Veterans of the wire wars recite the names of old wire and cable companies the way baseball fans name the players position-by-position on the favorite teams of their childhood. Because of massive consolidation in the wire and cable market, the industry's lineup has changed considerably over the years. Before the modern era of acquisitions, the wire business was an industry of small, often family-run companies specializing in a particular product or area of the wire manufacturing process. Many of these companies were located New England because the manufacturing equipment needed to twist and spool wire was very similar to the equipment used in the region's textile industry.
Many of these wire companies were eventually bought by giants such as Continental Copper, Gulf & Western, General Cable, U.S. Steel and copper mining companies such as Anaconda, Kennecott and Phelps Dodge. These companies were involved in every stage of the business from the mine to the end user and used their manufacturing divisions to sell copper. In the 1970s, these vertical copper giants began selling their wire and cable manufacturing operations to other large industrial conglomerates.
A handful of international firms, each with billions of dollars in sales, and some well-positioned specialists now control most of the market. It's often hard to remember who bought whom in the wire market, and this article offers some help locating many of the best-known names in the business. While some industry observers dismiss the wire market as a cutthroat, commodity-driven business, the fact that many wire brand names and the companies that manufactured them remain so fresh in people's memories proves that these companies somehow differentiated themselves in the marketplace.
This article introduces you to the largest wire and cable manufacturers and other very active acquirers over the past decade. It's not intended to include all wire manufacturers, and instead focuses solely on the companies that have contributed most to the consolidation of the wire and cable market.
Sources: The Directory of Wire Companies of North America 1996 and reports in EW and Electrical Marketing newsletter.
ALCATEL WIRE AND CABLE, INC. U.S. headquarters of this French cable giant are in Chester, N.Y. Company background: With an estimated 27,000 employees working at over 80 subsidiaries in 25 countries, Alcatel is the world's largest producer of wire and cable. Alcatel Alsthom, one of the world's largest industrial conglomerates, is the company's majority shareholder. Electrical distributors, independent reps and manufacturers may come into contact with Alcatel through Berk-Tek, Inc., an electronic wire and cable manufacturer that's part of Alcatel SA Cable Systems, Inc., Hickory, N.C., the company's telecommunications division. The company's other North American divisions are Alcatel Canada Wire, Inc., North York, Ontario; and Alcatel Scanwire Corp., Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Acquisitions: Noranda Inc.'s Canada Wire & Cable, Toronto, Ontario, in a 1991 acquisition.
BICC CABLES CORP. West Nyack, N.Y. Company background: BICC, a huge industrial conglomerate based in Great Britain, became a major player in the North American market when its subsidiary, BICC Cables Ltd., purchased Phillips, Inc. in 1982 and Cablec Corp. in 1989 through a series of stock purchases. Several of the companies that became part of BICC Cables have roots extending back to the beginning of the electrical industry. The company's Canadian business, Phillips, Inc., was founded in 1889 by Eugene Phillips, who was one of the first in the industry to insulate copper wire. Phelps Dodge Cable and Wire, another major part of the business, was founded in 1886.
Acquisitions: Anaconda Power Cable, through a 1985 acquisition from Anaconda Ericssion.
Essex Power Cable, through a 1985 acquisition from United Technologies.
Collyer Insulated Wire and Continental Wire & Cable, York, Pa., through 1988 acquisitions.
Brand-Rex, now called BICC Brand-Rex, through the 1989 acquisition of Brintec Corp., Willimantic, Conn. In 1997, BICC Cables began marketing all of its industrial, construction and electronic wire and cable under the Brand-Rex name so the utility business, its major market, would go under the BICC name. Brand-Rex sold its Modular Product Group to Hubbell, Inc., Orange, Conn., in 1990.
Phelps Dodge Cable and Wire Co., when the company's management team purchased the business from Phelps Dodge Corp. and formed Cablec Corp., which BICC acquired in 1989.
Reynolds Metal Co.'s North American aluminum cable business in a 1992 acquisition.
