Sangamo Electric Co.

Sangamo Electric Department 9 employees, 1932

Sangamo Electric Department 9 employees, 1932 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The Sangamo Electric Co. manufactured  electrical meters, time switches and sonar and radio equipment, among other items, in Springfield from the 1890s until 1978.

Sangamo was an offshoot of the Illinois Watch Co., and its Springfield facility generally was the watch company’s former factory, which took up four square blocks between Ninth and 11th streets and North Grand and Converse avenues. Sangamo rented space in the watch factory for about two decades, but with the watch business declining and Sangamo growing, Sangamo eventually purchased the entire plant.

Robert Lanphier

Robert Lanphier

Sangamo was incorporated as a separate firm in 1899, after several years as an Illinois Watch subsidiary. Incorporators were Jacob Bunn Jr., watch company vice president, Bunn’s brother Henry, and Ludwig Gutmann, who owned a patent for an alternating-current electric watt meter.  The other key figure was a young engineer, Robert C. Lanphier (1878-1939), who helped convert Gutmann’s concept into a practical meter.

“The Sangamo Electric Company started with a dinner hour conversation Mr. Lanphier had with Jacob Bunn (Jr.), head of the Illinois Watch Factory, in 1897,” according to Lanphier’s obituary in the New York Times on Jan. 30, 1939. “His interest aroused by the story of the invention of an electric meter, Mr. Lanphier … plunged into research into the meter invention.”

Gutmann sold his interest in 1905, after a court injunction limited Sangamo’s ability to produce his meter. Meanwhile, however, Lanphier had created a direct-current meter, and  Sangamo began producing ampere hour meters for use in automobiles (a step that, incidentally, led to Lanphier meeting Thomas Edison). When Jacob Bunn died in 1926, Lanphier replaced him as Sangamo president; he remained active in the company until his death.

Type HF watthour meter

Sangamo Type HF watthour meter

Sangamo produced anti-submarine sonar  and mica and paper capacitors, as well as watt-hour meters, during World War II, and the company’s employment jumped — from 1,200 locally in 1929 to more than 3,000 in 1943. Charles “Chick” Lanphier (1909-78), Robert’s son, took a lead role in the sonar business and himself later became Sangamo’s president and CEO.

“Chick became known in Washington as ‘Mr. Sonar,’ as he led this country’s development of shipboard sonar for the U.S. Navy,” a nephew, Robert Lanphier III, was quoted in a 2008 State Journal-Register article. “There was nothing at Sangamo of which he was not aware, and in which he did not take a keen interest.”

Sangamo continued to expand after the war. Locally, its major acquisition was Capitol Aviation, a Springfield aviation sales and service firm, but Sangamo also acquired a number of electronic component manufacturers elsewhere.

Company sales amounted to $68 million in 1966, and total employment (not just in Springfield) totaled 4,800. As of 1970, in addition to the Springfield factory,  the firm had two plants in South Carolina, one each in Massachusetts and Mississippi, two in Canada, three in England, and one in Scotland.

French oil and gas conglomerate Schlumberger, intending to diversify, purchased Sangamo Electric in 1975. In 1978, however, Schlumberger moved meter production to Georgia and Florida from Springfield, and the local plant was closed. The site now houses the offices of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

More information: See the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library’s digest of Sangamo Electric records for more on the company, especially its acquisitions and expansions. Sangamo: A History of 50 Years, a privately published two-part booklet written by Robert Lanphier and Benjamin Thomas, discusses the founding of the company in detail, development of many of its products, and its associations with suppliers, distributors and customers as of 1949.

A great deal more information is in the comments section below. See especially the comment by Richard Altig, who worked for Sangamo for more than 30 years.

To find the age of a Sangamo meter: Go to SangamonLink’s new entry, Sangamo Electric meter chronology. Thanks very much to reader Dan Cothern for this very useful information. bridge

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.


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57 Responses to Sangamo Electric Co.

