Kingsbury, John Edward 1855 - 1948


(1855-1948) Eletrical Engineer and Company Manager

John Edward Kingsbury was born on 27th February 1855 and at the age of 11 moved from Devon to London to work for his uncles advertising agency. Whilst there his talent for shorthand resulted in his being seconded to work for Colonel George Edward Gouraud, who was Thomas Edison’s representative in London. This work would give him a great deal of experience working with electrical equipment as Gouraud used his estate to demonstrate many of the new innovations he hoped to sell in Britain. With this experience, and despite not receiving a technical education, he was able to join the Society of Telegraph-Engineers and Electricians, which became the Institute of Electrical Engineers and which he would later serve as vice-president.

In 1880 Kingsbury met F.R. Welles of Western Electric when the latter was returning for a business trip to Australia. The two established a strong business relationship to the point where when the decision was taken to establish a London office Welles recommended Kingsbury as its head to the Western Electric Board. He was therefore appointed manager of the new office when it was established on 2nd May 1883. Although initially limited by the Post Office licencing system then in place, business would soon grow and with the National Telephone Company being a major customer from its formation in 1889. Many of these order were handwritten by Kingsbury himself and sent to the Antwerp factory with covering letters containing hand drawn sketches of some of the components. The incredible strain this, and his other duties, entitled were only added to when the cable works of the failing Fowler-Waring were taken over in order to provide domestic production for British customers. This factor not only had to be merged into the existing structure but also had to be brought up to the required production standards. Even when this was complete further difficulties were encounter when on 21st July 1899 the newly acquired site was destroyed by a major fire, with production only being continued through the assistance of associated companies.

From the start of his tenure as manager of Western Electric’s London Office Kingsbury faced a great deal of pressure and criticism from the American board. This first stemmed from the fact he was chosen over Alexander Graham Bell’s father-in-law’s brother, who believed he should have been chosen for the role. In later years, as business slowed down, he would face further pressure, over the limited profits show, and by extension his management of the British business. Despite his long standing position, he could not continue as manager without the confidence of the company’s board and as a result he stood down from the London office prior to it becoming a limited company in 1910. He would remain a director of this new company until 1925 when it was taken over by International Telephone and Telegraph, partly due to the conflict between the operational and production sides of the new business.

Following his resignation, he would continue his career as a director of the Damard Lacquer Company, and later deputy chairman of Bakelite Ltd.

John Edward Kingsbury died on 4th November 1948 at Crawley Down, Sussex, at the age of 94.