Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti was born on 9 April at his grandfather's home on Bold Street, Liverpool. His Italian father was a photographer and his English mother was a concert pianist.
Sebastian de Ferranti was employed as a laboratory assistant to the Chief Research Engineer at the electrical engineering company Siemens Brothers, based in Charlton, London. Initially, he worked on developing an electric furnace for making steel, then on installing Siemens' electrical lighting systems.
Sebastian de Ferranti left Siemens Brothers to form Ferranti, Thompson & Ince Ltd. He patented a dynamo with a zigzag armature that he had begun to develop at the age of 16. As Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) had patented a similar armature, the dynamo was marketed as the Ferranti-Thomson alternator.
Ferranti, Thompson & Ince Ltd was dissolved. With Robert Hammond, Sebastian de Ferranti formed a new company, the Ferranti Hammond Electric Light Co. This company was also short-lived, lasting for only two years.
With Francis Ince and Charles Sparks as partners, Sebastian set up a new business, S. Z. de Ferranti. He concentrated on improving the electric meter, which proved commercially successful for the new business.
Sebastian de Ferranti was appointed chief engineer to Sir Coutts Lindsay & Co., owner of the Grosvenor Gallery. He received an annual salary of £500. The Grosvenor Gallery had its own generating plant, which supplied electricity for its own lighting needs and those of nearby businesses.
In August, the new Grosvenor Gallery generating station was in service, complete with alternators of Sebastian de Ferranti's improved design. The Lindsay family was ready to expand its operations and created the London Electricity Supply Corporation Ltd (LESCo). The new company had sufficient capital to carry out Sebastian's scheme for Deptford Power Station, and retained Sebastian as chief engineer.
Building work began at Deptford in April. Sebastian de Ferranti designed the building itself, as well as the whole electrical generating and distribution system. One of Ferranti's innovations at Deptford was the use of 10,000-volt high-tension cable. The Board of Trade demanded a safety test that involved driving a chisel into the live cable. The test was successful.
In June, S. Z. de Ferranti became a private limited company, S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd. Deptford Power Station was working by October. As the world's first high-voltage generating station, it is regarded as the first modern power station. However, Sebastian de Ferranti's technical vision did not always match LESCo's commercial vision, so the relationship ended in 1891.
Portsmouth Corporation contracted S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd to install a street lighting system. Completed in 1894, the system included four rectifiers for converting alternating current to direct current, as required for arc lamps.
The company needed larger premises if it was to continue to grow. Sebastian de Ferranti chose a former iron works on a 1.6-hectare (4-acre) site in Hollinwood, Oldham. The main products of the Hollinwood factory were steam-driven alternators, switchgear, rectifiers, instruments, transformers and, from 1898, meters.
Ferranti Ltd was registered with an increased capital, following the resignations of Francis Ince and Charles Sparks in 1900. It took over the undertakings and assets of S. Z. de Ferranti Ltd.
Ferranti Ltd went into voluntary receivership as a result of trading losses and increasing debt. One of the reasons for this financial decline was increased competition in the steam-alternator market. This had led to a fall in prices for steam-alternators and in Ferranti Ltd's market share.
Having lost control of Ferranti Ltd, Sebastian de Ferranti looked for opportunities as a freelance engineer. He persuaded J. & P. Coats Ltd of Paisley to fund development of his electric spinning and doubling patents. Sebastian then made a similar deal with Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd of Sheffield to develop his steam turbine designs.
Ferranti Ltd was restructured. Andrew Tait, a chartered accountant and one of the receivers, became Chairman. With his shareholding reduced to less than 10%, Sebastian de Ferranti became merely a technical advisor. Tait limited the product range to switchgear, transformers and meters, and began to build up a stronger team of sales staff.
Back in profit, Ferranti Ltd entered a new market. It bought James Royce's electric heater and cooker patents as a way into domestic appliance production. By 1912, the product range had expanded to include irons.
Sebastian de Ferranti received an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester. Ferranti Ltd set up a sales department, which was based at a new London headquarters. The Ferranti Electric Co. of Canada was founded as a sales and assembly branch.
The First World War led to a sharp fall in orders for Ferranti products. Ferranti Ltd took on its first munitions contract in 1915. Soon after, the Crown Works was re-equipped to produce shells and fuzes for the duration of the War. Ferranti Ltd sold its domestic appliance patents and stock to the Jackson Electric Stove Co.
Ferranti Ltd sold its switchgear patents and stock to Ferguson, Pailin & Co. Ferguson and Pailin had worked for Ferranti as switchgear engineers. They left in 1913 to set up their own switchgear business at a factory in Openshaw, Manchester.
