THE EARLY YEARS (THE EARLY 1900s)
Val Leach, a World War I Radio Operator, was frustrated by the two-way communication technology that prevented a receiving telegraph operator from breaking into or stopping a sender’s transmission. This often led to misinformation or the need to resend the message. In critical situations, this delay could cost lives. In 1919, he invented the Leach Break-In Relay, a device that revolutionized telecommunications and launched the Leach Relay Company.
Shortly after leaving the Navy, Leach perfected his relay and began selling it to individual radio operators, and later in larger quantities to Marconi and RCA Communications Companies. He ran the business part-time while working as a maritime inspector. Leach continued adding products and eventually set up shop on Mission Street in San Francisco, California.
A PERIOD OF FIRSTS (THE 1920s-1930s)
In 1929, Leach moved to Los Angeles, California and hired his first employee, E.K. Neale. The next few years were a time of tremendous growth.
From 1930 to 1939, many new types of relays were added to the product line and the staff grew to 20 employees. Leach purchased the building and land, and enlarged the plant to approximately twice its original capacity.
In 1936, U.S. aircraft manufacturers were struggling to find heavy-duty relays that could withstand the extreme conditions and high demands of commercial flight. Val Leach designed what is generally considered the first solenoid contactor specifically for use in aircraft. Known as Leach Type 5038, this solenoid contactor was used in starter motor applications for all 607 of Douglas Aircraft Company’s venerable DC-3 built from 1936 to 1942.
THE WAR YEARS (THE 1940s)
As the demand for aircraft increased, so did the demand for relays. By the end of 1940, Leach had 75 employees, purchased three lots adjacent to their factory, and was adding another building.
By August 1941, Leach employed 125 production workers. Leach Relay was incorporated with V. A. Leach as President, E. K. Neale as Vice President & General Manager, and Harry Croft as Secretary-Treasurer. Then, tragedy struck. In October 1941, Val Leach was killed in an automobile accident. The corporation continued to operate with Neale, Croft, and Lyle Adams (representing Mrs. Leach) as directors.
After the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, the demand for relays grew exponentially. Production increased from 20,000 units monthly to 130,000 in 1944. Similarly, staff increased from 125 to more than 800. Leach produced relays for aircraft, tanks, landing craft, and communications equipment manufacturers as well as the Air Force, Navy, Signal Corps and other government branches.
Leach engineers innovated new designs, special relays, and modifications to meet new customer demands and requirements. They developed new materials and lubricants to extend operating temperature ranges, and provided counter-balance weights on relay mechanisms to minimize the effects of aircraft shock and vibration.
Then in August 1942, less than a year since Leach’s death, tragedy struck again. Mrs. Leach passed away during surgery, leaving the Leach Relay Co. to her two minor children, Patricia and Bill, under the guardianship of Attorney F. Paul Hornaday, administrator of the estate.
The company continued operating under Hornaday’s administration with various management changes until 1945, when the court ordered that the business be sold to settle the estate and create a trust fund for the children. In 1945, the business was sold to the Robinson Foundation. Joseph F. Clark was installed as President and General Manager and E. K. Neale remained Vice President in charge of production and engineering.
ACQUISITION AND GROWTH (LATE 1940s-EARLY 1960s)
During World War II, many companies entered the aircraft relay industry, but most abandoned these divisions and returned to their industrial and commercial fields afterward. However, the Leach Relay Company continued supplying relays to the aircraft industry. The Robinson Foundation sold the company to Joseph F. Clark in March 1946; and Clark sold it to G. L. Ohrstrom & Company in 1949.
In the early 1950s—30 years after developing its first relay and 10 years after producing heavy-duty contactors for aircraft use—Leach reached another milestone. Engineers developed the contaminant-free “balanced armature” unit used in the Century Series aircraft which included the F100 through F106 aircraft.
Once again, Leach’s Relay Division led the industry when the first satellites were launched in the late 1950s, Leach met the critical demand for yet smaller and lighter components with even higher resistance to shock and vibration forces as demanded by the industry.
Over the next decade, Leach Corporation purchased a number of companies.
- On October 15, 1952—purchased Jeffries Transformer Company which it operated as a subsidiary until April 22, 1955, when it was sold to Zinsco Electrical Products.
- On December 18, 1952—purchased Palmer Electric which produced 60-cycle auxiliary power generators for commercial and industrial applications.
- In 1953—purchased Inet, Inc. whose primary product line was DC power supplies. The Palmer and Inet divisions were later combined and operated as one unit. The Inet Division was a pioneer in aircraft ground power equipment, from the D.C. power supplies for the B-47 to 400-cycle power for airplanes like the Navy WV-2 flying radar station. Inet Division also supplied the Air Force’s F-104 weapons systems and the Atlas ICBMs.
- On October 1, 1958— purchased Engdahl Enterprises which produced miniature tape recorders, launching Leach’s Controls Division.
- On February 9, 1960— purchased Electro Space Laboratories’ communication product line which joined Leach’s Controls Division.
