July 2015

My name is Charlotte Gallant, the Documentation Assistant for the BMIHT Archive. We hold a vast number of different and interesting images in our archive collections and while some shelves in our photographic store contain films and videos, the majority of the space is dedicated to keeping negatives, both plastic and glass plate.

I became familiar with these negatives in my first few weeks of working in the archive. I was given a fairly simple task of correctly numbering and packaging negatives, which required not only attention to detail but the ability to fit long serial numbers onto very small labels! I enjoyed the experience nevertheless. Not only did I get to examine a huge variety of pictures, I had the reward of seeing everything correctly boxed at the end of the project. I also learnt that, in a collection dedicated to the history of the motor industry, some of my discoveries were not what you might expect.

Bendix Dry Cleaning Advert

Why This Document?

This is one of the images I was surprised to come across, a negative showing a line drawing of a Bendix washing machine circa 1950 along with an advert for Bendix dry cleaning. It was only one of a number of Bendix negatives, which seemed like a very random addition to our collection. The reason they were there seems to lie in the complex relationships between several British companies back in the 1950s and 1960s which was a period of mergers and takeovers. So what was the link between Bendix and the British car industry?

The Bendix Corporation was started in America in 1914 and manufactured a vast array of products, from parts for automobiles (brakes) and aircraft to more domestic items like radios and televisions. Bizarrely, the Corporation itself never actually made washing machines. It licensed its name to Bendix Home Appliances in 1936 in return for a 25% stake in that company. Bendix lasted for nearly 60 years, during its last decade going through a series of mergers with different partners, finally being absorbed in 1983 by Allied Corporation – a large American industrial company.

The particular set of negatives I had stumbled across all belonged to our Fisher & Ludlow photographic collection. This company started in 1920, building car bodies for a range of car manufacturers. In 1938, a new Fisher and Ludlow factory was built at Castle Bromwich as part of the ‘shadow factory’ scheme in anticipation of World War Two. Once the war was over, it reverted to the production of car bodies for various car manufacturers. By 1950, Fisher & Ludlow had gained a controlling share in the Bendix Company, a connection it took with it when it merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1953. BMC of course went on to become part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968. This series of acquisitions and mergers led to ever more complicated connections. Fisher & Ludlow joined with Pressed Steel to become Pressed Steel Fisher. Meanwhile Thorn Electrics Industries launched a joint venture with Bendix to create Thorn-Bendix – a company that similarly progressed through a number of ownerships until it was bought by Electrolux in 1988. This link amazed me the most as I grew up with many Electrolux products.

This brings me back to my document of the month, with the Bendix washing machine acting as an illustration of the very complicated company history of the British motor industry and the multitude of unusual companies which over time came under the control of BMC and British Leyland.

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