  1. Blanca Fuentes says:

    Compre un reloj quisiera me dijeran de que año es.
    Sangamo clock no. 13671 type B.7 5724 100-125 volts
    50-60 cycles patent aplied for sangamo eléctrica compañía springiel Illinois usa

    • editor says:

      Ms. Fuentes: Based on this web site, I believe your clock was manufactured between late 1927, when Sangamo started producing 7-jewel clocks (shown by the “type B.7” indicator), and 1929, when the Hamilton-Sangamo corporation was formed and clock tags began to use the name Hamilton-Sangamo. There apparently is no way to pin down the date more closely.

      Thanks for finding us.

  2. sarah says:

    Bought a storage unit and metors were inside ,any value!

    • editor says:

      Sarah: Hard to tell about value — it may not be much. But PayPal and similar sites might show what the same model meters have sold for in the past.

      Good luck, and thanks for reading.

  3. Joe MacNeille says:

    Hello. I am hoping to find any information I can about a specific Sangamo Electric Watt-Hour Meter. It appears to be the same type of meter as is shown in the picture on this page. The number stamped on the metal tag is 7246439. There is also a number hand written on the white square immediately below the dials which is k-15822. I came provide a picture if it would help. Is there a way to find out when this meter was made and any other information about its history? Thank you for your assistance.

  4. editor says:

    Mr. MacNeille: I imagine you’ve already done basic web research. Best next step might be to ask the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library, Springfield’s public library. I’ll check too the next time I go there, but if you want to call yourself, the number is (217) 753-4900, ext. 234.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. David Schmalz says:

    My grandfather, Albert Gillespie, worked at Sangamo his whole life until he retired in about 1949. I believe he was a foreman in the parts department. A Sangamo clock kept time in our living room until the 1980s, and my parents kept it there even after it stopped running. Now it sits on my piano as a memento.

    • editor says:

      It’s a shame Springfield lost Sangamo and most of the rest of its historic industries. Thanks for reading.

      • Gman says:

        I have a Sangamo 9999 meter do you know when these were made ? Mine is on milbank meter base its aluminum and has two breakers

        • editor says:

          There are a lot of people asking similar questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers, but perhaps another reader will. Thanks for reading.

  6. Gary Harmon says:

    I have two unique bench type digital watt meters. They are marked Sangamo Weston Schlumberger BUT there is no model number present anywhere. They are enclosed in a yellow-gold clam case. What I need is a model number and more importantly documentation like a schematic and calibration instructions. Can you help or aim me in the right direction. Thanks in advance.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Harmon: I assume you’ve already googled the Sangamo meter collectors world. I don’t have any other specific suggestions, except that Springfield’s Elijah Iles House has a permanent collection of Illinois watches, which were made by Sangamo Electric’s predecessor company. It’s possible that they have had similar questions asked before and might be able to point you to a knowledgeable source of information. Contact info: Elijah Iles House, 628 S 7th St, Springfield, IL 62703; (217) 492-5929. Good luck, and thanks for reading.

  7. Gregory Schiele says:

    We are doing a job for Teleflex Inc and they have a Sangamo Meter that needs service. Where and who can I get in touch with to help me with this? Thanks

    • editor says:

      Mr. Schiele: I’ll check a couple of local sources and let you know if I find out anything, but I’m not optimistic. We regularly get questions like this about Sangamo and other defunct Springfield industries, and I’m sorry to say I seldom come up with answers.

  8. Gordon Silverthorn says:

    I am trying to determine the calculation of a Sangamo Whatthour meter.
    It is a 4 dial “CJ3S” 100 Amp meter 230 Volt.
    The serial number is c 6 329513.

    This was hooked up to a 110 circuit for a well water pump to determine electrical usage for a shared system of 4 dwellings.

    What would the multiplication factor be? 1x? 10x?

