City's magnet wire industry started with Dudlo

Dudlo building
Dudlo building
Dudlo Manufacturing Co. started the magnet wire industry in Fort Wayne in this 50-by-100-foot building on Wall Street in 1914.
By LYNNE McKENNA FRAZIER of The News-Sentinel

The company George A. Jacobs founded in 1914 is long defunct. But the industry he founded is still vital.

Jacobs founded the magnet wire industry in Fort Wayne with the start of Dudlo Manufacturing Co. He revolutionized the infant electrical industry by developing an enamel insulation for wire, making wire much less bulky, easier to wind and more efficient.

Winding the wire creates a magnetic field that makes electric motors turn. Early in the century, electrical motors were being used in infant industries such as appliances, autos and industrial machinery.

The industry had ready customers close at hand -- General Electric Co.'s growing operation on Broadway and the burgeoning auto industry sprouting around Detroit. Delco-Remy and Ford Motor Co. became major Dudlo customers.

On the eve of the Depression, Dudlo merged with three other companies to form General Cable Corp. The company proved vulnerable when the U.S. economy slid into deep recession, and in 1930 it closed its Fort Wayne offices. The company, which once employed 6,000, ceased manufacturing in Fort Wayne in 1933.

Although the founding company was gone, the magnet wire industry was growing -- all with ties to Dudlo. That was in the days before non-compete clauses in contracts with key employees.

Jacobs himself founded the first spin-off, Inca Manufacturing, after he left General Cable in 1929. Inca was sold to Phelps Dodge Corp. in 1931, forming the basis of the magnet wire unit based here.

In 1933, Victor Rea, a former Dudlo superintendent, also quit General Cable to start Rea Magnet Wire Co. The privately held company still operates on East Pontiac Street.

And in 1936, Essex Co. bought the former Dudlo plant. The company moved its headquarters from Detroit to Fort Wayne 30 years later. Recently merged with Superior TeleCom Inc., the company still makes magnet wire in Fort Wayne and Kendallville, as well as building wire in Columbia City.

Those are the big three in magnet wire. But the industry also spawned a host of die makers and related support companies, several of which still thrive.

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