The R. Thomas & Sons Company. - Columbiana County is the birthplace of one of the oldest and most important
branches of the electrical industry, back in '73, during Grant's administration, America was laying the foundation
for industrial supremacy of the world. New ideas were being advanced, new trades created, new businesses started
and in all a golden future pictured. The overland stage was rapidly passing out while river and canal transportation
was popular. The population was only 39 million, yet with fifty thousand miles the United States boasted of the
greatest system of railroads in the world. The telephone then was but an experiment and the telegraph, though expensive,
was slowly gaining commercial recognition. The horse car provided local transportation and that year marked the
first trial of the cable car. Artificial light was provided by the aid of tallow candles, oil lamps, gas burners
and by the newest of all electric arc lamps.
During that year, another industry was born. The firm of Richard Thomas & Son was established at what is now
known as the Pottery Center of the World, East Liverpool, Ohio. The new concern started in a modest way as most
businesses did in those days and produced clay knobs and specialties. Their business grew slowly but surely and
from time to time the factory capacity was increased and facilities improved.
The electrical industry which until then had been but a simmering possibility, now show signs of active development.
At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, the first successful telephone was exhibited by Dr. Bell. In
1879 the incandescent lamp was invented by Thomas Edison. In 1881 the storage battery was invented, then called
a "box of electricity," and in the same year Edison built his first steam generating plant and in the
year following, the first water power plant.
This activity soon influenced extensive experiments in the "Thomas" plant and early in the year 1884
porcelain was first manufactured by this pioneer ceramist although then used only in making door knobs. This was
the first porcelain produced west of the Alleghenies.
A warm friendship existed between Geo. W. Thomas (eldest son of Richard) and a very promising young inventor, George
Westinghouse, whose name is today known so well in every part of the world. It was really due to the enthusiastic
faith of Westinghouse in the future possibilities of electricity that influenced the development of "Thomas
Quality" electrical porcelain which was first produced in January 1885. At the start, only one design of insulator
was produced, the first shipment going to the U. S. Electric Lighting Co., Chicago, at the time of the organization
of the National Electric Light Association. Later, special shapes such as lamp buttons, socket keys, cut out blocks,
etc., were made. In 1887, about the time the first practical electric street railway was built (by F. J. Sprague
in Richmond) "Thomas" electric accounts revealed such names as Brush Electric Association, Detroit Electric
Works, Pittsburg Electric Co., Central Electric Co., Keystone Light & Pr. Co., Westinghouse Electric Co., et
In 1892, the firm of The R. Thomas & Sons Co., was incorporated under the laws of the state of Ohio. The "Thomas"
line then consisted of three outdoor types of insulator and nearly one hundred designs for interior wiring. In
1893, all of the porcelains used in the lighting arrangement for the World's Fair at Chicago, installed by Westinghouse,
were "Thomas." The third issue of the "Thomas" catalog appeared in 1894 and nearly 300 insulators
Up to this time, transmission voltages were quite moderate, being regulated somewhat by the capacity of the insulators
then available. Early in '94, Thomas ceramists commenced a diligent study of insulator design in an effort to satisfy
the demands of the engineering world. Much could be written, if space permitted, of the tireless study, unique
developments, discarded trials and progress made during that period. But suffice to say, perseverance, skill and
thorough working knowledge of the fictile arts again brought victory to the firm of "Thomas." Early in
'96 the first "Bloch" glaze filled insulator was perfected, later to be patented. It was the first multi
part high voltage porcelain insulator manufactured. It represented the initial step toward making possible the
transmission of electrical energy at higher voltages. One of the first orders recorded came from J. G. White &
Co. Other early users were Montreal & St. Lawrence Lt. & Pr. Co., Helena Water & Elec. Pr. Co., Staten
Island Electric Co., Pike's Peak Pr. Co., Montgomery Water Pr. Co., Jacques-Cartier Power Co., Salt Lake City Water
& Electric Pr. Co., and many others. Although developed over a quarter of a century ago, it is interesting
to note that many of these first insulators are still in service today.
And so, we can leaf through the chronicles of "Thomas" history, reviewing many interesting accounts of
the past, revealing definite milestones of progress made, reciting fiction, like tales of the achievements of this
pioneer organization, but all to be considered as merely "part of the day's work" in making history of
the industrial development that may be credited to Columbiana County.
History of Columbiana County, Ohio
By: Harold B. Barth
Historical Publishing Company
Columbiana County, Ohio Biographies
Names A to F
Names G to M
Names N to Z
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