Rockwell International was a major American manufacturing conglomerate in the latter half of the 20th century, involved in aircraft, the space industry, both defense-oriented and commercial electronics, automotive and truck components, printing presses, valves and meters, and industrial automation. It was the ultimate incarnation of a series of companies founded by Willard Rockwell. At its apex in the 1990s, Rockwell International was #27 on the Fortune 500 list, with assets of over $8 billion and sales of $27 billion.
Col. Willard F. Rockwell made his fortune with the invention and successful launch of a new bearing system for truck axles in 1919. He merged his Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based operation with the Timken-Detroit Axle Company in 1928, rising to become chairman of its board in 1940.
Timken-Detroit merged in 1953 with the Standard Steel Spring Company, forming the Rockwell Spring and Axle Company. After various mergers with automotive suppliers, it comprised about 10-20 factories in the Upper Midwestern U.S. and southern Ontario, and in 1958 renamed itself Rockwell-Standard Corporation.
Pittsburgh-based Rockwell Standard then acquired and merged with Los Angeles-based North American Aviation to form North American Rockwell in September 1967. They then purchased or merged with Miehle-Goss-Dexter, the largest supplier of printing presses, and in 1973 acquired Collins Radio, a major avionics supplier. Finally, in 1973 the company merged with Rockwell Manufacturing, run by Willard Rockwell Jr., to form Rockwell International. In the same year, the company acquired Admiral Radio and TV for $500 million, selling the appliance division to Magic Chef.
The various Rockwell companies list a large number of firsts in their histories, including the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter and the B-25 Mitchell bomber, and the Korean War-era F-86 Sabre, as well as the Apollo spacecraft, the B-1 Lancer bomber, the Space Shuttle, and most of the Navstar Global Positioning System satellites. Rocketdyne, which had been spun off by North American in 1955, was re-merged into Rockwell in 1984, and by that time produced most of the rocket engines used in the United States. Rockwell also took over and manufactured the light business aircraft previously known as Aero Commanders, then introduced their own new design as the Rockwell Commander 112 and 114.
The company developed a desktop calculator based on a MOSFET chip for use by its engineers. In 1967 Rockwell set up their own manufacturing plant to produce them, starting what would become Rockwell Semiconductor. One of their major successes came in the early 1990s when they introduced the first low-cost 14.4 kbit/s modem chip set, which was used in a huge number of modems.
Collins Radios were fitted to 80% of the Free World's airliners. They designed and built the radios that communicated the Apollo Moon landings and the high frequency radio network that allows worldwide communication with US military aircraft. Rockwell designed and built the third stage of the Minuteman Intercontinental ballistic missile, (ICBM) and the AIRS inertial guidance system (INS) that provided its navigation. They also built inertial navigation systems for the Fleet of Ballistic Missile submarines.
Rockwell built heavy-duty truck axles and drive-trains in the U.S. along with power windows, seats and locks. Rockwell also built yachts and business jets and owned large amounts of real estate.
They were also involved in providing custom ELINT equipment to the Imperial Iranian Air Force as part of Project Ibex and paid bribes to the Shah of Iran in order to secure contracts there.
Apex and break-up
With the death of company founder and first CEO Willard Rockwell in 1978, and the stepping down of his son Willard Rockwell, Jr. in 1979 as the second CEO, Bob Anderson became CEO and led the company through the 1980s when it became the largest U.S. defense contractor and largest NASA contractor. Rockwell also acquired the privately held Allen-Bradley Company for $1.6 billion in February 1985 — $1 billion of which was cash to the owners of Allen Bradley — and became a producer of railroad electronics.
During the 1980s, Anderson, his CFO Bob dePalma and the Rockwell management team built the company to #27 on the Fortune 500 list. It boasted sales of $12 billion and assets of over $8 billion. Its workforce of over 100,000 was organized into nine major divisions — Space, Aircraft, Defense Electronics, Commercial Electronics, Light Duty Automotive Components, Heavy Duty Automotive Components, Printing Presses, Valves and Meters, and Industrial Automation. Rockwell International was a major employer in Southern California, Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and western Pennsylvania.
Anderson stepped down as CEO in February 1988, leaving the company to president Donald R. Beall. The completion of the Space Shuttle program and cancellation of the B-1 bomber had led to a decline in revenues, and Beall sought to diversify the company away from government contracts. The end of the Cold War and deteriorating economic conditions, however, prompted accelerated divestitures and sweeping management reforms. From 1988 to 2001 the company moved its headquarters four times: from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to El Segundo, California to Seal Beach, California to Costa Mesa, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
At the end of the 1980s, the company sold its valve and meter division, formerly Rockwell Manufacturing, to British Tyre & Rubber. It also sold its printing press division to an internal management team. Following the "peace dividend" after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the company sold its defense and aerospace business, including what was once North American Aviation and Rocketdyne, to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in December 1996. In the 1990s, the company spun off its semiconductor products as Conexant Technologies (CNXT), which is publicly traded and based in Newport Beach, California. Rockwell International also spun off its automotive division as a publicly traded company, Meritor Automotive, based in Troy, Michigan, which then merged with Arvin Industries to form Arvin Meritor. That company is now known as Meritor, Inc.
In 2001, what remained of Rockwell International was split into two companies, Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Collins — both publicly traded companies — ending the run of what had once been a massive and diverse conglomerate.
Rockwell had a major research laboratory in Thousand Oaks, California. It was founded in 1962 as the North American Science Center. In the 1970s it became the Rockwell International Science Center. The laboratory did independent contract research for the U.S. Government, and also provided research services for the company's business units. It was famous for its research in advanced materials, particularly ceramics; for its infrared imagers; for its research in liquid crystal displays; and for its high-speed electronics. The laboratory invented Metal Oxide Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD). It also achieved fame in selected areas of information science, notably human-computer interaction, augmented reality, multimedia systems, and diagnostics. Rockwell Science Center led the United States Army Research Laboratory's Advanced Displays Federated Laboratory Consortium in the late 1990s. In 2000, the infrared imaging division of the laboratory moved into a new building in Camarillo, California. After Rockwell's breakup in 2001, the laboratory was spun off as a semi-autonomous company called Rockwell Scientific, half owned by Rockwell Collins and half owned by Rockwell Automation. In 2006 the laboratory was sold to Teledyne Corporation. Teledyne made the laboratory's building in Thousand Oaks into its corporate headquarters. A reduced research and development operation still exists and is now known as Teledyne Scientific and Imaging.
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