100 Years of MK Electrical

Aidan Hayes, National Sales Manager, Ireland, reflects on 100 years of MK Electric…

Over the years MK Electric has become synonymous with wiring devices. In fact, there are probably very few types of building that haven’t been fitted with an MK Electric plug, socket or other wiring device.

In contrast, the success of MK Electric was created from humble beginnings, when Charles Arnold established the Heavy Current Electric Accessories Company in February 1919, with only second-hand machinery and two employees in North London.

At the inception of the Heavy Current Electric Accessories Company (HCEAC), there was just one product, the uniquely-named Multy Kontact socket; a product which was safer and worked more efficiently than the split pin-style sockets that were on the market at the time.

The Multy Kontact also caught the attention of the British Engineering Standards Association, which quickly aligned its standards to match the levels of self-adjustment and contact-making it introduced.

By 1924 the success of the Multy Kontact was abundantly clear, and with HCEAC a very cumbersome name – Charles Arnold and his ‘sleeping’ partner Charles Belling decided to adopt the name of their best-selling product, forming a new company known as ‘M.K.’ Electric.

Charles Arnold, a gifted electrical engineer, had an incredibly strong work ethic and dedicated himself to the growth of the company. This included a continued mindset towards innovating and developing the best possible products.

By 1928, MK Electric was already using Bakelite rather than the hardwood of earlier products and the company designed the very first shuttered socket – described as ‘anti-flash’ and billed as ‘another revolution in socket design.’

It featured automatic isolating caps which concealed and isolated the socket tubes the instant a plug was removed, eliminating the alarming arc of a flame which invariably accompanied plug withdrawal. This set a new standard for electrical safety and formed the basis of the British Standard electrical system as we know it today.

With the arrival of WWII large businesses were expected to contribute to the war effort. During this period, production at the factory shifted from plugs and sockets almost overnight, to a variety of items such as, detonators, firing systems and centrifuges for use in Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters. At the end of the war, normal production quickly resumed and 1945 saw MK develop the first AC ceiling switch, followed closely by an AC wall-mounted version.

Another landmark year for the company arrived in 1955, as MK Electric launched the Plateswitch – the very first ‘monobloc’ light switch.

Until this point, light switches consisted of a switch that was screwed to the mounting box and a switch cover plate. Featuring just two components, the mounting box and integral switch and frontplate, the new monobloc Plateswitch was cheaper and easier to install than all contemporary products, instantly catapulting the business to market leader for switching.

So influential was this design that, even today, virtually every light switch is based upon the original Plateswitch.

The company went from strength to strength and eventually outgrew its original premises, meaning Charles Arnold had to source a more suitable location for manufacturing. The Southend-on-Sea factory opened in 1961, and despite some initial teething problems – including many of the workers leaving in the summer months to pick hops and fruit – the facility thrived.

Unusually for this industry, the company continues to manufacture products for the UK and some overseas markets at the very same site in Southend-on-Sea, where they can also be tested in an independently accredited facility. The company also has another factory in St Asaph, North Wales.

After many successes, the company took the decision to float on the Stock Exchange in 1966, with 12 million shares available at five-shillings. This would value the company at staggering £54.8million in today’s currency.

Fast-forward to 1986 and MK Electric had become a household name. In the same year, the company also received a Royal Warrant of Appointment, an honour only awarded to businesses which have supplied the Royal household with goods for at least five years. Additionally, MK Electric also achieved the ‘BS5750’ accreditation for its quality assurance systems at every site – one of the first companies in the UK to do so.

In 1996, MK Electric evolved its shuttered socket design and developed the game-changing Logic PlusTM range of wiring devices. A 3-pin, child resistant evolution of a product which is still widely regarded as the most advance and safest on the market.

Along with innovative features delivering faster and easier installation features – upwards facing, in-line terminals with backed out and captive screws. Furthermore, the design of the new Logic PlusTM also introduced a new modern curved edge aesthetic to the range.

MK Electric was acquired by Honeywell in 2005, and as part of Honeywell’s global operation, MK Electric could literally draw upon a world of technologies to help them develop the best products and solutions.

While the bulk of MK Electric’s manufacturing and distribution is handled in the UK to serve the UK, this global access means MK Electric’s customers have access to the latest ideas and manufacturing advancements from around the world to deliver state-of-the-art, cost-effective products – and in 2014 celebrated the 100 millionth socket to come out of the historic Southend-on-Sea factory.

By 2013, the tools for mass communication could be found in almost every adult’s hand across the UK, meaning the appetite for flexible charging increased dramatically. With this, MK Electric launched a USB charging module, one of the very first manufacturers to do so. This technology was then introduced to its iconic K2747 2g switch socket and across the wider portfolio.

This year marks 100 years of trading for MK Electric, and is a time to not only look back on previous successes but also onwards to the continued leadership of MK Electric and the legacy set by Charles Arnold. This is also a time to reinforce our commitment to quality, reliability and safety.