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Company history

Company history
We have a long and proud history and have been serving customers for over 125 years.

Company history

​Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc is a UK-based multi-national engineering company that comprises two world-leading businesses: Spirax Sarco for steam and electrical thermal energy solutions, and Watson-Marlow for niche peristaltic pumps and associated fluid path technologies.

The history of Spirax-Sarco dates back to 1888 when Mr Herman Sanders established a general merchant business in London and began selling steam traps. Today, we have our Company headquarters in Cheltenham, UK, and have 114 operating units providing the global network through which we serve customers in over 110 countries.​
  • 1888-1920
  • 1920-1934
  • 1935-1952
  • 1953-1989
  • 1990-today

In 1888, Mr Herman Sanders established a general merchant business at 108 Fenchurch Street, London. A year later, Mr Rehders joined in partnership and in 1890 Sanders, Rehders and Company (Sanders, Rehders and Company, i.e. Sarco) was established and began importing steam traps and recording instruments from Germany. The business prospered and Sanders, Rehders and Company became a limited company on 1st January 1907. 

On 9th February 1907 the Sarco Fuel Saving and Engineering Company was incorporated in New York, USA as a branch office of Sanders, Rehders and Company. During 1911, Clement Wells (from Sanders, Rehders and Company) travelled across the Atlantic to take charge of the company in New York. The following year, on 11th January, the Sarco Fuel Saving and Engineering Company became the Sarco Engineering Company, later to be replaced by the Sarco Company Inc. which was incorporated in the USA on 31st December 1915. Sarco Company Inc. appears to have represented a break with Sanders, Rehders and Company, and was primarily financed by Clement Wells.

During World War 1, an embargo on German shipping threatened to cut off the supply of steam traps to the USA so Sarco Company Inc. purchased the patent from their German suppliers and appointed Roller-Smith, a manufacturing company based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to manufacture steam traps on their behalf. Roller-Smith continued manufacturing steam traps for Sarco Company Inc. until 1935 when Sarco established its own manufacturing plant in the USA.

During the War, the British company (Sanders, Rehders and Company) also struggled to import steam traps and began to decline. ​

Following World War 1, Clement Wells of Sarco Company Inc. began to look for an outlet for Sarco steam traps and thermostats in the UK and on 28th April 1921 the Sarco Engineering and Trading Company was established as a subsidiary of Sanders, Rehders and Company in London. The company was established specifically to sell the steam traps and temperature regulators being manufactured for Sarco in the USA. During the same year, Walter Crosweller, an employee of Sanders, Rehders and Company, left Sarco to establish a business with James Walker. The company became Walker Crosweller and Company.

In April 1923, Sanders, Rehders and Company wound up.

During 1926, Walker Crosweller and Company negotiated with Clement Wells to commence selling Sarco manufactured steam traps in the UK. Since the Sarco trademark belonged to the British company (Sarco Engineering and Trading Company), the traps had to be sold under a different name. The trade name “Spirax” was chosen, deriving from the helical, spiral tubing which formed an integral part of the steam traps. 

On 29th March 1927, the Sarco Engineering and Trading Company wound up and a new business, Sarco Company, was incorporated in London on 1st June. Sarco Company agreed to relinquish the sale of Sarco steam traps, which were to be exclusively sold by Walker Crosweller and Company, in return for exclusive access to Sarco temperature regulators.

The Great Depression and Britain's decision to leave the gold standard meant that it was no longer economically viable to import steam traps into the UK from the USA. Thus, in 1932 the Spirax Manufacturing Company was established in London by Clement Wells and Walker Crosweller to manufacture steam traps in Britain. ​

During 1935, Sarco Company (UK) stopped selling Sarco thermostats and several years later became known as the Renown Instrument Company. Looking for a suitable organisation to sell Sarco thermostats in the UK, Clement Wells established Sarco Thermostats Ltd in London in May 1937.

In November 1937, the Spirax Manufacturing Company moved to Cheltenham. The lease on its London property was coming to an end and industries were being encouraged to move out of London due to the fear of impending war. Cheltenham was chosen as it had already become home to Walker Crosweller and Company, which continued to handle sales of Spirax products.

During 1939, all Walker Crosweller and Company staff involved in selling Spirax equipment were transferred to the Spirax Manufacturing Company, dissolving the partnership between the two companies.

Throughout World War 2, the Spirax Manufacturing Company came under the wing of the Admiralty. In 1942, amidst coal and oil shortages, Spirax was introduced to the Ministry of Fuel and Power and offered guidance on improving boiler efficiency. For the remainder of the War several Spirax employees became involved in the Technical Fuel Efficiency Committees, the Fuel Education Committee and Oliver Lyle’s Steam Panel.

