The Magellan Systems Corporation Records document various aspects of the development of several different Magellan GPS devices through engineering, research, design, manufacturing, and marketing records. Magellan Systems Corporation introduced the first hand-held differential GPS product and the conpany's focus was on research, product engineering, and design activities for GPS receivers. The collection includes correspondence and internal company reports and memoranda; design drawings; research notes; engineering notebooks, technical notes, schematics; photographs, slides and negatives; video and audiocassettes; advertisements; product literature, magazine articles and newspaper clippings; press releases; and user guides and manuals.
Scope and Contents:
The Magellan Systems Corporation Records document various aspects of the development of Magellan GPS devices, including the engineering, research, design, manufacturing, and marketing of the devices. The collection includes correspondence and internal company reports and memoranda; design drawings; research notes; engineering notebooks, technical notes, schematics; photographs, slides and negatives; video and audiocassettes; advertisements; product literature, magazine articles and newspaper clippings; press releases; and user guides and manuals. In Series 1, Operational Materials, Subseries 3, Weekly Reports, 1988-1996, provides an excellent overview of the issues facing the company and what actions/decisions were made and in Series 3, Engineering and Product Development Materials, Subseries 8, Technical Product Development Seminars provide a good foundation for understanding what the product development staff accomplished.
The core team of players who developed, tested and brought to market the GPS devices included: Janice Jones Blankenhorn, Gary Barta, John Foukos, Randy Hoffman, Norm Hunt, Sab Ifune, Don Rea, Dennis Rich, Ed Tuck, Jon Vavrus, Larry Weill, Val Fife Wong, and James Yuan. The majority of the core team were software and hardware engineers as well as mechanical designers. Their energy, enthusiasm, vision, and unwillingness to fail produced the first handheld commercial GPS receiver in 1989 and Magellgan was the first company to make GPS devices affordable to consumers.
Series 1, Operational Materials, 1988-1993, is divided into four subseries: Subseries 1, Organizational Materials, 1988-1994; Subseries 2, Strategic and Operating Plans, 1989-1995; Subseries 3, Weekly Reports, 1988-1996; and Subseries 4, Company Newsletters, 1991-1992.
Subseries 1, Organizational Materials, 1988-1994, consists of an organizational chart detailing Magellan's corporate structure, a document discussing the communication and functional objectives of the company, and a company Christmas card. The Orbital Sciences Corporation profile was prepared by Alex. Brown and Sons Incorporated and provides an overview of the ORBCOMM system technology, a two-way data-only personal communications service.
Subseries 2, Strategic and Operating Plans, 1989-1995, consists of a variety of strategic and operational plans for the company. The plans are arranged chronologically.
Subseries 3, Weekly Reports, 1988-1996, consists of handwritten and typescript reports primarily from Randy Hoffman, president and CEO of Magellan and Gary Barta, Senior Engineer and Vice President of engineering. The reports document issues that include, personnel issues, product development, technological developments, military orders, investments, marketing and sales, financial issues, orders, resource activities, and future activities. The subseries is arranged chronologically and provides an excellent overview of the issues facing the company and what actions/decisions were made.
Subseries 4, Company Newsletters, 1991-1992, consists of two external company newsletters, The Global Navigator, 1991 and The Magellan Explorer, 1992. The Global Naviagtor was created for the marine market and was sent to all NAV PLUS owners as well as dealers.
Series 2, Correspondence, 1989-1994 and undated, is divided into two subseries: Subseries 1, Customer Correspondence, 1989-1993 and Subseries 2, Business Correspondence, 1989-1994 and undated. The customer-related correspondence consists of letters from users of Magellan GPS units (primarily maritime-related) and their feedback about the product. Some color photographs are included. The business-related correspondence consists of records of conversations, invoices, suggestions for strategic planning, correspondence between Randy Hoffman and the Boundary Found, and the agreement and plan for the merger of Orbital Sciences Corporation and Magellan Corporation in 1994.
Series 3, Engineering and Product Development Materials, 1978-1998, consists of ten subseries: Subseries 1, Product Development, 1989-1994; Subseries 2, Engineering Notebooks, 1987-1996; Subseries 3, Technical Notes, 1978-1994; Subseries 4, Breadboard Design, 1986-1994; Subseries 5, First Generation (NAV 1000/NAV 1200), 1985-1994; Subseries 6, Second Generation, 1988-1996; Subseries 7, Third Generation, 1986-1994; Subseries 8, Swiss Army Chip (SAC) Development, 1987-1995; Subseries 9, Technical Products Development Seminars, 1997-1998; Subseries 10, Specifications, 1992-1994 and Subseries 11, TriQuint Semiconductor Materials, 1986-1992.