CABLE DESIGN TECHNOLOGIES, INC. Pittsburgh, Pa. Company background: CDT has quickly developed into a major force in the wire and cable market with the acquisitions that it has made over the past few years. Many of these companies focus on various types of low-voltage wire and cable for datacom, security, fire-alarm, robotics, sound and video and other specialized applications.
Most recent acquisitions: Anglo, Leeds, Great Britain, in a 1991 acquisition.
Barcel Wire and Cable Corp., Irvine, Calif., in a 1997 acquisition.
Cekan A/S, a Danish connector manufacturer in a 1996 acquisition.
Cole-Flex Corp., West Babylon, N.Y., in a 1995 acquisition.
Dearborn Wire and Cable, Wheeling, Ill., in a 1997 acquisition.
Manhattan Electric Cable, Manchester, N.Y., in a 1995 acquisition.
NEK, Kinna, Sweden, in a 1994 acquisition.
Nortel Communication Cable and IBDN Structured Network Wiring Business from Northern Telecom Ltd., Toronto, Ontario in a 1996 acquisition.
Raydex, the cable manufacturing division of Volex Group PLC in Skelmersdale, Great Britain in a 1995 acquisition.
West Penn Wire, Washington, Pa., in a 1984 acquisition.
Other divisions or subsidiaries: Mohawk/CDT, Leominster, Mass.; Montrose/CDT, Auburn, Mass.; and Phalo/CDT, Manchester, Conn.
ESSEX INTERNATIONAL, INC. Fort Wayne, Ind. Company background: The company was founded in Detroit as Essex Wire Corp. in 1968. In 1976, it became a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corp. (now United Technologies), Hartford, Conn. The company became independent in 1988 through a leveraged buyout by a management team and Morgan Stanley Group, Inc. Four years later, the Essex Group became part of the Bessemer Capital Partners group of companies. Essex, which went public in 1997, now has three divisions: Magnet Wire and Insulation; Wire and Cable and Engineered Products.
Triangle Wire and Cable, West Nyack, N.Y., in a 1996 acquisition.
American Metal Moulding Co., Edison, N.J., acquired by Triangle in 1991.
Royal Electric, Pawtucket, R.I., acquired by Triangle in 1991.
Westwire Co., Phoenix, Ariz., acquired by Triangle in 1991.
Laribee Wire-American Metal Moulding, Royal Electric and Westwire had been part of the Laribee Wire group of companies operated by the Wright family before Laribee went Chapter 11 in 1991.
GENERAL CABLE CORP. Highland Heights, Ky. Company background: Incorporated in 1927, General Cable is one of the oldest wire and cable companies in the U.S. Through Standard Insulated Wire Co., one of its founding organizations, its roots actually go back to 1882. In more recent years, the company has had several owners and has been an active player in the acquisition game. Penn Central Corp., Cincinnati, Ohio, bought General Cable (then known as GK Technologies, Inc.) in 1981. Penn Central spun off the company in 1992 to stock holders. At that time, General Cable's wire and cable operations included the Guardian Products Division, Greenwich, Conn.; Carol Cable Corp., Pawtucket, R.I.; and Capital Wire & Cable Corp., Plano, Texas. Two years later the company was purchased by Wassall PLC, London. In 1997 the company filed for an IPO.
Acquisitions: Allied Tube & Conduit's building wire plant in Watkinsville, Ga. Allied had purchased that plant from Anaconda.
Astro Wire & Cable Corp., Worcester, Mass., through a 1989 acquisition by Carol Cable.
Capital Wire & Cable Co., Plano, Texas, through a 1988 acquisition.
Carol Cable Corp., Pawtucket, R.I., through a 1989 acquisition.
Certain assets of Interflex, Inc., from Coleman Cable Systems, Inc., Chicago, Ill., in a 1991 acquisition.
Philadelphia Insulated Wire (PIW), Morristown, N.J., in a 1989 acquisition.
