Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Archives Center Home  |  Collections Index



(.3 cubic feet; 1 DB)

by: Robert S. Harding, December 1991


Born in England in 1853, Elihu Thomson came to the United States with his parents at the age of five and was educated at the Central High School in Philadelphia. After a year long internship, Thomson returned to Central High as a teacher of physics and chemistry. He teamed up with fellow instructor Edwin Houston, and through experiments in arc-lighting and centrifugal force, the pair made several inventions and improvements in both fields. On the basis of his success with the Thomson-Houston Electric lighting system, he began working at the American Electric Company in 1882. Displaying great ambition and inventiveness, he eventually founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company which soon took over the business and property of his previous employer. He continued work in many important fields including arc lamps, transformers, electric motors, and the Thomson electric meter.

Thomson also patented an electrical welding process. Prior to this 1887 invention, welding could be performed only through fire heating. Neither could a single metal with a high melting point nor two metals with different melting points be welded together. Thomson solved both problems by connecting the two materials to be welded in a parallel circuit and using a transformer to run an electric current between them. A low emf (electro motive force) of about 2 volts and a high current rate of approximately 2000 amps combined to produce the almost molten state needed for such industrial welding. In 1888, a second Thomson founded company, Thomson Electric Welding, began exploiting Thomson's welding process and is the subject of this collection. In 1892 the Thomson-Houston Company merged with Edison-Electric to form the General Electric Company. Thomson attended Yale after this merger and then continued on to Tufts where he received a Ph.D. He worked steadily on with the General Electric installation in Lynn, Massachusetts as director of the electrical division until his death in 1937. In his lifetime Thomson received over 700 United States patents.

Scope and Content

The collection contains the following documents: one leather bound group of approximately thirty Thomson Electric Welding news bulletins concerning recent developments on various welding processes, welding machines, and machine parts; two bound volumes of printed information on welding machines offered by Thomson Electric Welding which are presented in catalogue format with a photograph of each machine and factory specifications on the photograph backing; one record book of minutes from factory committee meetings of the Thomson Electric Company concerning company operations and public relations from 1907 to 1911; one folder containing three loose pictures of electric welding machines offered by the company and photographed in the early 1920's; and one folder containing original clippings documenting Thomson's development of electric welding beginning in 1887.

Container List

Box Folder



Records of the Factory Committee 1907-1913


The Theory of Electric Welding, Lynn, Massachusetts: Thomson Electric Welding Co. sales book, n.d.


Electric Welding Machines Lynn, Massachusetts: Thomson Electric Welding Co., n.d. (used as Defendants Exhibit D-13; District Court of the United States Eastern District of NY in Equity No. 3605 Steel & Tubes, Inc. Plaintiff vs. Jackson Tube Co. Inc. Defendant.)


#49 Photographs of welding apparatus


#52 Photographs of welding apparatus


Three photographs of welders


Articles; newspaper clippings regarding electric welding


Revised: May 21, 2001