Subseries 1, Product Development, 1989-1994, consists of documentation related to product development at Magellan. There are sketches for the third generation of GPS products, descriptive materials for the Meridian Plus and third generation receiver, testing data from the Forest Service using GPS in the wilderness near Missoula, Montana, and position description for the director of product engineering at Magellan outlining the skills and responsibilities.
Subseries 2, Engineering Notebooks, 1987-1996, consists of bound, paginated and handwritten notebooks belonging to two Magellan engineers, Janice Jones Blankenhorn, senior software engineer and Don Rea, director of engineering. Each of Don Rea's notebooks contains a page of handwritten annotations made in 2010 describing the contents. Don Rea's 1987 notebook contains documentation on the original Magellan breadboard, custom digital chip (SAC 1), and the digital board design and test, all of which deal with the first generation of the NAV 1000. Rea's 1986 and 1988 notebook contains information about the first generation of software used, GaAS chips, radio frequency (RF) board, second generation (NAV 5000), design work for Swiss Army Chips (SACs), SAC2 digital chip, SAC2B, and the SAC3 chip. Don Rea's 1993-1995 notebook contains notes on the testing of the SAC5, SAC5M and SAC6 custom digital integrated circuit for the third generation.
Subseries 3 Technical Notes, 1978-1994, consists of handwritten and typescript notes of Gary Barta, Janice Jones Blankenhorn, John Foufos, Janice Intyre, Don Rea, Larry Weill, and James Yuan. Where possible, file level information about what the notes relate to and the Magellan staff member who wrote the notes is listed. Much of the documentation consists of equations, algorithms, sketches, block diagrams, and narrative describing processes and research. The subseries is loosely arranged chronologically.
Subseries 4, Breadboard Design, 1986-1994, consists of memoranda, technical notes, drawings, and sketches detailing the radio frequency breadboard design. Magellan's first-generation breadboard, circa 1987, was developed by the team of Janice Jones Blankenhorn, Val Fife Wong, Ed Tuck, Norm Hunt, Sab Ifune, Gary Barta, Larry Weill, Randy Hoffman, and Don Rea.
Subseries 5, First Generation (NAV 1000/NAV 1200), 1985-1994, consists of technical notes, design notes, memoranda, drawings, and blueprints documenting the development of the first generation (primarily the NAV 1000/NAV 1200), handheld GPS unit produced by Magellan. The first generation of GPS were single channel receivers and were quite simple. The NAV 1000 was 8.75" x 3.5" x 2.25" and weighed only 1.5 pounds. The NAV 1000 converted GPS satellite information into a satellite/navigation (sat/nav) positioning. It used Gallium arsenide (GaAs) a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic, and monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) technology to reduce its size and power consumption. GaAs is a semiconductor used in the manufacture of devices such as microwave frequency integrated circuits, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, infrared light-emitting diodes, laser diodes, solar cells, and optical windows. The device sold for approximately $3,000 dollars.
Subseries 6, Second Generation, 1988-1996, consists of technical notes, design notes, memorandums, drawings, and blueprints documenting the development of the second generation (primarily the NAV 5000) handheld GPS unit produced by Magellan. The NAV 5000 used five channels working simultaneously to locate and collect data from GPS satellites. The units GaAs circuitry rapidly processed the data received from the satellites to compute current location, altitude, velocity and navigation in under one minute. The NAV 5000 was designed primarily for marine use. Other second generation products included: OEM Brain, OEM 1/2 Brain, Nav 500 Pro, NAV 100M5, Skaynav, Fieldpro, NAV 5200 PM, NAV 5000A, NAV 5000D, DX, DLX, Pro mark V, and the Map 7000.
Subseries 7, Third Generation, 1986-1994, consists of technical notes for the development of the third generation (primarily Meridian and Trailblazer models) of Magellan GPS devices. Third generation models were intended for the lower end of the GPS market and were compact hand-held (size, weight, battery life) and a retail price that was reasonable. Other third generation devices included: the meridian, Trailblazer, AIV10 OEM, Skatblazer, NAV 6500 PM, Meridian/TB/SB XL, NAV 1200 Pm, NAV 1200 XL PM, NAV DLX 10, Promark X, and the Pro Mark X-CM.
