S&C Electric Company
Founded as Schweitzer & Conrad, Inc., S&C Electric is a global provider of equipment and services for electric power systems. Founded in 1911, the Rogers Park-based company designs and manufactures switching, protection and power-quality products for electric power transmission and distribution systems.
S&C's products help deliver electric power efficiently and reliably. Some are used to switch circuits. Others minimize damage to equipment in the event of a fault or reduce the area of an outage by automatically rerouting power flow. S&C's sophisticated power-quality products can deliver uninterrupted power for an entire facility, for crucial process industries. It is also a leader in automation and control products related to the Smart Grid, and energy storage and voltage support systems that help connect wind and solar generation plants to the grid.
S&C also offers engineering, laboratory, and testing services for electric utilities and commercial, industrial, and institutional power systems.
The company has engineering offices and manufacturing facilities at 6601 N. Ridge Boulevard in Chicago; Franklin, Wisconsin; Alameda, California; Duvall, Washington; and Orlando, Florida. S&C subsidiaries operate in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Curitiba, Brazil; Mexico City and Aguascalientes, Mexico; Wales, United Kingdom; and Suzhou, China.
In 1909, a blaze at Chicago's Fisk Street Generating Station, caused by poor circuit protection, provoked creative thinking by two Commonwealth Edison Company engineers. They invented a spring-loaded fuse filled with carbon tetrachloride and called it the "S&C Liquid Power Fuse."
Edmund O. Schweitzer was the utility's chief testing engineer and Nicholas J. Conrad was one of Edison's generator-starting engineers.
In 1911, word of the fuse spread quickly in the young, fast-growing utility industry. With a loan of $1,000 from a friend, Schweitzer and Conrad set up a shop. They began in Conrad's home and soon moved to a three-room rental in the Bennett Building, 1774 W. Wilson Avenue in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood.
Each fuse was individually filled and sealed using homemade fixtures, while Schweitzer and Conrad continued to work for Commonwealth Edison. Early orders came from as far as Boston and Virginia. The fuses sold for $1.25 each.
In 1915, the partners invested $30,000 and constructed a new one-story factory at 4435 N. Ravenswood Avenue. Conrad's wife, Irene, made a mosaic of the company's logo which graced the building's facade. It is now on display at the company's reception area.
In 1916, Conrad was able to quit his job at Commonwealth Edison, but Schweitzer kept on working there.
By 1922, as power grids spread, S&C expanded its product line to include transmission and distribution-voltage offerings that helped utilities deliver electric service to households and factories.
Schweitzer and Conrad insisted on rigorous testing of all products. So in 1924, they built their first laboratory for mechanical and electrical testing.
1927 found high-volume manufacturing techniques being phased in as S&C's growth continued. A second floor at the Ravenswood plant made room for the addition of more belt-driven drill presses and other machinery.
Conrad's great energy and drive led to health problems, which, in 1930, forced him to sell the company to Milwaukee-based Cutler-Hammer, a motor control manufacturer. But the company's culture remained intact.
The following year, 1947, as business continued to grow and exceed the capacity of the Ravenswood Avenue plant, S&C purchased six acres for a new plant on Ridge Boulevard in Rogers Park. At that time, Nicholas purchased an additional four adjoining acres for future expansion. After being named company president, son John purchased that land from his father.
In 1960, the company built the Nicholas J. Conrad Laboratory to help test its expanding lines of fuses and switches. This high-voltage facility allowed testing at voltages from 2,500 up to 1.6 million volts.
By the 1990s, the facility on Ridge Boulevard had grown to more than 45 acres. Dozens of properties had to be acquired.
John W. Estey joined S&C in 1972 as a 22-year-old electrical engineering graduate. He became a vice president in 1977 and president of the company in 1988. Today, 2010, he is president and CEO.
In 2005, at the age of 89, Chairman Emeritus John R. Conrad passed away after more than 50 years at the company. John had been a life member of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society.
S&C Electric Company Breaks Ground on New Building in Rogers Park
By Benjamin Woodard, DNAinfo.com, August 9, 2013 8:18am | Updated on August 9, 2013 8:18am
ROGERS PARK — Rogers Park's biggest neighbor is getting a little bigger.
S&C Electric Company, at 6601 N. Ridge Blvd., broke ground on a new four-story building recently that, when completed, will house engineering teams who maintain power systems for universities, hospitals and sports stadiums.
But the majority of the work at one of city's largest manufacturers — second only to Ford's plant in Hegewisch, the company says — is done by its nearly 2,000 workers.
The company, formed in 1911, moved in 1947 from its Ravenswood warehouse to Rogers Park, where it began to transform an old tire yard into its maze of buildings, slowly gobbling up surrounding property.
Building 14A, which will be the tallest on its campus, should be completed in 2014, said Mike Edmonds, who oversees S&C's business in the United States.
Most people who drive by on Ridge Avenue or Pratt Boulevard don't fully understand what's happening on the mysterious campus, Edmonds said.
But, he said, "there's a little of S&C everywhere." The thing is, most of it's buried in the ground or a few dozen feet above the ground on an electrical pole.
In 1909, Edmund Schweitzer and Nicholas Conrad, two Commonwealth Edison engineers who make up the "S" and "C" in the company's name, developed a liquid glass fuse that would prevent dangerous electrical arcs at power substations.
It was a big seller. The company expanded, and now develops "Smart Grid" technology, Edmonds said, like computerized relays that keep a home's lights from flickering during intermittent power outages.
The United States Postal Service, U.S. military and NASA are some of its customers.
The company made headlines in February after New Orleans' Superdome lost power during the Super Bowl, causing an embarrassing 30-minute delay. An S&C electrical relay installed outside of the stadium had tripped.
Edmonds said the newly-installed device wasn't set correctly for the amount of power surging into the stadium.
Nonetheless, the company took a hit in news reports.
"It's like you blaming Canon because you take [lousy] pictures," Edmonds said, in defense.
The company, which pulls in $700 to $800 million a year, also builds equipment for solar panels and wind turbines that are used around the world.
Edmonds said employees often compete to take photos of company equipment in far-flung places while on vacation.
One employee recently came home with a photo from the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RPWRHS photo S024-0100 shows the Alwart Coal Company at 6545 N. Ridge Boulevard on September 19, 1949. This photo is not clear as to where the Alwart Coal Company actually is located. Also, this property is now part of the S&C Electric Company, 6544 N. Ridge Boulevard, complex.