How Did We Get Here?: A Brief History of NEMA, Part One
The year 2016 is a significant one for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. It’s an exciting time for electrical manufacturing in the U.S.—as the Transpacific Trade Pact moves towards finalization in the U.S. Congress and the country prepares to be the official partner country to Hannover Messe 2016—and it marks NEMA’s 90th year of representing and working on behalf America’s electroindustry.
NEMA was founded on September 1, 1926, when two organizations (the Electric Power Club and the Associated Manufacturers of Electrical Supplies) agreed to consolidate their memberships and interests into a single organization, representing a unification of the electrical manufacturing industry.
NEMA’s first challenge came when Local No. 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) refused to purchase or install electrical equipment that was not assembled by union workers. IBEW warned NEMA member companies that any finished electrical products shipped to New York City without a union certification would be excluded from contract work.
NEMA President Gerard Swope challenged the right of the union to disrupt business in this manner. In 1927, NEMA took legal action and forced the union to rescind its threat, demonstrating the value of a well-organized trade association. NEMA’s ranks swelled thereafter in size and function. New committees were formed, including a tariff committee to evaluate and comment on federal trade policy. New divisions and dozens of new product sections were created to take on tasks such as consulting on political and policy matters. This kind of activism evolved into formal promotional efforts.
The first promotional campaign was the 1929 Safe Electrical Cord Program, co-sponsored with Underwriters Laboratories. From this early success came a formal electrical business development committee, whose purpose was to identify and create opportunities that would increase sales across product sections.
NEMA was better prepared than other trade associations to rally its membership in the early years of the Great Depression. In an effort to reverse the steady decline of the American economy, the Roosevelt administration enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 to bolster production and decrease industrial unemployment. The act encouraged manufacturers to adopt codes of fair competition and to coordinate production, pricing, sales, distribution, and labor policies with competitors. NEMA, through section and policy committees, was able to affect this kind of coordination very rapidly. President Hoover praised the association as “a model of industrial self-government.”
This is the first of three excerpts from “How Did We Get Here?: A Brief History of NEMA,” published in the January 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry. Click here to view the full issue.