General Electric (GE) began in a small barn in the year 1900. Thousands of patents and even two Nobel prizes later, the GE Global Research lab has continued to bring new technologies to our lives.
Charles Proteus Steinmetz, already a distinguished industrial scientist, was hard at work as GE's chief consulting engineer. After years of persuasion, Steinmetz convinced the GE leadership that the company would need a research laboratory to maintain its edge in lighting and electricity and also finding new areas to grow.
Elihu Thomson, a founder of the company, summed up the mission of the lab: "It does seem to me therefore that a Company as large as the General Electric Company, should not fail to continue investing and developing in new fields: there should, in fact, be a research laboratory for commercial applications of new principles, and even for the discovery of those principles."
Charles Coffin, GE's first CEO, agreed and the GE Research Laboratory was born in the carriage barn in Steinmetz's back yard. Willis Whitney, a young chemistry professor from MIT who had been conducting experiments for GE, was invited to become the first director.
One of the earliest projects of the new lab was to defend the company's primary asset - incandescent lighting - through innovation. In 1908, GE scientist William Coolidge invented the ductile tungsten filament that made the GE incandescent lamp significantly more durable than the original design. The invention secured GE's technological leadership in the market and epitomized the role of the GE research lab - bringing innovation to the marketplace.
Over the years, the research lab has brought many new technologies to GE's customers. Along the way, GE scientists have amassed thousands of patents, and two Nobel prizes: Irving Langmuir won the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1932 and Ivar Giaever won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973.
Today, GE Global Research consists of more than 3,000 employees working in four state-of-the-art facilities: Niskayuna, New York (a few miles from the original barn), Bangalore, India (opened in September 2000), Shanghai, China (opened in October, 2003), and Munich, Germany (opened in June, 2004).
While Steinmetz and Whitney might not recognize the facilities today, they would feel very comfortable with the lab's mission - spurring GE's growth by bringing innovative technology to the world.