Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company

The Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company was established on 26th April 1882 when it opened a factory in Antwerp. Initially the ownership of the company was split with Bell owning 45% and Western Electric 55%. The new company was initially set up by Ezra Gilliland who, once the company was running smoothly returned to the United States and was replaced by Francis Welles, who acted as administrateur delegue (roughly equivalent to a general manager). Arthur Van den Nest, who at the time was vice-mayor of Antwerp, acted as the chairman for the new company.

Welles first task was to establish a network of agents to give the company a presence in each major company. This appears to have been a success as Western Electric authorised the factory’s reconstruction after it was destroyed by a fire on 22nd July 1882.

In July 1890 the American Bell company sold its share in the company to Western Electric. The range of equipment that the factory produced was expanded in this period. Complete switchboards were being produced from 1887 and the influence of European inventions and practices resulted in a range of phone that were produced to compete with other companies and avoid the traffic on imported equipment. As a result of this by 1903 the BTMC was ahead of it parent in the use of automatic telephony and held rights to the Lorimer Brother’s automatic switching system, which was developed into the rotary system.

In 1913 Francis Welles resigned from the company. The following year the factory was overrun by the invading German army. Much of the workforce joined the Belgium army whilst records were buried, and essential equipment was transferred to the United States.

In August 1925 Western Electric International sold its foreign subsidiaries to International Telephone and Telegraph which were renamed Standard Electric, with the exception of those based in Britain which were known as Standard Telephones and Cables, and the Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company that retained its identity. Under this new ownership it was allowed to retain a deal of freedom and a great deal of research was undertaken. The 1920s were also a period of success for the company based on the export of the rotary system and by the 1930s this was diversified to include radios, light bulbs, refrigerating equipment and air conditioning. This was interrupted by the Second World War but continued following the cessation of hostilities.

In 1987 the Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company was merged with the Compagnie Generale d’Eletrcite. This was later renamed Alcate Alsthorm.