GE Industrial Systems’ Motors & Controls plant is demolishing one of its oldest buildings. “Building 17 has not been used for manufacturing since 1984,” said Mark Gliebe, General Manager, GE Industrial Systems Motors & Controls. “We believe the building is unsafe; and by removing it, we are helping improve safety for our employees and the surrounding community.”
The General Electric Company had its beginning in Fort Wayne in 1881, when James A. Jenny the inventor of an electric arc lamp and a small electric generating dynamo, came to the city with his son Charles with plans of manufacturing these products. Jenny Electric took quarters in an old boiler shop building of John H. Bass at the southwest corner of Calhoun and Superior Streets. In 1885 the firm bought the building and land of the Gause Agriculture Works on Broadway, the present main location of General Electric. In 1888 the Thomas-Houston Electric Company purchased a controlling interest in the Jenny Electric Company and the firm was renamed the Fort Wayne Electric Works.
An earlier merger of Fort Wayne Electric had some nostalgic connotations. A seventeen-year-old by the name of Thomas Edison was transferred to Fort Wayne in the summer of 1864 where he worked as a telegraph operator for the railroad. Edison reportedly stayed in a room above one of the Columbia Street business houses for several months before moving on to Indianapolis and then Louisville. In 1888 the entire Fort Wayne Electric Works were destroyed by fire. The rebuilt plant was back in operation in July 1889.
The following year the company purchased part interest in the Wood Arc Light System from Thomas Houston. Accompanied by 100 employees from Brooklyn, N.Y. the young man for whom the system was named, James J. Wood, arrived in Fort Wayne, Dec. 3, 1890. The words “Wood System,” as well as, “Fort Wayne Electric Works,” could be seen on old Building 17 until demolition in December, 2003.
It was in the year of 1911 that the Pennsylvania Railroad elevation took place near the Broadway plant of GE, opening the way for the great expansion of Fort Wayne’s south side.
In 1915, and again in 1917, the General Electric Company constructed major new buildings for the production of motors, generators, and transformers. Another expansion of plant space occurred in 1941 with the government financing the construction of the aircraft engine supercharger plant on Taylor Street. By the 1950’s GE’s operations in Fort Wayne had expanded to encompass a payroll with more than 10,000 employees. GE presently employees about 1,000.
This week, the majority of the demolition of Building 17 is taking place between the hours of 10pm and 4am in an effort to minimize disruptions. Building 17 was built in 1911 and had a total area of 110,000 sq. ft. Fort Wayne GE will continue to operate four manufacturing facilities and is the headquarters for the Motors and Controls Business.