Recently we were delighted to be invited to contribute to a new book celebrating the fascinating history of our city; “Manchester: The Golden Years”. The book, filled with stunning, never before seen photos from the turn of the century through to the 1970s, gives a rare insight into the changing way of Mancunian life through the decades.
As part of our contribution we spent some time delving back into our own history to reveal how M&I Materials has evolved to be the company it is today. Just like our beloved city, our story here at M&I Materials is unique; a fusion of tradition and progress: From our early beginnings in 1901 when we manufactured components by hand, through to the latest 3D printing materials.
While many things have changed – materials discovered, manufacturing processes developed, acquisitions made and wars weathered – some things have remained the same. At the heart of our company are the men and women that make it, and with them a rich heritage, both of which have shaped us into the £40m global business of today.
Our story began in 1901 at Chicago’s World Fair; Arthur Berkeley witnessed the surprising capabilities of the silicate mineral mica as an insulating material, and on his return promptly set up manufacturing with his twin brother Edward. In 1906 the firm became known as the Micanite and Insulators Co. Ltd which over the following two decades became an important manufacturer of electrical insulation with key customers including the General Electric Company and MetroVicks.
Around the same time MetroVicks became a household name; its engineering innovations were often so ground-breaking that they continued to be manufactured today. Early breakthroughs in the 1920s and 1930s formed the basis of M&I Materials’ current brands Apiezon and Metrosil, while the development of MIDEL followed in the 1970s.
As 1937 approached the country readied for war, and instead of the usual, the manufacturing line began to produce pilot systems, radars and gun mountings. Despite targeted bombings, the Trafford Park based factory managed to remain open, despite at one point being open to the sky.
In 1958 M&I Materials joined Metrovicks at Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) combining the research departments. A decade later AEI was acquired by the General Electric Company. M&I Material’s manufacturing facilities officially moved to Trafford Park, allowing for the continued development of new products and materials. Later into the 1980s GEC acquired Elmet Alloys, however with sights set on expanding into the US market, a new name was required: Wolfmet was born.
The final big piece in the mergers and acquisitions timeline was in 1993 when Colin Salt, then Managing Director of M&I Materials negotiated a management buyout to include the four key brands still manufactured today: MIDEL, Wolfmet, Apiezon and Metrosil. The buyout was a turning point; investment was channelled into new campaigns and modernisation throughout, including a computer system!
As the business grew it began to engage with overseas customer directly and by 2008 overseas sales accounted for nearly three quarters of the business. A year later M&I Materials celebrated their presentation of the Queen’s Award for International Trade, shortly followed by a visit from HRH The Prince of Wales who toured the factory and gave a congratulatory speech.
More on M&I Materials’ history and the people that made it can be found in “Manchester: The Golden Years” available for purchase at Waterstones, WHSmith and online.