- On November 25, 1959— purchased Pendor Incorporated for its time delay product line, which served as the basis for Leach’s Relay Division’s electronic product line.
- On September 1, 1960—purchased competitor U.S. Relay from the Philip Morris American Safety Razor Division which occupied a two-story, 48,000-square-foot building in Asuza, CA. All relay production was transferred to Leach’s Relay Division. Leach’s Controls Division was moved to the Asuza building, managed by Walter D. Sellers.
Leach’s advanced research and development in nuclear radiation hardening and the proven quality of its Controls Division equipment resulted in numerous installations and programs including:
- telemetry transmitters for the Saturn Program (rocket launchers/boosters)
- digital satellite recorders for NASA’s Project Apollo spaceflight program
- recorders for Discoverer Satellites
- spaceborne tape recorders for digital data (later Odetics, Inc.)
- Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) telemetry receivers
- Polaris missile telemetry receivers and tape recorders
In December 1961, Leach sold the Inet-Palmer Division to Sprague Engineering. The Leach Controls Division operated for 10 years in the Azusa facility, primarily producing tape recorders, electronic packages, and time delay relays. The tape recorder portion was sold to Lockheed Electronics and the electronic portion of the Controls Division was moved to the Relay Division where it remained until 1981.
YEARS OF EXPANSION (1960s-1970s)
To address the growing need for quality products abroad, Leach Relais and Elektronik (LRE) was founded in Germany in 1961 to provide the same capabilities in space electronics that Leach’s U.S. customers received, from the early stages of design to the final phase of production.
In November 1962, Leach began delivering electronic relays for critical European defense and industrial uses from its new plant in Munich, Germany. Dr. Karl Max von Hellingrath, Chairman of the Board for Leach Relais und Electronik GmbH said support from the U.S. Leach Corporation helped staff the plant with European employees, and start assembly production in just over one year. The new plant, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leach International, was originally established to produce parts for the F-104G jet program.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the market for time delay relays and other control devices grew as aircraft manufacturers demanded smaller and lighter components to conserve space and weight in a growing number of jet aircraft with complex electrical systems.
In response, Leach developed a hybrid microelectronics facility in 1975 to produce miniaturized timing circuits for time delay relays. This product gained immediate acceptance in the marketplace and opened the door to a broad line of new solid state products. These components are still the smallest, lightest devices of their type and current-carrying capability in the industry.
FIVE DECADES OF GLOBAL EXPANSION (1979-2019)
Since its incorporation, Leach has emerged as a leading supplier for sophisticated military and aerospace applications. The current Buena Park, CA facility was acquired in December of 1979 and Control
Products opened its doors for business. In the late 1980s, Leach developed solid-state power controllers and power control modules used in automatic power management systems in commercial and military aircraft, land-based defense vehicles, rail and helicopter applications, and various spacecraft.
Also during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Germany-based LRE acquired G.E.P.E. S.A. and Les Modeles Francais S.A. to provide the aerospace and rail markets with switching components and systems specifically designed for severe environments. By 1992, Leach consolidated all of its U.S. manufacturing operations at the Buena Park facility. In 1994, Leach Corporation merged with LRE to form Leach International. European operations were consolidated at Sarralbe, France, Leach International’s European headquarters.
In 1997, Leach International again extended its global reach by adding Leach International Asia-Pacific, Ltd. Based in Hong Kong, the organization oversees the manufacture and marketing of a broad line of products for the Asia-Pacific region. In 1999, the company’s joint venture with the Tianyi Electrotechnical Factory resulted in the formation of the Guizhou Leach-Tianyi Aviation Electrical Company in Zunyi City, China.
From the mid 1990s to today, Leach has developed numerous products including the smart contactor, the ideal diode, solid state power distribution systems, the ground fault interrupter, and more recently the modular power distribution system (or AeroCots), and high voltage components. These products and engineering innovations bring Leach closer to supporting the aircraft of tomorrow.
THE NEXT 100 YEARS
Leach is ready to meet the needs of the next century. The demand to improve aircraft performance and reduce costs while reducing CO2 emissions is driving the development of more electric aircraft and ultimately an all-electric aircraft. Leach is poised to address these critical requirements with its high-voltage (270 VDC) power distribution systems, and has already delivered countless smart devices like hybrid contactors that combine standard production relays with an electronic module and electrical sensors that interface with on-board computers. Leach’s solid state power controllers are uniquely constructed with enabling technology for the advanced electrical power systems of the future.
A LEGACY OF INNOVATION
From the first break-in relay developed by Val Leach in 1919 to 270 VDC power systems for the all-electrical aircraft of tomorrow, Leach International remains on the forefront of electrical power distribution with world-class engineering, testing, and manufacturing facilities.
Leach relays have been installed on the International Space Station, The Hubble Space Telescope, and all the Mars rovers including Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity—as well as military and commercial aircraft, defense vehicles, rail, and helicopter applications.
Val Leach would be proud, and perhaps a little surprised, that his relay manufacturing company has evolved into a global powerhouse. But it was his spirit of innovation on which the company was founded, and still drives Leach International today.