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History of Smiths Medical

Information to better understand who we are

Smiths Medical is one of the world's leading manufacturers of medical products. It employs over 7,000 people in six Continents and has helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives over more than half a century. Its products are known and trusted in anaesthetic departments, operating theatres and intensive care units throughout the world.  But this huge multi-million pound company started life in a very modest way in a flat in Great Portland Street right in the middle of the London Blitz in 1940.

1940 - A great idea

Dr S.A. Leader, a dental surgeon was experimenting with the use of plastics in the medical and dental field. His innovative ideas led him to set up a company, Portland Plastics, which rapidly developed and soon moved to larger premises in Folkestone, Dover and Hythe in Kent.

1957 - Smiths move in.

In 1957, Portland Plastics was acquired by Smiths Industries who were keen to gain Portland’s expertise in plastic and nylon tubing for their other interests in aerospace and automobiles.  Smiths itself had started as a family-owned clock and watch making business, founded by Samuel Smith, back in 1851. 

1964-1977 - Awards for success.

Under its new owners, Portland Plastics moved into purpose built premises in Hythe, Kent in 1964 and three years later changed their name to Portex. During the following decade, the Company went from strength to strength, gaining three Queen’s Awards for Export and another Queen’s Award for Technical Achievement, primarily for the design, development and manufacture of the Profile cuff, used on Endotracheal and Tracheostomy tubes.

1979 – 2004 25 years of global growth.

This success gave huge strength and confidence to the company which enabled it to start on a long course of acquisitions which would lead it to its present global position in the twenty first century. 

  • 1979 – Acquired Concorde Laboratories, manufacturers of blood sampling products.

  • January 1983 – Acquired LSA, Paris, the distributors of ‘Portex’ products in France.

  • 1984 – Acquired Downs Surgical, manufactures of surgical instruments and ostomy products.  Awarded another Queen’s Award for Export.

  • October 1985 – Acquired Eschmann Bros & Walsh Ltd, a company which manufactured operating tables, electro surgical units and also had a range of ostomy products. The Simcare brand is formed from the ostomy products from Downs Surgical and Eschmann Bros & Walsh. 

  • December 1988 – Acquired Avon Medicals, manufacturers of dialysis and blood transfusion products.  Disposed of Downs Surgical.

  • 1989 – This was a busy year for The Company. In March, they acquired a German company, Peter von Berg (PVB) which made a range of pressure transducers, stop cocks and cardiac catheters. The following month an American company, Respiratory Support Products Inc. was brought into the fold.  This company made a range of temperature probes used in critical care area. The Company also earned their fifth Queen’s Award for Export.

  • July 1991 – Acquired 24.50% of Japan Medico Co Ltd, the distributors of Portex products in Japan.

  • 1992 –  Acquisition of two companies this year: H.G. Wallace Ltd (51%) manufacturers of disposable products for hospitals and a range of invitro-fertilisation products and Intertech, who also made disposable products including respiratory lines and anaesthetic masks.

  • 1993 – Acquired the remaining 49% of H.G. Wallace.

  • 1994 – Another Queen’s Award for Export this year and two notable acquisitions: Deltec, a US based manufacturer of medication delivery pumps and vascular access devices, and Kylie Kanga, manufacturers of disposable blankets and pads. (This was to strengthen the ostomy side of Simcare.)

  • 1995 – Level 1 came on board this year, a US based company manufacturing temperature management equipment and disposables.

  • October 1997 – Graseby Medical were next on the acquisition list.  They made a range of hospital medication delivery pumps and apnoeapediatric monitors.

  • November 1997 –acquisition of Pneupac® manufacturers of emergency and transport ventilators and anaesthesia machines.

  • December 1998 – acquired BCI® for their leading edge technology to monitor respiration, oxygen saturation, expired carbon dioxide, temperature, blood pressure and inspired O2 and ECG.

  • October 2001 – acquired Bivona, manufacturers of a range of anaesthesia silicon products to complement Portex® portfolio.

  • May 2002 – disposed of the Simcare range of urology products to Mentor Medical Ltd.

  • July 2004 – acquired DHD Healthcare. DHD’s products are widely used to care for the respiratory needs of patients in a variety of therapeutic and critical care applications.

  • March 2005 – acquisition of Medex Inc. Medex manufactures and markets critical care medical products for use in a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. 

The future

Having created a portfolio of superb quality products, Smiths Medical has great plans for the future. With its new globalized marketing, manufacturing and customer services base, the Company intends to make Smiths Medical products the first choice in the medical technology industry right across the world.