Subseries 8, Swiss Army Chip (SAC) Development, 1987-1995, consists of technical notes, diagrams and drawings, and specifications for the development of a digital chip used in Magellan GPS products. Don Rea and Norm Hunt of Magellan are credited with naming the chip. The chip combined several elements--GPS DPS channels, correalators, real time clock, alarm timer, interval timer, keyboard interface, display interface, precise timing, power sequencing, memory decoding, code generators, and beeper driver, to name a few--which allowed the development team reduce the overall power, size, and cost of the chip. Magellan outsourced the manufacture of the SAC.
Subseries 9, Technical Products Development Seminars, 1997-1998, consists of documentation for nine seminars in a series of technology seminars initiated by the product develpment group at Magellan. The seminars were created to keep all staff up to date on past, present, and future technology developments at Magellan. The nine seminars cover the history of Magellan GPS technology and address specific areas of development such as antennas, circuits, signal processing, software, navigation needs, and radio frequency. Other information includes tables providing comparisons for the first, second, and third generations, timelines, SAC chip characteristics, and product shipping dates. The seminars provide a good foundation for understanding what the product development staff accomplished. Researchers should consult Series 8 which documents some of the technical seminars.
Subseries 10, Specifications, 1992-1994, consists of preliminary, functional, and system requirements describing technical characteristics for several Magellan products.
Subseries 11, TriQuint Semiconductor Materials, 1986-1992, consists of materials documenting TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc.'s work. TriQuint was a division of Tektroninix, Inc., a manufacturer of analog and mixed signal gallium arsenide (GaAs) integrated circuit products. TriQuint supplied custom radio frequency (RF) and Gallium arsenide (GaAs) chips for Magellan's hand-held GPS systems and tested its chips. Documentation includes trip summaries and observations to TriQuint by Don Rea, a Magellan engineer as well as technical drawings, memorandums, development schedules, invoices, purchase orders, and tests results, production quantity and costs, and specifications. In 1986, Don Rea met Gary Barta, then principal engineer at TriQuint through his frequent visits to the company. Barta led the engineeering development of the an integrated circuit which combined the GPS L-band low-noise pre-amplifier, UHF local oscillator, down converter and high speed digital divisers on a single gallium-arsenide chip. Nothing like this had been done before for a cost senstive commerical application. Barta later joined Magellan in November 1988 as Vice President of Engineering and made the chip he had designed actually work in the environment of a hand-held product.
Series 4, Marketing and Promotional Materials, 1985-1997, is divided into six subseries: Subseries 1, Market Research, 1985-1993 and undated; Subseries 2, Product Literature, circa 1990s; Subseries 3, Advertisements, 1988-1995 and undated; Subseries 4, Press Releases, 1988-1996; Subseries 5, Presentation Materials, 1990-[1997?] and undated; and Subseries 6, Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, 1988-1996 and undated. The series consists of product literature, advertisements, press releases, presentation materials, and newspaper and magazine clippings about Magellan products as well as competitors.
Subseries 1, Market Research, 1985-1993 and undated, consists of market research data in the form of reports prepared by Merrill Lynch, Simmons Market Research Bureau, J & H Instruments, and others, directed interviews and focus group data. There are directed interviews and discussion documentation from 1986 with Coast Guard Rescue, survival trainers, surveyors, hunters, harbor patrols, expeditionists, and mountaineer trainers providing detailed feedback into experiences with the product. The focus group information consists of transcribed interviews, survey text, selection criteria, participant lists, invoices, and technical drawings and mock-ups for the marine, outdoor and hunting markets.
Subseries 2, Product Literature, circa 1990s, consists of one file folder of product information sheets detailing specifics about Magellan products such as the NAV 1000, NAV 5000DX, NAV 1000 PRO/Geolink, NAV 5200, NAV 1000M, Meridian GPS, ProMARK V, GPS 2000, and the Global Satellite Communicator (GSC) 100.
Subseries 3, Advertisements, 1988-1995 and undated, consists of point of purchase ads, artwork and transfer designs for Magellan products. There are some oversize drawings (copies of blueprints) with the transfer design materials.
