Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Foundations: 1759 to 1899
The origins of GKN lie in the founding of the Dowlais Iron Company in the village of Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales by landowner Wyndham William Lewis . John Guest was appointed manager of the works in 1767. He discovered coal on Lewis 's property and used it to replace charcoal for smelting. He became a partner in the business in 1782 with Lewis and salesman William Taitt who later became his son-in-law.
Thomas Guest succeeded his father in 1787. Though there have been claims of steam power at Dowlais as early as 1753, it is more likely that it was Thomas who introduced steam for blowing the furnaces with a Watt steam engine in 1795.
By the time John's grandson, John Josiah Guest became sole owner in 1815, the company was the largest iron and steel producer in the world, becoming the first organisation to license the Bessemer process for steel production. The first Bessmer steel was rolled at the works in 1865.
On John Josiah Guest's death, the works was administered by his trustees, G. T. Clark and Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare. After the death of the former in 1898, Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st Baron Wimborne became active but was distracted by other interests and was attracted by an approach in 1899 from Arthur Keen .
Nuts and bolts: 1900 to 1965
These mergers heralded half a century in which the name GKN became synonymous with the manufacture of screws, nuts, bolts and other fasteners. The company reflected the vertical integration fashionable at the time embracing activities from coal and ore extraction, and iron and steel making to manufacturing finished goods.
Beyond the fastener: 1966 to the present
In 1966, in a programme of diversification, the company acquired Hardy Spicer Limited of Birmingham, England, a manufacturer of constant-velocity joints. Historically, such joints had had few applications, even following the improved design proposed by Alfred H. Rzeppa in 1936. However, in 1959, Alec Issigonis had developed the revolutionary Mini motor car which relied on such joints for its novel front wheel drive technology. The massive expansion in the exploitation of front wheel drive in the 1970s and 1980s led to the acquisition of other similar businesses and a 43% share of the world market by 2002.
During the 1980s, GKN sought to invest its earnings from constant-velocity joints in developing other nascent technologies. However, little success attended these efforts and in 1991 the company resolved to abandon further research and to redivert its development efforts towards its constant-velocity joint business in which it was facing increasing competition from Japan. During the same period, the company finally withdrew from the manufacture of fasteners and from steel production. Changing its name to GKN plc, it diversified into military vehicles, aerospace and industrial services.
In July 2000 Finmeccanica and GKN agreed to merge their respective helicopter subsidiaries to form AgustaWestland. In May 2004 it was reported that GKN were considering selling their stake to their Italian partner.
- Jones, E (1987) A History of GKN Volume 1: Innovation and Enterprise 1759-1918
- Jones, E (1990) A History of GKN Volume 2: The Growth of a Business 1918-45
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