In September 1944, Sarco Thermostats Ltd became a subsidiary of the Spirax Manufacturing Company. The following year the Spirax Manufacturing Company, together with Sarco Thermostats, moved its company headquarters to Charlton House, Cheltenham. (Charlton House remains the headquarters of Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc today.)

In 1946, Clement Wells gave permission to the Spirax Manufacturing Company to export to Denmark. Until this time, overseas selling was conducted from America. Six years later, in 1952, Clement Wells formed Sarco International to look after the overseas interests of the American company.

On 1st January 1953, the assets of the Spirax Manufacturing Company and its subsidiary Sarco Thermostats Ltd were acquired by Lionel Northcroft and Herbert Smith and the two companies were combined as Spirax-Sarco Ltd.

In 1957 Clement Wells sold Sarco International to Lionel Northcroft and Herbert Smith of Spirax-Sarco Ltd. With it came a controlling share of Sarco companies in France, Belgium and Germany, as well as the worldwide rights to the Sarco steam trap brand, other than in the USA and Canada. 

On 1st May 1959, Spirax Sarco floated on the London Stock Exchange as Spirax-Sarco Engineering Ltd. 

During 1963 Spirax Sarco acquired Drayton Controls, a significant competitor in self-acting controls and steam traps. This acquisition doubled the size of the Company and extended its operations into such product ranges as filled thermostatic systems; domestic, commercial and industrial controls; and advanced sterilising and other hospital equipment.

On 15th March 1982, Spirax-Sarco Engineering Ltd was re-registered as a public company with the name Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc.

On 29th April 1983, Spirax-Sarco Inc., the American company that was by this time owned by White Consolidated Industries Inc., was purchased by Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc. Three months later the Group completed the purchase of White's Canadian steam trap business. With these acquisitions Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc obtained the rights to use the Sarco brand name in the USA and, later, in Canada, giving the Company exclusive rights to the Sarco name worldwide.​

In 1990, Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc acquired Watson-Marlow pumps, which had been established in 1956 in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, to produce medical pumps. (In 1969 Watson-Marlow had relocated to Falmouth and expanded its operations to include industrial and scientific markets.)

Following the acquisition of Watson-Marlow, Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc purchased Bredel Hose Pumps BV, the world leaders in high-pressure hose pumps; Alitea, a Swedish manufacturer producing small precision pumps; Flexicon Liquid Filling of Denmark, a company which had built a worldwide reputation for its peristaltic-powered aseptic filling and capping systems; MasoSine of Germany, manufacturer of unique, gentle, sinusoidal rotary pumps for food and cosmetics; BioPure, manufacturer of biotechnology flow path components; Asepco, manufacturer of high purity valves and magnetic mixers for the biopharmaceutical industry; Flow Smart, manufacturer of high purity sanitary gaskets, silicone transfer tubing and hoses, for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries; and Aflex, designer and manufacturer of PTFE-lined flexible hoses for the pharmaceutical, food, chemical and automotive industries. The Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group is now acknowledged as the world leader in niche peristaltic pumps and associated fluid path technologies. 

The Spirax Sarco Steam Specialties business has also continued to grow and expand, establishing a direct sales presence in many new territories globally. With the purchase of technology from Transvac in 2012, the Steam Specialties business extended its product range to include desuperheaters and in 2013 it added heat pipes. In 2017, Spirax Sarco announced the acquisition of Gestra, a technology leader in advanced industrial boiler control systems, which also specialises in the design and production of valves and control systems for steam and fluid process control. Through this acquisition, the company acquired world-leading boiler control technologies and also expanded its market share. The Steam Specialties business is the global leader in the supply of engineered solutions for the design, maintenance and provision of efficient industrial and commercial steam systems. 

During 2017, Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc announced the acquisition of Chromalox, a US-based provider of electrical products, systems and solutions for industrial process heating and temperature management. Chromalox substantially increased the Group’s total addressable market. Chromalox is closely related to the Steam Specialties business in delivering thermal energy solutions, with the decision between using steam or electricity as a heating medium being driven by differing needs of the application or customer circumstances.

Today, Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc has the most complete worldwide coverage of any business in our sectors. We have 122 operating units in 47 countries and a direct sales presence in over 60 countries, through which we directly serve over 100,000 customers. In addition, we have distributors in over 50 countries. Together, our network of operating units, sales offices and distributors enable us to serve customers in over 110 countries worldwide.