Subseries 4, Press Releases, 1988-1996, consists of press releases and one press kit containing biographies of staff members, black-and-white prints of Randy D. Hoffman, President and Chief Executive Officer, prints of the NAV 1000, and press releases introducing the NAV 1000. The marine outdoor press releases also contain 1993 dealer price lists for the Trailblazer, Meridian, NAV 5000DX, NAV 5200DX, and the mimimum advertised price policy for 1993.
Subseries 5, Presentation Materials, 1990-[1997?], consists primarily of staff presentation materials used to promote Magellan products. There is one bound presentation, Magellan Systems Corporation Management Presentation, undated, prepared by Merrill Lynch, that provides documentation about the company (an overview), market segments, competition, sales and marketing, product development, technology, manufacturing, and a financial overview.
Subseries 6, Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, 1988-1996 and undated, consists primarily of magazine articles. The articles appeared in a variety of publications and included Defense Electronics, Southern Boating, Maritime Reporter, Cruising World, Boating the Journal of the Sport, International Defense Review, and Navigation News. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
Series 5, User Guides and Manuals, 1989-2005 and undated, consists of training, reference, and user guides for the consumer who purchased Magellan products. The guides are primarily spiral bound and some are annotated. Multiple copies of some years exist. The series is arranged chronologically.
Series 6, Financial Materials, 1991-1995 and undated, consists of stock information, a Securities and Exchange Commission registration statement, correspondence, registration rights agreements, preferred stock purchase agreements, agreement and plan of merger documents between Magellan Corporation and Orbital Sciences Corporation (November 1994), and two floppy discs (3 1/2" and 5") containing information about the company and its staff.
Series 7, Photographs and Slides, 1987-1995 and undated, consists of slides, negatives, transparencies, and color and black-and-white prints of Magellan products. Many of the images document early product concepts, and there are some promotional and publicity materials. There is one folder of photographs with images of employees from 1989.
Series 8, Audiovisual Materials, 1991-1998 and undated, consists of 1/2" VHS, BETA Cam SP, and 8 mm video cassettes documenting technical seminars presented by Magellan Systems Corporation staff and instances of Magellan products featured in news segments. Researchers consult the technical seminar documentation in Series 3, Engineering and Product Development Materials. The series is arranged chronologically.
Collection arranged into eight series.
Series 1, Operational Materials, 1988-1993
Subseries 1, Organizational Materials, 1988-1994
Subseries 2, Strategic and Operating Plans, 1989-1995
Subseries 3, Weekly Reports, 1988-1996
Subseries 4, Company Newsletters, 1991-1992
Series 2, Correspondence, 1989-1994 and undated
Series 3, Engineering and Product Development Materials, 1978-1998
Subseries 1, Product Development, 1989-1994
Subseries 2, Engineering Notebooks, 1987-1996
Subseries 3, Technical Notes, 1978-1994
Subseries 4, Breadboard Design, 1986-1994
Subseries 5, First Generation (NAV 1000/NAV 1200), 1985-1994
Subseries 6, Second Generation (NAV 5000), 1988-1996
Subseries 7, Third Generation, 1986-1994
Subseries 8, Swiss Army Chip (SAC) Development, 1987-1995
Subseries 9, Technical Product Development Seminars, 1997-1998
Subseries 10, Specifications, 1992-1994
Subseries 11, TriQuint Semiconductor, 1986-1992
Series 4, Marketing and Promotional Materials, 1985-1997
Subseries 1, Market Research, 1985-1993 and undated
Subseries 2, Product Literature, circa 1990s
Subseries 3, Advertisements, 1988-1995 and undated
Subseries 4, Press Releases, 1988-1996
Subseries 5, Presentation Materials, 1990-[1997?]
