GE didn’t invent the jet engine, but it built the first one in America during World War II. It was no accident. The company had been making turbines for power plants and superchargers for propeller planes for decades. Without all that knowledge, the jet age would’ve taken longer to lift off.
The Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady, N.Y., not far from GE’s current global research headquarters, holds a treasure trove of GE history. Chris Hunter, the museum’s vice president for collections and exhibitions, found a comic book from 1958 that tells the whole story of how GE turbine engineers turned Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine design into a working machine that in 1942 powered America’s first jet plane.
(The reason why GE published comics is a whole different tale. It used what was then perhaps the most viral medium to explain and demystify science, just like it uses Snapchat or Instagram today. You can read that story here.)
Jet engines today look very different from Sir Frank’s machine, but the jet engine history – shaped by both men and women – illustrates one important point: that the synergies that exist inside the company make the whole more valuable than the sum of its parts. GE executives call this concept the GE store. Just as turbine know-how allowed the company to build the jet engine, later jet engine research funneled knowledge back to other units and led to more efficient power plants, locomotives and ships. Take a look.
All images courtesy of the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady