H. Ward Leonard: The Man Behind It All

H. Ward Leonard (1861-1915) was an American inventor, electrical engineer, and founder of the Ward Leonard Electric Company. A visionary of his time, he believed that the rapid growth of the world depended on the advancements made in the distribution, efficient control, and the use of electrical power. Mr. Leonard’s numerous contributions, including more than 100 patents credited to him in the electrical and other fields, played an important part in the world’s commercial progress and the second industrial revolution.

Harry Ward Leonard was born on February 8, 1861, in Cincinnati, Ohio and was the fourth child to Ezra George Leonard and Henrietta Dana Ward.

Mr. Leonard attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was a founder of The Tech, the student newspaper, and served as the president of its board of directors.

After his graduation from M.I.T. in 1883, Mr. Leonard worked as an engineer for Thomas Edison, along with Nicola Tesla, during one of the most exciting and progressive times in electrical innovation.



Following a successful tenure with Thomas Edison, Mr. Leonard launched Leonard and Izard, a firm that set up electric railways and generating stations. In 1889, Edison acquired Mr. Leonard’s company, and Edison put Mr. Leonard in charge of operations in the US and Canada, from which he resigned in 1891 to form his own electrical contracting firm.

In 1891, Mr. Leonard patented his best-known invention, the Ward Leonard System of Motor Control. This was an entirely new use of electrical energy, and the system has had a profound effect on all industries using electrical energy. The Ward Leonard System made it possible to obtain smooth speed control; to reverse almost instantaneously, the motor speed from maximum in one direction to full speed in the opposite direction and to reduce the lowest practical limit the amount of energy when starting, reversing, and stopping. It is estimated that 15% of the cost of rolling steel was saved by replacing steam engines with electric motors equipped with this system. Ward Leonard’s System of Control represents one of the outstanding achievements of the 19th century.

In 1892, Ward Leonard began manufacturing heating devices, rheostats, and motor controllers in Bridgeport, CT. In 1894 the firm moved to Hoboken, NJ, however a fire destroyed the property in 1897. The company then moved to Bronxville, NY where it stayed until moving to Thomaston, CT in 1999, where the headquarters remains today.

Mr. Leonard was active in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers serving as manager (1890-1893) and vice president (1893-1895). He was also a prolific contributor of technical papers and delivered numerous addresses to scientific bodies. For his work in electrical research, the Franklin Institute, in 1903, awarded Mr. Leonard the John Scott Medal. A year later, Mr. Leonard was awarded a Gold Medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair for his System of Control. In 1911 he became a member of “The Inventors Guild,” becoming president of the Guild in 1913.

Mr. Leonard passed away suddenly on February 18, 1915 while attending the annual dinner of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers at the Hotel Astor in New York City.

Among Ward Leonard’s numerous other inventions and technological advances…

  • Electric-train lighting system
  • Electric-elevator control system (utilized at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889)
  • Multiple voltage motor control
  • Motor starting and reversing rheostat
  • Electrical resistors
  • Double-arm circuit breaker
  • Resistance element for soldering irons, flat irons, and cooking utensils
  • First gasoline-electric powered automobile
  • Automobile generator system

Today, every person who comes to work at Ward Leonard follows in his footsteps, seeking to develop innovative solutions that enable our customers to improve their performance and overall efficiencies.


Expansion Through Acquisitions

Over the years, we have made a series of strategic acquisitions to broaden our military capabilities and expand into markets where our products and engineering expertise can be best utilized.


Ward Leonard Acquisition History


GE DoD controls product line:

Enhanced Ward Leonard’s already strong position in the U.S. Navy shipboard controls market


JH Smith Lighting Corp:

Acquisition that grew Ward Leonard’s vertical integration of control systems, which streamlined lead times and enhanced cost control for defense


Tech Systems:

Delivers strong motor and genset capabilities to create packaged solutions beyond component sales in the defense industry


Electrodynamics (EDY) division of Electric Boat:

Purchased their deep product offerings, including low-noise motors for submarines



Acquired their powerful motors designed for naval, oil, and gas exploration — up to 1,500HP, shock- and vibration-tested, and 30-year life at continuous duty


Houma Armature Works:

Expanded our hands-on service and repair expertise to any industry utilizing electric motors, generators, and pumps.


Ward Leonard has evolved to provide comprehensive motor, generator, pump, drive, and control system solutions — including maintenance, repair, and overhaul services — to the military, oil & gas, and industrial processing industries.