A Brief Look at the Amazing Story of Perkin-Elmer
by Don Mahon
Perkin-Elmer was founded in 1937 by two amateur astronomers ... Richard S. Perkin, then age 30 and an investment banker, and Charles W. Elmer, age 64 and a retired court recorder. They met at a meeting of world-renowned astronomers at Harvard in the fall of 1936. Richard Perkin had been toying with the idea of establishing an American company to design and produce precision optics, a field then dominated by European companies. When he arrived at Harvard, he approached Charles Elmer with the idea and Mr. Elmer quickly bought into it. Soon,an American corporate success story was about to unfold.
WW II and Government Contracts
In the early years, the fledgling company grew modestly,relying on contracts from U.S. observatories and began cultivating a reputation as a premier source for precision optics. Suddenly, World War II would break out. Government contracts began rolling in for military optical devices, among them improved cameras, periscopes, bomb sights and range finders. These products were being produced from the company's manufacturing plant in the Glenbrook section of Stamford, Connecticut.
Enter: Analytical Instruments
In 1942, Perkin-Elmer's entry into the field of analytical instrumentation took hold ... and by happenstance. American Cyanamid Corporation maintained a science laboratory on the other side of Stamford. Cyanamid approached Perkin-Elmer to produce the optics for an experimental infrared spectrophotometer to analyze synthetic rubbers and other related products. That was the beginning. Over the years, Perkin-Elmer became the world's leading producer of a wide range of analytical instrumentation.
In the 1950s, Richard Perkin spearheaded the company's entry as a multi-national company with manufacturing operations in Great Britain and West Germany and sales/service offices strategically located throughout the world. The company moved into its new 50,000 square foot headquarters plant in Norwalk in 1951. At the height of its growth, Perkin-Elmer occupied 15 plants and offices in Southwestern Connecticut with 6,500 employees. Connecticut operations were by far the largest, corporate-wide.
By the 1980s, the company was engaged in five technology-driven businesses and a world leader in most... analytical instrumentation, semiconductor processing equipment, electro-optical systems, surface technology systems, and avionics and missile systems.
In 1980, the company had 15,000 employees world-wide and passed the billion dollar mark in sales for the first time in 1981. In 1986, Dun's Review magazine named Perkin-Elmer as one of the five best-managed U.S. companies. In the same year, Perkin-Elmer was in position 259 on the Fortune 500 list of the 500 largest U.S. industrial companies.
Perhaps the highest profiled story in the history of Perkin-Elmer was the development and ultimate launch of the Hubble Space Telescope with two critical elements produced by the company ... the Optical Telescope Assembly and the Fine Guidance System. Over a twelve year period in space, the HST has recorded views of the universe never previously observed. Astronomers universally have called the project the most successful astronomical achievement ever.
Beginning of the End
Then in the early 1990s, Perkin-Elmer began a company-wide downsizing program that was to dramatically change its character. With new management in place, the company divested its existing operations and entered new fields of scientific endeavor. It was then that the corporate name of Applera Corporation replaced the long-standing name of The Perkin-Elmer Corporation that was at the forefront of advanced technology for 58 years.
Its People Made It Go
The success of any company is measured largely by the caliber of its people. The talents, abilities and allegiance of Perkin-Elmer people at all levels were highly acclaimed and unmatched by any other enterprise. Those attributes have carried over to the success of The Retiree Club.
The story of Applera Corporation is chronicled elsewhere in this web site.