Coffin, Charles Albert

Coffin, Charles Albert, 1844–1926, American businessman, b. Fairfield, Maine. After working in his uncle's shoe business in Lynn, Mass., he established his own shoe factory, Coffin and Clough. In 1883 investors seeking to acquire and move the American Electric Co. to Lynn approached him to manage the firm, whose primary asset was the engineer and inventor Elihu Thomson. Coffin oversaw the growth of the new company, Thomson-Houston Electric Co., which moved from selling power equipment locally to equipping central generating plants, and from 1888 to 1891 acquired seven competing businesses. In 1892 it merged with the Edison General Electric Co. to become the General Electric Co. (GE), with Coffin as its president (1892–1912) and chairman (1913–22). Coffin secured the financial survival of GE during the Panic of 1893, laying the basis for its subsequent growth; agreed in the late 1890s to cross-license patents with Westinghouse Electric, giving both firms a competitive advantage over smaller rivals; and oversaw the establishment (1901) by GE of the first industrial research and development laboratory in the United States.

See J. W. Hammond, Men and Volts (1941), R. Silverberg, Light for the World (1967), W. B. Carlson, Innovation as a Social Process (1991).

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