    Many thanks

  9. Paul Monaco says:

    Well I’m in similar quandary with the rest of you. My mother acquired a Sangamo kilowatt meter back in the early 70’s. She paid $65.00 in very poor condition, and another $50.00, to restore it, plus the glass face was broken, so add $35.00 for a plastic face cover. She loved it, and was a constant conversation piece. We don’t want to sell it, but would be interested in the value? All I have is the following: On the face-Multiply by 2 * kilowatt hours 220 volts 400 amperes * type D-5 three wire* 53-1/8 watt. and the serial number is sn#1382397. Thanks for any information. Paul.

  10. Sherri Boner says:

    I recently donated a small Sangamo item to a local man who collects Sangamo clocks. These have now all been donated to the Iles House Museum and Sangamo exhibit will open there in May 2016.

  11. Roger Whitaker says:

    I worked at Sangamo, first as a college student during my Summer breaks of 1968 and 1969. I started full time in September of 1970, working in the Communications Products department under Clancy Hudson and Jack Barber. I designed modems. I have wonderful memories of all the great warm people I worked with for two more years until the downsizing started and, as a recent hire, I was laid off. I will have to say, as a testimony to the quality of management there, that my lay-off was handled extremely well including a month notice and use of company facilities, including long distance telephone calls, in my job search which resulted in my going to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas, another interesting chapter in my life.

  12. Alan Hall says:

    I worked at Sangamo Electric, Springfield, Illinois, as a co-op engineering student from 1962 until 1964. My Father, Lacy L. Hall was an employee from the 1940s until the plant closed in 1978. He began in the factory as a parts runner, and ended up as the last production expeditor, closing the plant in 1978, and shipping equipment and parts inventories to plants in Pickens, SC and Oconee, SC. He passed away in May, 2016 at age 96. We had many good memories of the Springfield Plant and its people, including Mr. R. C. Lanphier, Mr. Charles Lanphier, Mr. Charles Dobson, Mr. C. E. Drummond, Mr. Don Blanchard, Mr. Emmett Robb, Mr. Henry Jones, Mr. Larry Gilmore, Mr. Ray Ford, Mr. Ray Stevenson, and a host of others. My time as a co-op student was centered in the manufacturing section for watt-hour meters, capacitors, and time switches. My brother, Mr. Lacy L. Hall II, was a Machinist/Tool and Die Maker apprentice, and went on to work for Dickie-John Corporation, and Eaton Corporation before his retirement.

    Sangamo Electric was a great company with an exemplary tradition of high quality products and genius level personnel. I am proud to have been connected with this outstanding firm for the few years that I was so privileged.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Hall: My father-in-law ran Capital Aviation when it was a Sangamo offshoot. He also flew Sangamo executives around the country. He had much the same experience that you describe. Thanks for reading, and thanks very much for commenting.

    • Cammie Corlas Quinn says:

      Mr. Hall, My father, Fred Corlas, worked at Sangamo Electric Company from 1952 or 1953 until 1978 when it closed. I am the oldest of his six children, who ranged from 20 down to 10 years old when the plant closed. He was 48 when it closed. We lived in Auburn. It was a good company to work for. It was a shock to our family when the plant closed. My dad eventually found employment in Decatur at Caterpillar, was laid off a year or two later, and eventually found a maintenance job for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. I remember it being a tense time when the plant closed. I remember my parents talking about moving to South Carolina to the Sangamo plant there, but they couldn’t do it because both sides of the family were firmly planted in Illinois. Every time I drive past the Sangamo plant location in Springfield, I am reminded of his years there. Some of his other Corlas relatives worked there, too.

      I ran across this site because my daughter is doing a family history project for college.

  13. Paul Robinson says:

    I currently have a Sangamo electric meter that is about 50 years old, it’s an analog meter. Its not working correctly, which can be expected for a meter that old. I have to replace it right away. However, I have heard a lot of negative things about the new digital meters. Which meter do you recommend, the analog, or the digital???
    Please respond!

