History of Smiths Group

Through a combination of organic growth and acquisition, Smiths Group has become a leading technology-driven global engineering company and a top 100 London Stock Exchange-listed company.

Smiths Group was founded by Samuel Smith in 1851 as a family clock and watch business, it pioneered both the milometer and the first British speedometer at the beginning of the 20th Century. When the first powered aircraft took off, Smiths took the opportunity to build an instrument-based business that became central to its fortunes. Smiths Aviation and Marine division was created in 1958. During the same year, Smiths acquired a controlling interest in Portland Plastics, which was the beginning of the Medical Systems business. In 1960, the Industrial division was formed, which was mainly concerned with industrial instrumentation.

In the decades that followed, Smiths became more diversified and increasingly international. Adoption of the Smiths Industries Ltd. name in 1965 reflected the wider markets served. By the late 1970s, clocks and watches accounted for a minimal proportion of turnover.
And, in 1983, Smiths ceased to be a direct supplier of equipment to the European motor industry.

By the early 1980s, 40 per cent of all profits were earned outside the UK.

The foundations of the growth-oriented company that Smiths is today were laid in the 1980s and 1990s. In the early 1980s, the decentralised structure and management style were established. In 1984, the company was reorganised into three operating divisions: Industrial, Medical Systems, and Aerospace and Defence. Smiths then proceeded to strengthen its divisions by acquisition buying US avionics business Lear Siegler Holdings Corp in 1987, and US medical devices business Deltec in 1994.

In the first few years of the 21st Century, Smiths has evolved rapidly. In December 2000, it merged with the TI Group to create a new UK leader in high-performance engineering. The merger substantially enlarged the company and in particular gave it a much stronger position in the fast-consolidating aerospace industry. TI had been a major engineering company since 1919 and its focus was now on aerospace systems and equipment under the Dowty name and specialty sealing products. In 2003, Smiths established a fourth division, Detection, dedicated to the fast-changing market for equipment to detect weapons, explosives, contraband or other harmful substances. This was part of a broader reorganisation to sharpen the focus of Smiths' divisions on growth markets.

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