Biography of Franklin S. Terry

Franklin S. Terry (1862-1926) was a business executive in the incandescent lamp industry with broad philanthropic interests related to World War I relief. Born in Ansonia, Connecticut, Terry was educated at Phillips Academy. He left Ansonia for Chicago in 1889 where he began the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company. In 1901, he came to Cleveland where he and Burton G. Tremaine of the Fostoria (Ohio) Incandescent Lamp Company established the National Electric Lamp Association (renamed NELA in 1906).

Ostensibly established as a consortium of small lamp manufacturers which allowed for effective competition with industry giants, General Electric and Westinghouse, NELA was, in fact, secretly and largely (75%) financed by General Electric. When General Electric's interest was discovered during a federal anti-trust suit in 1911, it wholly absorbed NELA which became GE's National Quality Lamp Works Division.

Terry remained with the company throughout this period serving initially as a vice president as NELA, later (after 1911) as manager of the former NELA operations, and finally as a vice president of General Electric. It was under Terry's leadership that General Electric built and opened, in 1913, its industrial research and production facility, NELA Park, in suburban East Cleveland. Nela was one of the first campus-like research and production facilities in the United States.

With the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, Terry became deeply interested in the conflict and eventually involved in efforts to assist the soldiers and orphans of the continental allied powers. To this end he established the Nela Fund to assist the families of French soldiers from the "business and professional classes." Terry and other subscribers to the Nela Fund supported and entered into correspondence with orphans (adoptees) and, at times, soldiers (Godsons).

A trip to Europe in 1919 to attend to Nela Fund matters piqued Terry's interest in the historical significance of the war and resulted in his acquisition of a vast body of posters, publications, and artifacts. These items were subsequently donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society by his widow.

Following the war, Terry continued his work with General Electric and maintained his correspondence with the families he had supported. One year after leaving General Electric, he died at the age of 64 in his summer home in North Carolina.

click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for NELA Park