    Paul Robinson

    • editor says:

      Mr. Robinson: I’m sorry, but we know about Sangamo history, not its technology. Your question probably would better be directed to a university school of electrical engineering, perhaps one in your state. Alternatively, there are several web sites that compare the two types of meters. Sorry we can’t be more help.

  14. Paul Robinson says:

    I believe that my 50 year old Sangamo electric meter has gone bad, and i need to replace it. However, I am getting a lot of negative comments about digital meters versus analog meters. Can you tell me which of these two is more accurate in their measurement of kilowatt usage.

    Than you,

    Paul Robinson

  15. Fred keller says:

    I found a sangamo electric company direct current watt hour meter type d-5 serial #1523570 what is the age of the meter I would appreciate lt thanks. Fred

  16. My grandmother, Doris German, worked the line at Sangamo Electric throughout WWII. She was one of the ‘Rosie those Riveters’. Does anyone know about any of the particular sonar contraptions they were making for the war effort and if any of them can be found in military surplus? I would really like to have some of these things for purposes of collecting family history.

    • editor says:

      Ms./Mr. Petterchak: Thanks for the note. But I’m afraid I can’t help with finding your “sonar contraptions.” There are a lot of Sangamo collectors out there. They seem mostly interested in meters, but perhaps another reader knows something about the sonar equipment. Good luck, and thanks again.

    • Mike Berger says:

      When I worked at Sangamo Electric in the late sixties the sonar equipment being sold to the Navy was all transistorized racks of pc boards in a tall cabinet probably 5 feet high. I never saw a transducer up close but with their high power consumption they had to be big – guessing 100 lbs or more. Equipment was being installed in the submarines at the time. Probably a submarine graveyard somewhere on the east coast akin to the aircraft graveyards out in the western desert. I doubt one could get anywhere near a decomissioned sub, let alone get hands on the electronics installed on one.

      • editor says:

        Mike: Thanks a lot for the followup. And thanks for reading as well.

      • Paul Nowak says:

        Mike, I too worked for Sangamo(1965 to 1970) as a field engineer out of the Boston Naval shipyard. although Boston was my home base I traveled from Bath Iron works in Maine to Pearl Harbor upgrading the SQS 23 system under the Navy’s Fram upgrade.
        My interest in destroyers was picked after reading a book written by a friend called Never to Return. Thanks for keeping history alive.

  17. John DiBiasi says:

    My question is are the electric meters on homes and buildings explosion proof.Are the considered a source of ignition.

  18. richard altig says:

    I worked for Sangamo from Jan 1957 to June 1988, half of the time in Springfield and half in Maryland. I worked in the sonar department from 1957 to 1962. Sangamo sonars were installed on surface ships, primarily destroyers involved in anti-submarine work. To my knowledge no complete systems were installed on subs. A few receivers may have been installed on subs as experiments.

    Today, old meters are worth a few dollars unless special prewar models. Refurbished analog units are available to customers who resell power, such as campgrounds and certain mobile home parks and apartments.

    While in Maryland I was a designer for equipment sold to independent phone companies, primarily modems and SF signalling equipment.

    When Schlumberger sold the communications division known as RIXON, it was acquired by CASE, an English company located in Watford, a northern suburb of London. They were the owner when I retired in 1988. A few years later the communications division disappeared.

    I am not sure what year the Sangamo meter factory in West Union, SC, was sold. The actual meter factory is still there but it has been enlarged and still producing meters by its current owner.

    In the late 1970s,the company sponsored a Junior Achievement project making meter lamps. You may find them an antique mall. They are an excellent source of 1950’s vintage meters. Meters newer or older than that are very difficult to find in working condition.

    A word of caution: meters used in meter lamps have been miscalibrated so as to run faster than normal so one can see the disk turn when a 60 watt bulb is installed.

