THE CTS STORY: Highlights of a Successful, Long-Lived Organization
The Early Years...
In 1896, the enterprising father and son team of A.J. and George A.
Briggs partnered with S.A. Buffington, a Chicago Lawyer, to establish
Chicago Telephone Supply Company (later to become CTS). Working out of a small building near downtown Chicago,
their telephones were sold through local supply houses, jobbers and mail
order. Within a year, the Briggs family bought out Buffington’s interest and
took over all operations of the company. In less than 6 years, this small
company had grown to encompass a workforce of 250 employees.
In 1902, in need of more, yet less expensive manufacturing space, the
company found suitable facilities in Elkhart, Indiana, about 100 miles east
of Chicago. Chicago Telephone Supply Company was lured to this northern
Indiana city by the incentives of a new building on a railroad spur, in
exchange for a multi-year wage pay-out to stimulate the local economy.
The rapid growth of Chicago Telephone Supply can be attributed to its focus
on a market niche that had been largely ignored by other telephone
manufacturers—the rural telephone market. Period company catalogs show a
wide variety of telephones and components produced during this time. One of
the company’s earliest product line expansions included the production of
telephone switchboards. By 1910, the company was producing a wide variety of
telephone models, as well as 20 different
types of switchboards ranging from apartment building size units up to
express switchboards that could accommodate up to 300 telephone connections.
With their economic telephone and switchboard systems designed to “have a
higher degree of efficiency than will ever be demanded in service,” (a
company promotional phrase), Chicago Telephone Supply quickly became a
leading producer of telephones and systems for rural areas. The company marketed their
products by the statement, “Chicago Telephone’s Satisfy,” indicating the
high level of quality that the company designed into their products. The
last commercial telephone produced by the company was manufactured in 1940.
Communication on a telephone had become commonplace by the early part of
the 20th century. People had grown accustomed to the accomplishments
achieved through the infant electronics industry, which was creating new
product possibilities. By the 1920s, radio broadcasting had triggered a
“boom” for consumer radio receivers. Chicago Telephone Supply Company
immediately acted on this opportunity and began re-inventing some of their
well-known telephone products, such as jacks, plugs and headphones for use in the emerging radio market.
By 1922, more than half of company sales came from the radio components
business. During the Great Depression, demand for less expensive tabletop
radios grew. Chicago Telephone Supply Company responded with the development
of more cost effective and stable carbon composition variable resistors that
helped lower the cost of radio components. During this time, the company
evolved from a manufacturer of finished products (telephones and
switchboards) to a major supplier of radio receiver components. Along with
its standard line of products, developing and producing customized
components for its customers was becoming a cornerstone of the company that
Growing With Consumer Electronics...
The late 1940s ushered in the next boom in consumer electronics —television. Several aspects of radio and
television technology are fundamentally similar; therefore, early leaders in
the television industry also had been the same companies that led the
“Golden Age of Radio” —Zenith, Magnavox, RCA and
others. All were established customers of Chicago Telephone Supply
When television fever hit America, Chicago Telephone Supply Company,
already a leading supplier of radio components, applied the technology of variable
resistors and switches to the new television market. Illustrating the rapid
growth of this new market, U.S. manufacturers produced 6,000 television
receivers in 1946, and by 1950 that figure soared to 7,500,000. Where a
radio receiver may have used one, two or three Chicago Telephone Supply
components, a television receiver required between 6 and 10 variable
resistor components. This increased component count drove company production
and profits to new heights.
By the beginning of the 1960s, Chicago Telephone Supply Company had
diversified into a manufacturer of many types of switches, variable
resistors and a variety of other electronic components. Yet, the company had
not produced a commercial telephone for over 20 years. After decades of expanding
into new markets with new technologies and product
innovations, it became clear that the original name no longer fit the
In 1960, Chicago Telephone Supply Company officially changed its name to
CTS Corporation to more accurately reflect its diverse product line
offerings. Today, CTS Corporation is a name known worldwide for quality and
value-added components and services for a wide variety of technology
June 4, 1962, marked a watershed moment for CTS Corporation. It was the
day that CTS listed its common stock on the “Big Board” at the New York
Stock Exchange. The day marked a turning point in the evolution of CTS as a
company, for the listing on the New York Stock Exchange helped give the
company greater visibility as an international business. Since that day, the
“CTS” symbol on the NYSE has stood for innovation, leadership, and
Expanding Beyond Consumer Electronics...
While still enjoying growth driven by the consumer television industry,
CTS once again looked to
another new, emerging market for opportunities. The data processing or
computer market fit the bill and CTS answered with new, innovative
products. In 1958, after 4 years of intensive research, CTS engineers
introduced Cermet™, a new type of stable resistance element. The stability of Cermet fulfilled the demand of miniaturized applications for the computer,
as well as military
industries, securing CTS’ participation in modern electronic markets.
During the same time period, CTS, through acquisitions and internal
development, expanded its product portfolio to include crystal filters,
quartz oscillators, selector switches and loudspeakers, along with its
expanding variable resistor business. As demand in the electronics industry
called for the miniaturization of electronic products, CTS responded by
manufacturing hybrid microcircuits, designing more functionality into
smaller packages, for applications as varied as heart pacers to missile
As CTS transitioned into the 1970s, concerns over environmental pollution
led to U.S. Government mandated automotive emissions
control requirements. The need for throttle position sensing and
exhaust gas recirculation controls immersed CTS into custom under-the-hood
and chassis position sensor business, opening new market
opportunities for the company.
For several decades now, CTS has served the automotive market with position
sensors for applications such as throttle control, exhaust gas recirculation
systems (EGR), intake valving and more recently, turbocharger position
company also produces rotary actuators for tuned manifolds and other engine
systems controls, and a broad line of electronic accelerator pedal modules for
light-duty and commercial vehicle manufacturers around the globe.
Recently, CTS’ Automotive Products achieved a strategic growth milestone by expanding
commercial vehicle, off-road and heavy equipment markets. CTS developed and
introduced a robust “Smart Actuator” that is designed for such applications
as fuel delivery management, control of variable vane turbochargers and
is suitable for a variety of other large diesel engine management
functions. Additionally, CTS Automotive Products supplies position sensors
to the small engine market (motorcycles, ATVs, outboard engines, etc.).
Building A Global Organization...
The evolution of consumer electronic manufacturing drove many U.S.-based
electronic manufacturers to open operations in Asia—particularly China, Hong Kong, Singapore,
and Taiwan. With some of its customer base relocating to these
regions, CTS found it was also necessary to establish operations in these
countries. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, CTS opened facilities in Kaohsiung, Taiwan,
The Republic of Singapore and Matamoros, Mexico—for the production of switches, potentiometers, frequency control devices
and other electronic components. More recent facility expansions in Tianjin and Zhongshan, China, as well as the Czech Republic,
have further strengthened CTS’
world-wide manufacturing capabilities.
As the company grew internally, it also looked for acquisitions that
would both enhance its market share and introduce new technologies or
services for the company’s ever expanding customer base. One of the first
acquisitions was the 1953 purchase of a successful manufacturing business in
Streetsville, Ontario, Canada.
In the early 1980s CTS acquired a successful connector and backplane
manufacturer with operations in North America and Scotland. Today, CTS
Electronic Manufacturing Solutions (EMS) traces its operational roots through this important
acquisition. Additionally, this Scottish connection
opened many new European market opportunities for CTS position sensor
products. A late 1990s merger with Dynamics Corporation of America (DCA)
bolstered CTS’ position as a leading producer of electronic
Another significant late 1990s acquisition was the
purchase of the Component Products Division (CPD) of Motorola, Inc. This
strategic acquisition placed CTS in the forefront of the emerging cell phone
handset and base station market through the manufacturing of ceramic
filters, duplexers and other telecommunication components. More recently,
the acquisitions of SMTEK International, Inc. and Orion Manufacturing, Inc.
has enhanced CTS’ role as a major supplier in the electronic manufacturing
services business sector. These acquisitions have opened new
opportunities for penetration into the communications infrastructure, medical,
defense and aerospace and industrial markets, while further expanding CTS'
manufacturing base in U.S., China, and Thailand.
The 2008 acquisition of Tusonix, Inc. of Tucson, Arizona, with manufacturing
operations in Nogales, Mexico, added electromagnetic and radio frequency
interference (EMI/RFI) filter components to the CTS product family. These,
and other strategic mergers, acquisitions, and facility expansions have
fortified CTS’ position
as a world leader in electronic components, vehicle sensors and actuators
and electronic manufacturing services.