Schneider Electric donates original safety switch to Smithsonian

Washington, D.C—An original and still-working 1922 model of the electrical safety switch was donated on Nov. 10 by Schneider Electric to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Square D brand of electrical equipment.

01/08/2004



To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Square D brand, Schneider Electric donated a vintage steel-enclosed electrical safety switch to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Left to right are Chris C. Richardson, president and CEO, Schneider Electric North American Operating Division, Dr. Barney Finn, curator, Museum of American History, and David D. Petratis, president of Schneider Electric U.S.A.

Washington, D.C —An original and still-working 1922 model of the electrical safety switch was donated on Nov. 10 by Schneider Electric to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Square D brand of electrical equipment. The steel-enclosed Square D safety switch was a lifesaving replacement to the standard open knife switch common on factory floors in that era, which could electrocute machine workers who touched exposed metal switch blades and live electrical current.

According to the company, the Square D safety switch was the invention of electrical engineer Bryson D. Horton, who—along with James B. McCarthy—incorporated McBride Manufacturing Co. in Detroit in 1903. The company's first products were cartridge-type electrical fuses, assembled in an 18-by-40-foot rented room. The cartridge fuse business produced rapid growth for McBride Manufacturing in its early years in Detroit, which was renamed the Detroit Fuse and Manufacturing Co. in 1908.

In 1915, the company began marketing a new sheet metal version of its cast iron enclosed safety switch—with the cover displaying an embossed letter "D" (for Detroit) within a square border. The simple trademark design soon had customers asking for the "Square D" switch. So successful was the new switch that in 1917 the fuse business was sold and the firm officially changed its name to Square D Company. The invention was said to go a long way in answering the call of industrial reform efforts that demanded improved working conditions in the early 1900s. The significant potential for electrical hazards in the workplace prompted the company to promote its switch through an advertisement featuring a worker running from a factory floor proclaiming "Jones is Dead!" The industrial ad vividly engraved the Square D safety switch in the minds of company managers who were concerned about the shock hazard to workers from exposed electrical switches.

The 1922 safety switch that was donated to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian (see photo) had been in use at Mariani Square, a former fruit processing plant in San Jose, Calif. Schneider Electric North American Operating Division is in Palatine, Ill.

For more about history, visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Web site.

—Edited by Mark Hoske, Editor-in-Chief, Control Engineering, MHoske@cfemedia.com





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