The IET Archives holds the photographic records of the New Southgate factory of Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd (later STC plc). STC was a British manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and transmission cables which grew out of Western Electric, an American company that produced telephone equipment for American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Operating from 1883 to 1991, STC was a world leader in underwater cabling, laying several intercontinental lines. It also developed important new technologies including fibre optics.
The photographic collections of the New Southgate factory of STC are estimated to comprise some 75,000 images spanning the company’s history. A portion of this material dating from the 1880s to the end of the Second World War has recently been catalogued and a selection of images digitised and made available to view online. Over 400 images including the above photograph showing the extension of a local system in Johannesburg, South Africa (1939) are now available to view via our Pinterest board. The easiest way to view these images is to create a Pinterest login using the ‘sign up to see more’ link on the Pinterest landing page.
One of the especially exciting aspects of cataloguing this collection is that we just don’t quite know what we will come across next! The photographic collections are arranged in two distinct fashions with the larger portion chronologically ordered by index number. Administrators at STC kept very useful paper indexes to the images which provide date and content information. This is often invaluable as many of the photographs have nothing on their verso except an index number. From the main chronological run of images some photographs were historically extracted and stored separately. This second group of images will also be catalogued over time.
As a manufacturer of many different components a significant portion of the STC images comprise pieces of equipment on neutral backgrounds for reference, catalogues, and manuals. The collection is also rich in images useful for exploring social history as well as the history of technology. Various photographs capture STC factory sites at Hendon, New Southgate, Croydon and Woolwich, including the image below of a camouflaged New Southgate factory during the Second World War.
Photographs of staff at work on the shop floor, such as the image below (top) of a Mr Watts in the valve department of the STC Hendon site (1927) demonstrate some of the techniques and precision required in the production of valves, which were hand finished at this time. In the 1930’s STC began to produce domestic radio valves under the name Brimar; see packaging below (1946).
The collection also reflects aspects of STC employment such as the various sporting events in which staff could take part. The prize winning boxing champs below won a 1928 competition at the New Southgate site.
There are also images of various research laboratories, such as the telephone apparatus laboratory (below top, 1929) which helped to push forward innovation. A handful of images so far catalogued show the testing of radio equipment for aircraft, for instance in an altitude tank (below bottom, 1945), as well as tests for durability with drops from height, humidity tanks, and water jets.
Several images capture the global scope of STC’s operation and there are an interesting array of photographs of broadcasting stations and telephone exchanges around the world including the image below (top) of the Singapore carrier system in operation (1939), and (bottom) the Medina manual telephone exchange operating room in Saudi Arabia (1929).
Aerial arrays and antennae are frequent in the collection and a separate Pinterest board has been initiated to which these and other such images from the IET Archives have been added. These images also provide some of the collection’s most eye-catching content. Depicted below is the terminal equipment and antennae transmitting station at Marapicu, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1935).
A final favourite image below captures the dawn of a new age of international communications with Dr Maurice Deloraine testing receiving equipment in preparation for the first one-way transatlantic telephone call, made between New York and the STC New Southgate factory, 15 January 1923 (reproduction image 1938).
Cataloguing of the rest of this collection will continue into 2017 and we will be adding more images to the STC Pinterest board and tweeting some of our highlights at @IETLib-Arch.
The IET Archives also contain the personal papers of a number of former STC employees and you can read previous blog posts on these by selecting ‘STC’ from the drop down list under the heading ‘Subject Tags’ at the bottom of this page. The New Southgate factory STC photograph collection forms part of the Standard Telephones and Cables Limited papers which have been catalogued with an archive reference NAEST 211 and are available to consult by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London (please note that cataloguing of the photographs within this collection is ongoing).