Ferranti Ltd won a contract to supply seven transformers to the Mangaho power station in New Zealand. At 4,000 kilowatt-ampères, these transformers were the largest that had been made in Britain. Transformer production became a thriving part of the company's business, boosted by the launch of the National Grid in 1926.
Ferranti Ltd began to produce audio frequency (AF) transformers for radios. This marked the start of the company's radio business, which formed the basis for other electronic engineering ventures.
Ferranti Ltd produced Britain's first million-volt arc in the high-voltage testing area of the Crown Works. This led to orders for 1,000,000-volt testing transformers from the National Physics Laboratory and GEC, amongst others.
Ferranti Ltd leased a disused engineering works in Stalybridge, in order to expand its radio component production. The new facilities included a radio research laboratory.
After becoming President of the Electrical Development Association in 1926, Dr Ferranti gave more attention to the domestic use of electricity. He devised an improved design of parabolic reflector fire, which led to the revival of the domestic appliances department.
The first Ferranti radio, the Standard Model 21, was launched. A thermionic valve development laboratory was set up at the Stalybridge works to increase the company's range of radio expertise.
Dr Ferranti died and his son, Vincent Ziani de Ferranti (1895-1980), became Chairman of Ferranti Ltd.
The domestic appliances department added electric clocks to its product range. The clocks contained synchronous motors and timing devices developed by Wilfred Holmes, formerly of the instrument department.
Vincent de Ferranti decided to lobby for new defence contracts. By August, the Admiralty had placed a large order for detonation fuzes with Ferranti Ltd.
Ferranti Ltd bought a disused wire mill in Moston, Manchester. The mill was converted to a factory with advanced laboratory and production facilities for radio manufacture. After two years working with Scophony Ltd on a television based on mechanical scanning, Ferranti Ltd turned to electronic television. It began making cathode ray tubes.
The domestic appliances, instrument and fuze departments were relocated to the Moston site. The new fuze factory greatly increased production capacity and attracted the War Office to place a major order. Ferranti Ltd also expanded its facilities at Hollinwood by buying a former tram depot.
In partnership with Metropolitan-Vickers, Ferranti Ltd received a contract to develop a new military radar system. Known as the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Mark 1 system, this project placed Ferranti at the forefront of radar defence technology.
Vincent de Ferranti had secured major orders for valves from the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Production increased to such an extent that Ferranti Ltd was allowed to move the valve department to Gem Mill, Chadderton. Pioneering projects included developing cold cathode tubes and modulators for magnetron transmitters.
Ferranti Ltd opened its first Scottish factory at Crewe Toll, Edinburgh, to manufacture gyro gun-sights (GGS) for aircraft. The Ministry of Aircraft Production later described the Ferranti GGS as 'the most outstanding instrument development of the War'.
Planned expansion of Britain's generating capacity encouraged Ferranti Ltd to invest in expanding its transformer production. A new factory for building large power transformers, the Avenue Works, opened on a site close to the Crown Works. Within two years, it had export orders from 30 countries.
Vincent Ziani de Ferranti received a knighthood for his company's services to the War effort. While transformer and meter sales were thriving, Ferranti Ltd was also keen to develop new products. The instrument department at Moston produced Ferranti's first artificial horizon, paving the way for other avionics developments.
The Government contracted Ferranti Ltd to work with the Bristol Airplane Co. on a major guided-missile development. This later became known as the Bloodhound project. For the first six years, the work took place at the Moston factory. Moston also became home to a new computer department, set up to make a commercial version of Manchester University's Mark I computer.
The first Ferranti Mark I computer was installed at Manchester University. It was the world's first commercially produced computer.
Ferranti Ltd recruited a team of computer engineers who had formerly worked for Elliott Bros. This team had developed a new approach to computer circuitry, based on standard 'packages'. These plug-in packages made it easier to maintain computer circuits. Based in London, the new team designed the packages for the Ferranti Pegasus computer, which was launched in 1956.
Duncan Sandys, Minister of Supply, opened Ferranti Ltd's new guided weapons factory at Wythenshawe, Manchester, in June. Planning the layout of the 36-acre site had begun in 1950. It cost almost £1.3 million to build and equip the workshop and laboratories. The first British monopulse radar device, the Range Finder, was developed at Crewe Toll.
The Ferranti semiconductor development team at Wythenshawe produced the first European silicon alloy junction diode in 1955. Most semiconductor manufacturers were still using germanium as the semiconducting material.