    Sangamo produced about one million meters a year so the serial number is a good guide to the manufacturing date if one can correlate any year to a serial number. Unfortunately, I do not have that info.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Altig: Thanks for such a detailed remembrance and for the information on meters. I’m going to put a note into the main body of the entry to make sure people see your comment.

  19. Nancy says:

    A slight correction: Robert C. Lanphier wrote “Sangamo, a History of Forty Years”, but Benjamin P. Thomas wrote “Sangamo in Peace and War”, which together make up “Sangamo, a History of Fifty Years”.

  20. Tom. Scott says:

    Could tell me how to read a sangmon. 5 dial meter. Best reguards Tom Scott

  21. Dan Cothern says:

    I have worked for a company here in Illinois that has been a sales and service representative for Sangamo/Schlumberger/Itron meters for almost 70 years. I’ve been there since 1984. Started inside shop meter testing/calibration ended up field testing and now in sales selling meters and meter reading systems. I have started a collection of meters of all brands, but of course, have a soft spot in my heart for Sangamo meters. I have a DC meter, and almost every type of electromechanical meter from the HC series to J series to the solid state meters. I have somewhere around 40-50 meters, and some instrumentation. The older the better. One of the customers I called on was the meter shop at CIPS in Springfield. I believe that building is now a bank near St John’s Hospital. There in their showroom was a very large DC meter on display. The meter was the size of a carry on suitcase, beautiful glass and brass work. If I remember correctly, the meter was on the electric rail line between Mattoon and Charleston – the electric works I believe was the beginning of what became CIPS. Once Ameren closed that shop, I don’t know what has become of that meter.
    Several replies to this post was asking about ages of meters. Sangamo had a publication that had serial number ranges and dates of manufacture. I’m pretty sure I have a copy of that in my desk at my office. If you want a copy of that I could get it to you. I’m impressed that you’ve continued to post comments with the article being written in 2013. Very interesting article. I cam upon it researching RC Lanphier.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Cothern: Thank you for the information. Yes, please send me the publication with serial numbers if you can find it. I’ll pass it on to a couple places here that also get the same kind of questions. If it’s email-able, send it to: If not, email me at that address and I’ll get you my postal address. Thanks again.
      Mike Kienzler

    • editor says:

      UPDATE: Dan Cothern has sent SangamonLink an 11-page chronological list identifying the years when Sangamo produced various meters. As mentioned in the main body of the article, the list has now been posted as a separate entry (“Sangamo Electric meter chronology”). Thanks very much to Mr. Cothern.

  22. Rhonda Cantu says:

    I have a Sangamo meter CL200 240v 3W Type 55 30TA 72Kh does any one have any information on it. Like what year it was made, etc.

  23. Kevin says:

    I’m looking for wiring diagram for Sangamo KYWF meter, it is running backwards and would like information on how to correct this. It looks like we had a company come in and service transformer possibly they put ct in the wrong direction ? Causing this?

    • editor says:

      Kevin: We’re not really a technical web site, as you can see, but I suspect one of our readers will know the answer. At least, I hope so. Thanks for reading.

  24. Kim says:

    Hello everyone, I am the granddaughter of Elmer Lee Meinders who worked at the company. He also had (as I am sure many did) many inventions. My sister has his original Zep Jar Wrench which was a flat compact jar opener. He also helped with the electrical meter which was placed on the outside of the home. The placement of the sonar in the war submarines and many more. Today the only can opener I can find close to his is under the name of Edlund Co of Burlington, Va. or Bobby Top. These vintage openers are very similar to my grandfathers. He taught math in the evening at Springfield College and to others after his daily job at Sangamo.

  25. Daniel Gesell says:

    Hi there. I’m from Australia and have come across a Portable Test Meter tempterure comensated type H serial number 424738. Just trying to find out what I can about it. Thank you

  26. Darrel Bourne says:

    I have 8 notebooks filled with product bulletins, tenical specifications, and price lists of Sangamo products dated 1951-mid 70’s. Would this group be interested in receding this information or is there a library where this informations can be sent?

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