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Ward Leonard: 129 Years of American Defense Innovation

Ward Leonard

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The Ward Leonard name has spanned more than 129 years of American engineering, manufacturing, and defense technology. From the earliest work of visionary engineer H. Ward Leonard to the vital control technologies aboard today’s most advanced naval vessels, the Ward Leonard company has been defined by relentless innovation, unrivaled reliability, and close military collaboration. In wartime and in peace, the company’s American-assembled devices and systems have redefined the limits of control and provided exceptional performance under the most extreme and demanding conditions.


Harry Ward Leonard would be known by every engineer in the world today, even if he had never founded the company that still bears his name. This brilliantly young inventor (he held over 100 patents) worked alongside Nicola Tesla for Thomas Edison before moving out on his own in 1891 and producing his most famous creation – the Ward Leonard System (WLS) for electric motor control. The WLS control stands as one of the greatest technological achievements of the 19th Century, and the smooth speed control that it made possible was instrumental in helping electric motors to replace steam power in America and around the world as a vital aspect of the Second Industrial Revolution.

In 1892, H. Ward Leonard founded the Ward Leonard Electric Company and began production in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1894 the firm moved to Hoboken, NJ. After an unfortunate fire in 1897, the company relocated to Bronxville, New York, where it would remain for over 100 years. Today, Ward Leonard is headquartered in Thomaston, Connecticut, and all Ward Leonard products are assembled in the USA.


From the company’s earliest days, Ward Leonard systems and devices have enhanced the effectiveness of America’s defenses. In 1896, the Ward Leonard motor control was installed in an experimental capacity on the USS Brooklyn. After Teddy Roosevelt (then Assistant Secretary of War) witnessed a successful demonstration of the WLS improving control and accuracy of the ship’s gun turrets, the technology became standard on many naval vessels. In 1897, Ward Leonard controls helped make the USS Holland set sail as the US Navy’s first modern commissioned submarine. Soon, the WLS transformed the control of Transatlantic warships, allowing a captain to control their movement directly from the conning tower, instead of having to relay orders to do so.

Throughout the 20th Century, Ward Leonard continued to develop American-made technologies for the defense of the country and the world. During the first World War, Ward Leonard devoted its entire production capacity to the needs of US Navy and Army Signal Corps and continued its innovative work to support the war effort. The company’s Ribohm® resistors were created for use in radio battery rechargers on the frontlines and searchlights on naval vessels. During and after the war, WLS controls made electric railroad locomotives function smoothly, and the company’s electric generator regulators continued to be used on more and more ships.

Ward Leonard further distinguished itself as the only American company to earn both the prestigious Guard Championship and the National Security Award in World War II. The company was proud to provide the growing range of motor control systems, resistors, relays, and other vital components which saw service under extreme conditions in the turrets of battleships and tanks, infantry walkie talkies, enemy detection devices, and dimmable map lights in transport and bomber planes. A new fleet of electric subs was launched, relying on the speed and voltage of Ward Leonard resistors. WLS was even used by H. Ward Leonard’s alma mater M.I.T. to develop America’s anti-aircraft radar systems. The teamwork between the American workforce of Ward Leonard and the US military made a real difference in the world, as it still does today.


The spirit of American innovation at the heart of Ward Leonard never rests, and the postwar era was one of even more dramatic advancements for the company. New materials, smaller, simpler systems, higher-performance components, and more powerful batteries allowed Ward Leonard to develop Solenoid contactors and starters, as well as multi-motor control systems and other components.

Ward Leonard created engine and generator controls for nuclear sub tenders, and the company’s resistors were vital components of both the first weather satellite and the first telecommunications satellite ever launched. These products were engineered to meet the increasing shock, tilt, and extreme usage standards of the military and space programs, as well as providing improved performance and new capabilities for both military and industrial applications.


Ward Leonard is more committed than ever to supporting the US military with the most reliable, trustworthy, and technologically advanced manufacturing that is assembled in the USA. That mission continues as the company has become part of Fairbanks Morse Defense. Ward Leonard, the company that has spent more than 125 years on the leading edge of military technology and on the front lines of defending the country, is now positioned to draw upon an even broader foundation and wider range of American resources, providing innovative solutions for many years to come.


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