This post was written by Lynn Weinstein, Business Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.
For decades, General Electric (GE) has been a company deeply connected to America’s daily life. It had been the last of the founding members of the Dow since it was created in 1896 until it was removed in 2018 due to its poor market performance. From a business perspective, I wanted to learn more about what free information is readily available on GE from its early days to the present.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), who established General Electric in 1890, was an American inventor who patented 1,093 inventions, including the phonograph, the kinetograph (a motion picture camera), and the kinetoscope (a motion picture viewer). Edison managed to become not only a renowned inventor, but also a prominent manufacturer and businessman through the merchandising of his inventions.
When researching business information on GE and other companies, newspaper articles are a good source, particularly for historic information. The Library of Congress provides older newspaper articles on Edison and General Electric in its free, online digital archive Chronicling America. A search on “General Electric,” in this database will reveal information on General Electric stock, appliances, electric shows that demonstrated cooking and heating with electricity, articles on new inventions, as well as information on labor union conflicts.
Researchers seeking historical information about an old company have a bit of detective work to do. The Library provides business reference service in the Science and Business Reading Room in the John Adams building of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, which has a reference collection and selected book titles, primarily focusing on United States companies and industries. Our Guide to Business History Resources includes sources and strategies for historical research, while the Doing Company Research guide provides information for more contemporary material.
For more detailed information, company financial reports, such as Annual Reports and other SEC filings, are helpful for insight into corporate operations, because they include a description of the business, its industry, and investor information, including audited statements of income, financial position, and cash flow. The Library has a microfiche collection of annual reports and financial documents for selected businesses, including General Electric. There are some subscription databases that provide older annual reports, although some annual reports are available free online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library, a digital library collaborative. Current online annual reports and financials are available in the public database, EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval), provided by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Looking at a company’s website is a key element in a search for business information. The Business in America Web Archive, maintained by the Library of Congress through the Science, Technology and Business Division, captures web pages from the Fortune 500 companies in the United States, including General Electric. While full access is restricted to onsite users, General Electric (ge.com) web domains were captured periodically from 2001-2018. You should consult the Web Archiving About Page for more details.
To Learn More
- Search for additional information in “Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital using the keywords “General Electric,” “Thomas Edison,” or “Wizard of Menlo Park.”
- Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies provides information about the collections in the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, which contain an extraordinary range of the surviving products of Edison’s entertainment inventions and industries, including 341 motion pictures, 81 disc sound recordings, and other related materials.
- The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog allows users to search for photographs on Thomas Edison and General Electric .
- The Manuscript Division contains information on the Edison Electric Light Company records, 1879-1984, including patents granted from the government of Canada to Thomas Edison and his employees for a variety of inventions involving incandescent lamps, electric railroads, and electric generation systems. Insurance records used to create national standards for electrical construction and operation are included in this collection.
- Read the August 31st “Today in History” feature on Edison’s kinetoscope, the forerunner of the motion-picture film projector and the “Today in History” – August 12 – Edison’s Phonograph