Capital Region Scrapbook: In 1950s, GE shareholders got company updates — and a box lunch

Capital Region Scrapbook looks back at the 1950s when General Electric held stockholder meetings in

Categories: Life & Arts

In 2009, most people check their investments over the Internet.

During the 1950s, thousands of people checked one of their favorite stocks in person. The General Electric Co.’s annual stockholders’ meetings were always in April, and always well attended. Executives provided updates on business, and many took advantage of the chance to tour the plant. Short films often were shown — in 1953 it was “A is for Atom” — and company products often were on display.

Company backers were always first to hear the news. In 1952, the big bosses rallied the GE faithful to protest the U.S. government’s seizure of the steel industry. President Harry Truman’s big move had allowed federal administration of the business. Truman had stepped in after steel producers and steel workers had been unable to reach agreement on a new contract.

In 1953, business was booming. GE president Ralph J. Cordiner said the company’s backlog for capital goods and defense products totaled $3.3 million. The company needed more room.

“Additional laboratory, development and test facilities are already planned for turbines at Schenectady, for large motors and generators, for large power transformers at Pittsfield, Mass., for carboloy at Detroit and major appliances at Louisville,” Cordiner said.

For 1957, Cordiner predicted a sales increase of 15 percent. The bad news was possible profit starvation; he told 3,729 investors the company needed higher profit margins to sustain projects and programs. He also said it was important for Schenectady to attract new manufacturers. “If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be tied to one industry,” Cordiner said.

In 1957, GE had no plans to move some of its electronic development out of Schenectady. The president said the city’s operation would never again reach the wartime peak of 40,000 employees, but added the company would never make Schenectady a “ghost town.”

In 1958, the news was inflation — the high cost of living had forced a $1.8 million jump in payroll costs.

Company brass fed stockholders the facts, and lunch. Boxed meals were part of the meetings during the 1950s. In 1958, when the company entertained at the state Armory on Washington Avenue, some people sat inside and enjoyed lunch in their seats.

“Others, however, took advantage of the warm, breezy weather, walked across the street to the pleasant hotel lawns and sprawled on the grass, to eat and discuss the morning’s proceedings,” wrote Bob Barber, covering the event for the Schenectady Gazette.

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