Ferranti Ltd moved its computer production to a disused factory in West Gorton, Manchester. The factory became the largest computer production plant in Europe. The London computer team moved to a new laboratory in Bracknell, Berkshire. Ferranti Ltd gave the first public demonstration of its numerical control equipment. E. K. Cole Ltd agreed to buy Ferranti's radio and television interests.
Continuing losses by the domestic appliances department led Ferranti Ltd to sell its electric fire business to E. K. Cole Ltd. Production of electric clocks had ceased in 1957 and other product lines were phased out in 1960.
Ferranti Ltd's navigation systems department at Crewe Toll began developing an inertial navigation system for the planned TSR-2 military aircraft. However, the government cancelled the TSR-2 project in 1965.
Ferranti Ltd installed its first air traffic control computer, Apollo, at Manchester's Ringway Airport. Developed by the Bracknell team, it remained in service there until 1982. The company received a government loan to build a factory in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, to produce numerical control equipment.
Ferranti Ltd installed the world's first process control computer at an ICI chemical plant in Fleetwood, Lancashire. It was an Argus 200 computer, made at the Wythenshawe factory. The Bracknell digital systems department developed the Poseidon computer to coordinate radar displays on aircraft carriers. The Admiralty ordered a Poseidon computer for the HMS Eagle. The first European integrated circuit was made at Gem Mill.
Sebastian de Ferranti (1927-) took over as Chairman when his father, Sir Vincent, retired. Ferranti Ltd sold its West Gorton mainframe computer business to International Computers & Tabulators Ltd (ICT) for £8.4 million. Basil de Ferranti (1930-87), Sebastian's brother, became joint managing director of ICT. Ferranti Ltd's special components department in Dundee produced Europe's first commercially available gas laser.
The Bloodhound project ended with a costing scandal that had a lasting impact. Government auditors found that Ferranti Ltd had made far larger profits than projected from the Bloodhound I contract. Sir John Lang chaired an inquiry into the matter. Sebastian de Ferranti agreed to pay back £4.25 million to the government.
Ferranti Ltd began producing microwave communications devices at its new factory in Poynton, near Stockport. Such devices were later used on North Sea oil rigs and at the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratory at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire.
Ferranti Ltd opened a microelectronic assembly laboratory in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire. The products were integrated circuits and transistors for use in computers, navigational and weapons control systems, and electrical appliances. The Barrow factory closed in 1976.
Ferranti Ltd sold its numerical control machine tool business to Plessey for £2.2 million. The Dalkeith factory continued to produce numerical controlled measurement and inspection equipment.
The government stepped in to save Ferranti Ltd, after the National Westminster Bank had refused to extend Ferranti's overdraft. Through the National Enterprise Board, it took a 62.5% stake in Ferranti Ltd, injecting £15 million. Sebastian de Ferranti remained Chairman, but Derek Alun-Jones took over as Managing Director.
The F100-L microprocessor, the first European microprocessor, was launched. It was designed by Ferranti Electronics at Gem Mill in Oldham and produced at Ferranti's Bracknell division.
Under the terms of the 1975 agreement, the government gave 12.5% of its shareholding to the Ferranti family.
Basil de Ferranti took over from his brother as Chairman of Ferranti Ltd.
Ferranti Ltd merged with an American company, the International Signal and Control Group (ISC). The new company was called Ferranti International plc. Founded in 1971, ISC had built up a substantial business in electronic military equipment.
In the wake of the merger and the death of Basil de Ferranti in 1987, Derek Alun-Jones became Chairman of Ferranti International plc. James H. Guerin, founder of International Signal and Control, became Deputy Chairman. The Ferranti semiconductor business was sold to Plessey.
Major problems connected with the 1987 merger became evident. The International Signal and Control Group was alleged to have been overvalued by £215 million. Its book value at the time of the merger included contracts that never came to pass.
Ferranti International also won major new contracts for its aerospace technologies. Ferranti Computer Systems (49.9%) and Thomson-CSF (50.1%) formed Ferranti Thomson Sonar Systems. However, the financial crisis continued, so the Edinburgh-based defence systems division was sold to GEC-Marconi. Eugene Anderson took over as Chairman from Derek Alun-Jones.
Ferranti International sold its Wythenshawe-based guided-weapons division to GEC-Marconi.
James Guerin was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in the United States. This sentence was for offences committed before the merger, as well as for defrauding Ferranti of $1.1 billion. He was also convicted for money-laundering and illegally exporting military technology to South Africa and Iraq.
Ferranti International plc went into official receivership in December. The receivers gradually dismantled the company and sold off its assets.