Subseries 6, Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, 1988-1996 and undated
Series 5, User Guides and Manuals, 1989-2005 and undated
Series 6, Financial Materials, 1991-1995 and undated
Series 7, Photographs and Slides, 1987-1995 and undated
Series 8, Audiovisual Materials, 1991-1998 and undated
Biographical / Historical:
Ed Tuck of the Boundary Fund, a venture capital firm specializing in technologies founded the Magellan Systems Corporation in 1986 and served as its director from 1986 to 1993. Tuck assembled the initial team of Norm Hunt, Larry Weill, Val Wong, and Sab Ifune to conduct a feasibility study in early 1986 to pursue commercial markets for products based on global positioning system (GPS) technology. Magellan introduced the first handheld commercial GPS receiver in 1989 and was the first company to make GPS devices affordable to consumers. Magellan introduced the first handheld commercial GPS receiver in 1989 and was the first company to make GPS devices affordable to consumers. The company successfully introduced GPS products into the marine, professional, military and automotive and general aviation markets.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) began as a United States Department of Defense Program in the 1960s with a navy system known as Transit (first satellite navigation system). Two other projects soon followed, Timation (satellite to broadcast accurate time reference) and Air Force Project 612B, which began in the 1970s. In 1973, the development of the Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System (NAVSTAR) began under the management of the Air Force. Designed by the military, the system provided twenty-four positioning satellites under all- weather conditions using passive (non-transmitting) receivers. This kept a user's presence from being detected as a result of the receiver. Although primarily for military use, the system also offered a less-precise coded signal for civilian use.
GPS uses a group of twenty-four earth-orbiting satellites which broadcast continuously. The data being broadcast can be processed by a portable receiver to determine a user's position, velocity and time. GPS has three parts: 1) space part with twenty-four satellites; 2) ground part with monitor and 3) user part with receivers that process the signals and calculate position.
In the spring of 1986, the Magellan team published a specification for a custom mixed signal RF (radio frequency) integrated circuit and by fall 1986, had a breadboard (used in prototyping of electronics) and began software development and testing. Magellan focused its research, product engineering, and design activities on the development of GPS receivers that were application-specific, software-intensive, reliable, lower power, easy to use, and affordable.
From 1986 to 1988, the Boundary Fund provided the venture capital for feasibility studies and the initital product design. By 1988, the company occupied its first stand-alone facility in Monrovia, California with thirty-five employees. In May 1989, the company's first product, the NAV 1000, shipped, and in that same year, the company entered the military market with the NAV 1000M. The company entered the professional market in January 1990 with the NAV 1000 PRO, the world's first hand-held GPS product. By 1991, Magellan moved to a new facility in Dimas, California and introduced advanced five-channel technology. It also incorporated in the United Kingdom (UK) as Magellan Systems to handle product distribution in the rest of the UK and Europe.
The SkyNAV 5000 was introduced in 1992 for the general aviation market, and in the same year, hand-held differential GPS technology for the marine market appeared. Magellan was purchased by Orbital Sciences Corporation in 1994. In 2001, Thales Group purchased the Magellan division of Orbital Sciences, and the company became known as Thales Navigation. In 2006, a private equity firm, Shah Capital Partners, and other investors purchased Thales Navigation, and the company was officially renamed Magellan Navigation. Magellan (also known as MiTAC Digital Corporation) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MiTAC International Corporation and promotes and sells products and services under the Magellan brand name. Magellan is headquartered in Santa Clara, California.
The Division of Work and Industry holds related artifacts (GPS receivers, computer electronics boards, computer chips, antennas, packaging, components, circuit boards, keyboards, a Swiss Army Chip (SAC), and receiver brackets). See Accession numbers 2010.0117; 2010.0118; 2010.0151; 2010.0152; 2010.0153; 2010.0154 and 2010.0155.
Donated to the Archives Center in 2010, by MiTAC Digital Corporation through Michael Williams, Director of Marketing and Gary Barta, Janice Itnyre, Jean Tuck McGregor, Donald Rea, Edward F. Tuck, Lawrence R. Weill, and James P. White.
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-633-3270.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
The records of Wedge Innovations document the invention and development of a new hand tool, the SmartLevel, an electronic builder's level; also included are company management and policies.
Scope and Contents:
The SmartLevel story gives excellent insight into the life cycle of a small Silicon valley start-up in the 1980s. SmartLevel's creator, Wedge Innovations, established a market for a new product, achieved national distribution, off-shore manufacturing, and product licensing, before going out of business due to pressure from profit-hungry venture capitalists.
The records of Wedge Innovations is a "tool biography" that documents the invention and development of a new hand tool, the SmartLevel, an electronic builder's level first conceived in 1985 by Andrew Butler. The SmartLevel Collection is divided into seven series: Corporate Records, Engineering Records, Financial Records, Marketing Records, Operations Records, Product Development Records, and Corporate Culture, reflecting both the organizational structure of Wedge Innovations and the company's working environment.
