Ward Leonard - Leading America's Military Into Modern Eras

Wednesday, 28 Jul 2021


For nearly 130 years, Ward Leonard has provided industry-leading electric motor, generator, control, and service solutions for critical Naval applications. That’s why this was such a great fit when Ward Leonard became part of the Fairbanks Morse family earlier this year. Both companies have a long history of serving the military with superior technology, and the combination of brands expands the ability for both companies to broaden products and services to our customers.


Company founder Harry Ward Leonard, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), held over 100 patents and worked alongside Nicola Tesla for Thomas Edison before embarking on his own path in 1891 to create the Ward Leonard System for electric motor control. By offering the ability to control speed, Leonard’s technology played a vital role in facilitating America’s transition from steam power to electric motors at the turn of the 20th century.


Within the company’s first decade, the U.S. Navy could see the benefits of the Ward Leonard System. Following a successful demonstration on the USS Brooklyn, during which the Ward Leonard System proved its superior ability to accurately control the ship’s gun turrets, the technology was installed on the USS Holland, the U.S. Navy’s first submarine. By 1911, the Ward Leonard System was being applied to Trans-Atlantic warships, allowing the large vessels to be accurately maneuvered by commanding officers.


Throughout the first World War, Ward Leonard dedicated its entire production capacity to the needs of the U.S. Navy. The company met the urgent demand for lightweight resistors by developing Ward Leonard Ribohm for the Army Signal Corps. The U.S. Navy eventually adopted the technology for standard rheostats for controlling searchlight high-intensity arcs.


The company further distinguished itself as a leading provider of advanced technology for the U.S. military during World War II. Ward Leonard converted all its facilities to manufacture only control equipment and components to help the nation produce a large volume of wartime vessels. The company’s resistors were used in U.S. military radio units and in turret manipulation equipment for battleships, tanks and firearms. The resistors were also used in walkie talkies and enemy detection equipment.


During the war, Ward Leonard established itself as a pioneer in rheostat technology. The company’s rheostats were used in battleship control guns, controlled the heat of aviator suits and performed a wide range of other tasks on combat vessels. Additionally, the Ward Leonard System was added to the newly developed anti-aircraft radar, making it part of the first weapon system developed by the U.S. during war. The Navy Department of Bureau of Ships even called upon Ward Leonard to supply speed and voltage regulators for an entire new fleet of submarines, resulting in the creation of a Regulator School.


Following the war, Ward Leonard continued modifying its product line based on the needs of the military. Today, the company partners with OEMs, shipyards, and the military to provide highly engineered motor, control, component, and systems integration solutions for a modern era. It is the only company to provide a complete set of solutions for every type of vessel that comes to port.

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