MARMON GROUP Chicago, Ill. Company background: The Marmon Group is an international conglomerate with sales of $6 billion. Along with wire and cable, the company manufactures casters, hospital equipment, medical products, consumer products, railway products and water treatment products. It also owns companies that provide marketing, financial and credit-reporting services.
Acquisitions: Aetna Insulated Wire and Cable, Bellmawr, N.J., in a 1997 acquisition by its Cerro Wire & Cable unit.
Cable USA, Inc., Naples, Fla., in a 1997 acquisition.
Cerro Wire & Cable, Hartsell, Ala., through a 1976 acquisition.
Ettco Wire & Cable Co., Ridgewood, N.Y., when the company closed its doors and sold 60% of its equipment to Cerro Wire & Cable.
General Cable Industries Ltd., Thatcham, Great Britain, in a 1997 acquisition.
PIRELLI CABLE CORP. Lexington, S.C. Company background: The company entered the U.S. market in 1978 with the purchase of General Cable's Power and Controls operation. The company also has a subsidiary in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.
Acquisitions: Jacobsen Brothers, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based specialist in underwater wire and cable laying, in a acquisition.
SOUTHWIRE CO. Carrollton, Ga. Company background: The company was founded in 1950 by Roy Richards to capitalize on the electrification of the rural South. Southwire is now one of North America's largest manufacturers of building wire and power cable.
Acquisitions: Georgia Wire Products division of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., Macon Ga.
Hi-Tech Cable Corp., Starkville, Miss., in a 1989 acquisition.
Integral Corp., Dallas, Texas, was purchased in 1992.
AFC CABLE SYSTEMS New Bedford, Mass. Company background: Founded in 1926 to manufacture BX cable, the company has expanded into low-voltage wiring systems. Nortek, Inc. sold the company to a management team in 1990. AFC is now a publicly held company.
Acquisitions: Area Lighting Research Corp., Hackettstown, N.J., in a 1997 acquisition.
Kaf-Tech, Inc., Largo, Fla., in a 1994 acquisition.
Madison Equipment Co., Cleveland, Ohio, through a 1997 acquisition.
BELDEN, INC. St. Louis, Mo. Company background: Belden was founded in 1902 in Chicago, Ill., by Joseph C. Belden, Sr. In 1980, Belden was acquired by Cooper Industries, Inc., and was part of that company until Cooper divested it in 1993. Belden has been a publicly operated company since that time.
Acquisitions: American Electric Cordsets, Bensenville, Ill., in a 1995 acquisition.
Alpha Wire division of Alpha Wire Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., through an acquisition of that business unit.
Cowen Cable Corp., Leominster, Mass., in a 1997 acquisition.
Intech Cable, Inc., Hudson, Mass. (formerly Independent Cable, Inc.), through an acquisition.
COLEMAN CABLE SYSTEM, INC. Chicago, Ill. Company background: Founded in 1971, the company manufactures electrical and electronic wire and cable. Its operating units include the Coleman Cable Cord Products division; Coleman Cable and Wire Co.; Signal Cable Co., Waukegan, Ill.; Baron Wire & Cable; and Communication Cable, Inc.
Acquisitions: Baron Wire and Cable Corp., Skokie, Ill., in a 1991 acquisition.
Communication Cable, Inc., Sanford, Fla., in a 1996 acquisition.
Web Wire Products, Inc., Miami, Fla., in a 1996 acquisition.
Hendrix Wire & Cable, Milford, N.H., through an acquisition from Thomas & Betts, Inc., Memphis, Tenn., in 1996. T&B purchased the company as part of its Amerace acquisition.
Rockbestos Co., East Granby, Conn. Rockbestos sold its Cerro Armored Products division in 1989 to Exem SA de CV, Monterey, Mexico, which renamed it Exem USA, Inc., and operated it out of Wallingford, Conn. Rockbestos also acquired Suprenant Cable in a 1996 acquisition.
Other divisions or subsidiaries: Harbour Industries, Inc., Shelburne, Vt.