Series 1, Corporate Records, 1985-1993, address the overall management of Wedge Innovations and document its policies, especially through the company's annual business plans, 1986-1992, and the monthly reports prepared for the Board of Directors' meetings, 1989-1992. This series also details the workings of each department through weekly departmental reports. The staff meetings files, July-November 1989, February 1990-November 1992, are particularly useful for understanding the day-to-day operation of the company.
Series 2, Engineering Records, 1985-1993, document the design and development of the SmartLevel from its conception in 1985 as the WedgeLevel, through its production as the SmartLevel in 1989, and through its refinement into the Pro SmartLevel and the Series 200 SmartLevel in 1991. The design process is particularly well documented through Andrew Butler's and Kevin Reeder's design notebooks and through the detailed technical drawings done by Butler, Reeder, and Ronald Wisnia. Also well documented are the efforts made to solve the many problems associated with the development and quality control of the electronic sensor module that was the heart of the SmartLevel.
Series 3, Financial Records, 1985-1992, include Wedge's summary financial statements from 1985 to 1992.
Series 4, Marketing Records, 1986-1992, document customer and dealer relations through marketing department correspondence, operational records, and advertising campaigns. This series is particularly rich in promotional material (1988-1992), such as advertisements, advertising copy, photographs, product promotion plans, and videotapes that demonstrate the varied features and uses of the products.
Series 5, Operations Records, 1990-1993, document the manufacturing process and the Company's offshore operations.
Series 6, Product Development Records, 1986-1993, document the company's intended development of an entire "Smart Tools" line.
Series 7, Corporate Culture, 1985-1996, contains employee photographs and oral history interviews with key Wedge personnel conducted in 1995 and 1996 by David Shayt, Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History. The interviews discuss the background of the participants, the company's origins and history, product development, the Silicon Valley context, and the efforts of Wedge Innovations successor firm, SmartTool Technologies.
The collection organized into seven series.
Series 1, Corporate Records, 1985-1993
Series 2, Engineering Records, 1985-1993
Series 3, Financial Records, 1985-1992
Series 4, Marketing Records, 1986-1992
Series 5, Operations Records, 1990-1993
Series 6, Product Development Records, 1986-1993
Series 7, Corporate Culture, 1985-1996
Biographical / Historical:
Andrew G. Butler (b. 1955), the founder of Wedge Innovations exhibited an interest in building construction and an entrepreneurial spirit early in life. From age 12 to 17 he built a boat that he then sailed alone from California to Tahiti, where he spent several years as an independent carpenter and building contractor. After returning to the United States, he earned a B.S. degree in electromechanical engineering from Stanford University (1983) and became a software specialist for Bechtel Construction. In 1985, he conceived of an idea for an electronic carpenter's level that could read a range of angles. Butler formed Wedge Innovations in 1986. He worked in the basement of his home in order to develop and market this level, selling his boat to finance the venture. He hired Marilyn Crowell as his secretary and Robert Nagle and Dan Kellogg as engineers. This company developed the sensor technology and software necessary to build the company's first product, the WedgeLevel. The heart of this tool was an electronic sensor circuit connected to a microprocessor capable of measuring the tool's orientation. This sensor module fit into an ergonomically-designed teak rail with anodized aluminum edges jointly developed by Butler, engineering design consultant Kevin Reeder, and engineer Ronald Wisnia.
In 1987, Wedge moved to Santa Clara to begin manufacturing the WedgeLevel. The transition from a research and development concern to a manufacturing company proved difficult, due to manufacturing and financial difficulties. It was difficult to obtain a reliable yet inexpensive source of teak for the rails, designs for a plastic composite and aluminum rail were developed, while offshore manufacturing of the sensor components was established. Overarching all concerns was the persistent difficulty of obtaining sufficient investment capital. While managing his growing company, Butler also began planning for a line of hand tools that combined microelectronics and user-oriented, ergonomic design. In 1988, the company changed the name of its product to SmartLevel in order to emphasize the company's proposed line of Smart Tools. That same year, the company adopted a new corporate logo, a stylized W with a red wedge, signaling its growing maturity. Promotion of the product also began through demonstrations of the prototype done by consultant building contractor, Rick Feffer.
