), Waterhead (Cairo Mill), Derker, Wythenshawe, Cheadle Heath, West Gorton, and Poynton. Eventually it set up branch-plants in Edinburgh (Silverknowes, Crewe Toll, Gyle, Granton and Robertson Avenue factories, plus its own hangar facility at Turnhouse Airport), Dalkeith, Aberdeen, Dundee, Kinbuck (near Dunblane), Bracknell, Barrow in Furness and Cwmbran as well as Germany and the United States (inc. Ferranti International Controls Corporation in Sugar Land, Texas) and several British Commonwealth countries including Canada, Australia and Singapore.

Ferranti Australia was based in Revesby, Sydney NSW. There was also a primarily defence-related branch office in South Australia.

Products manufactured by Ferranti Defence Systems included cockpit displays (moving map, head-down, head-up) video cameras and recorders, gunsight cameras, motion detectors, pilot's night vision goggles, integrated helmets, and pilot's stick controls.

On the Tornado aircraft, Ferranti supplied the radar transmitter, inertial navigation system, LRMTS, TIALD pod, mission recording equipment, and cockpit displays.

Current ownership of former Ferranti businesses

Other uses of the Ferranti name

A number of uses of the Ferranti name remain in use. In Edinburgh, the Ferranti Edinburgh Recreation Club (FERC), the Ferranti Mountaineering Club and the Ferranti Ten-pin Bowling League are still[when?] in existence. While these organisations no longer have any formal ties with the companies which subsumed the Ferranti companies which operated in Edinburgh, they still[when?] operate under the old names.

Ferranti Thistle F.C. was formed in 1943 and joined the Scottish Football League in 1974. Due to strict sponsorship rules it changed its name to Meadowbank Thistle F.C., and later to Livingston F.C.

Denis Ferranti Meters Limited is still (2021) owned by a direct descendant of Sebastian de Ferranti but is not directly related to the major Ferranti corporation. The company has over 200 employees that manufacture BT's public phones, oil pumps for large industrial vehicles, electric motors for motorbility solutions, electronics, and small MOD equipment.


  1. ^ a b "SWE Historical Society". Archived from the original on 22 July 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ferranti Timeline Archived 3 October 2015 at the Wayback MachineMuseum of Science and Industry (Accessed 22-02-2012)
  3. ^ a b c d e Ferranti and the British Electrical Industry J.F. Wilson ISBN 0-7190-2369-6
  4. ^ Graeme Gooday (1 April 2004). The Morals of Measurement: Accuracy, Irony, and Trust in Late Victorian Electrical Practice. Cambridge University Press. pp. 232–. ISBN 978-0-521-43098-2.
  5. ^ a b Ferranti Packard: Pioneers in Canadian Electrical Manufacturing Norman R. Ball, John N. Vardalas ISBN 0-7735-0983-6 ISBN 978-0-7735-0983-2
  6. ^ "Ferranti - Graces Guide".
  7. ^ Ferranti: A History - Building a Family Business 1882–1975 J.F. Wilson ISBN 1-85936-098-X
  8. ^ "Electronics Industry (Hansard, 26 June 1951)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 26 June 1951.
  9. ^ a b John Vardalas, "From DATAR To The FP-6000 Computer Archived 16 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol 16 No 2, 1994
  10. ^ "Scran Web Site". Scran.
  11. ^ "Eurofighter Typhoon | the first ASTA Simulator for the Eurofighter Typhoon Operational". Archived from the original on 13 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  12. ^ Hagglund, John E. (19 November 1987). The Ferranti Inertial Land Surveying System (FILS) as part of an integrated navigation and positioning system. Engineering. doi:10.11575/PRISM/15052. ISBN 9780315359819 – via
  13. ^ Brinker, Russell Charles; Minnick, Roy (19 November 1995). The Surveying Handbook. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9780412985119 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ "None".
  15. ^ "Lasers on beam" (PDF). Flight International. 23 January 1975. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  16. ^ "TIALD: The Gulf War GEC Ferranti". Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  17. ^ a b Norman Friedman (2006). The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-262-9.
  18. ^ Miller, Charles (8 May 1990). "Radar Deal Keeps Britain in Forefront of Airborne Technology". The Press Association Ltd.
  19. ^ "Court finds GEC 'intervened' on behalf of onetime EFA rival Ferranti". Aerospace Daily. McGraw-Hill Inc. 15 March 1994. p. 398.
  20. ^ Langrish, J (20 January 1970). Wealth from Knowledge. Springer. p. 264. ISBN 9781349010547.
  21. ^ a b c Sethi, Anand (15 April 2008). "UK electronics - a fallen or sleeping giant?". Electronic Product - Design & Test. Archived from the original on 18 July 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  22. ^ Savard, John J. G. (2018) [2005]. "Computer Arithmetic". quadibloc. The Early Days of Hexadecimal. Archived from the original on 16 July 2018. Retrieved 16 July 2018. (NB. Also has information on the Elliott 503 character set.)
  23. ^ Napper, Brian (1999). "The Manchester Mark 1, Final Specification -- October 1949". Computer 50: The University of Manchester Celebrates the Birth of the Modern Computer. Archived from the original on 9 February 2014. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  24. ^ Wylie, Andrew (2009). "The Ferranti Argus Computers". Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  25. ^ A history of autonated AIO's (PDF) (Report). HMS Collingwood's Historic Collection. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  26. ^ FM1600B Microcircuit Computer Ferranti Digital Systems (PDF). Bracknell, Berkshire, UK: Ferranti Limited, Digital Systems Department. October 1968 [September 1968]. List DSD 68/6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 May 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  27. ^ Europe's first home grown microprocessor faces stiff competition, New Scientist 30 September 1976. p. 695.[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ "Zetex Semiconductors Website, Zetex DiodesĀ - Diodes, Inc". Archived from the original on 20 January 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  29. ^ 'Plessey to pay £30m for Ferranti's chip business', in Computergram International, 27 November 1987, p. 1
  30. ^ a b c "The ISC / Ferranti Scandal". Archived from the original on 17 December 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  31. ^ "Nijkerk Holding | Mission & Vision".
  32. ^ FASL Archived 4 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Elbit Systems Acquires the UK Company Ferranti Technologies for GBP15 Million (US$31 Million)". Aviation Today. 26 July 2007. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2010.

Further reading