Earlier this month, Unison’s Norwich facility held a large celebration on site for employees, retirees and visitors to mark its 75th anniversary. Here, we document the site’s history and what makes it so special within the local and global aerospace communities.
From Humble Beginnings…
General Laboratory Associates (GLA) was founded in 1946 in Guilford New York. In 1947 GLA was incorporated and within a year, the company moved from Guilford to Norwich.
By the 1950s, the company had quickly grown to 200 employees and developed the first high energy ignition system design, for a US Navy application of a Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engine. The system developed into a strong foundation of ignition systems, that would eventually support advancements in air and space travel that continue today.
During the 1960’s, GLA continued to grow and broke ground at the current site on State Rt 12 just south of Norwich. Ownership of the company changed over the following 40 years to include Simmonds Precision, Hercules Inc., BFGoodrich Aerospace, Unison Industries and the current owner, General Electric (GE) Aviation. Technology and innovation continue today, standing on the shoulders of those entrepreneurs who met the challenges many years ago.
… To The Final Frontier
An important part of the technology supported both manned and unmanned space travel support. In November 1963, the Centaur Space Vehicle launched from Cape Canaveral with the first electronic ignition system, manufactured by GLA in Norwich, that ignited the rockets engine. In July 1969, multiple GLA products supported the Apollo 11 launch and moon landing, providing ignition of the second and third stages, plus positive separation of the expended stages. Space design and manufacturing has continued to grow through today, with continued systems for satellite and Space Shuttle launches, and today’s products supporting both current and future customers.
To this day, Unison’s large product portfolio continues to support the space and defence industries – most recently announcing a long-term agreement with Blue Origin to design, manufacture, test and support ignition systems for their engines.
Extensive Product & Services Portfolio
Today, the 160,000 sq foot GE Aviation facility employs over 350 skilled manufacturing/support employees and design engineers. The product mix includes space ignition, alternators, switches and bellows, temperature sensors and various other product lines and services.
Processes such as assembly, machining, welding, brazing, plating, soldering and countless others, support the needs of the products. The site has over 35,000 part numbers and manufactures approximately 1 million parts a year, servicing over 140 global customers.
Keeping It In The Family
Generations of local families have passed through Norwich’s doors, some of whom were represented at the recent 75th anniversary celebrations.
Marty Moore, a customer order & fulfilment specialist, began working at Unison in 1989 but her family relationship with the company goes back nearly 60 years. Marty’s father was hired by GLA in 1966 – the Marty was born – to work maintenance at Plant 4 on East Railroad Street. He was the first employee in the “New Plant” that was built on Route 12 and remained in the maintenance department until he retired in 1996.
“The celebration was very special and a great milestone for our community and employees past and present – such as myself and my dad. The ring my dad has on his right hand is one he had made from his service anniversary milestones – he was very dedicated and proud of his work history – and still is,” says Marty.