In January 1989, the SmartLevel prototype was launched at the National Association of Home Builders Show in Atlanta, Georgia. The favorable publicity generated by this launch and by the company's media campaign generated many orders. To supply these orders, Wedge moved to larger quarters in Sunnyvale on April 1, 1989. In June 1989, Wedge gained further publicity by donating several SmartLevels to a Habitat for Humanity project in Milwaukee, where former president Jimmy Carter used one. Although Wedge expected to ship the first SmartLevels in July 1989, there were considerable delays in manufacturing. In particular, there were stability and performance problems with the sensor, which engineer Ken Gunderson was brought in to remedy. The sensor module was re-engineered to be more rugged and the level was redesigned with a plastic composite and aluminum rail. The new level, known as the Pro SmartLevel, was intended for the professional construction market. The first SmartLevels were shipped on September 5, 1989.
In 1990, patents were granted to Andrew Butler, Donald G. Green, and Robert E. Nagle for an inclinometer sensor circuit and to Butler and Ronald Wisnia for a carpenter's level design. That same year, Brian Bayley joined Wedge as Vice-president for Engineering, and Edwin "Win" Seipp joined as Project Manager - DIY SmartLevel. Seipp's responsibility was to develop a low-cost, "do-it-yourself" version of the SmartLevel, which was eventually called the Series 200 SmartLevel. This level had an all-aluminum rail and a non-removable sensor.
In September 1990, the company moved to San Jose and by 1991 had over 60 employees. Although sales continued to grow and name recognition of the product was quite strong, Wedge had difficulty meeting the expectations of its investors. Butler entered into financial negotiations with the Macklanburg-Duncan Corporation, a large-scale manufacturer of hand tools, to seek investment in his company. These negotiations led in November 1992 to the acquisition of Wedge by Macklanburg-Duncan, which dissolved all but Wedge's engineering section. Macklanburg-Duncan today manufactures a "SmartTool" level, while Butler co-owns D2M (Design To Market), a company that develops new product ideas for the market.
1992 -- Butler negotiates with Macklanburg-Duncan for a merger to save Wedge. In the midst of the negotiations, Butler is fired by his Board of Directors. Butler regains control of Wedge three months later, fires the replacement president, and sells Wedge outright to Macklanburg-Duncan, which dissolves all but the engineering functions of Wedge.
1991 -- Wedge sponsors a "New Product Development Conference," where numerous designs for new hand tools are worked on. SmartLevel sales and name recognition grows but not quickly enough to meet overhead expenses of new facility or investors' demands.
1990 -- Yet more redesign work, both in-house and with Kevin Reeder, who also develops idea for "SmartTube" carrying case (not built). Patents granted to Andy Butler et al. for inclinometer sensor circuit and carpenter's level design. Wedge hires Brian Bayley as vice-president for engineering to develop a low-cost model of the SmartLevel. The all-aluminum Series 200 SmartLevel is born. Wedge moves to larger facilities in San Jose.
1989 -- SmartLevel launched at National Association of Home Builders show in January. Good press coverage, but cannot meet orders. More publicity from Habitat for Humanity project when former President Jimmy Carter uses a SmartLevel. But stability and performance problems plague sensor. More redesign work results in more rugged Pro SmartLevel. The first SmartLevels shipped on September 5, 1989.
1987-1988 -- Wedge moves to Santa Clara; intends to begin manufacturing and todevelop an entire line of "Smart Tools" but encounters financial and engineering difficulties; Wedge consults with independent design engineer, Kevin Reeder, on level design. Intensive redesign effort develops the SmartLevel, made of plastic and aluminum rail.
1986 -- Wedge Innovations founded in the basement of Butler's house; basic sensor design worked out; teak & aluminum WedgeLevel developed.
1985 -- Idea for electronic carpenter's level formulated by Andy Butler.
Materials at the National Museum of American History
The Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History contains artifacts related to the SmartLevel Collection. These include five SmartLevels (Accession #1991.0823; 1996.0284; 1996.0285; 1996.0288; and 1996.0289). They are an original teak WedgeLevel, a Pro SmartLevel, a Series 200 SmartLevel, a Bosch version of the SmartLevel, and a Macklanburg-Duncan SmartTool level. There are also four sensor modules (torpedo levels), two sensors, two carrying cases, one cap, one tee shirt, and one wooden puzzle with the inscription "The World Isn't Just Level and Plumb."
The collection was donated by Andrew Butler, SmartLevel inventor and company founder, Brian Bayley, Vice-President for engineering at Wedge Innovations from 1989-1992, and Kevin Reeder, an independent industrial designer, 1995-1997.
The collection is open for research use.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.