Charles A. Coffin

For other people with the same name, see Charles Coffin (disambiguation).

Charles Albert Coffin (31 December 1844 – 14 July 1926) was the cofounder and first President of General Electric corporation.

Early life

He was born in Fairfield, Maine, the son of Albert Coffin and his wife Anstrus (Varney). He married Caroline Russell of Holbrook, Massachusetts and had three children.


He moved to join his uncle Charles E. Coffin at his shoe company in Lynn, Massachusetts at the age 18, where he spent the next twenty years. Eventually he established his own shoe factory named Coffin and Clough in Lynn.[1]

In 1883, he was approached by another Lynn businessman, Silas A. Barton, to bring to town a struggling electric company from New Britain, Connecticut, finance it and to lead it.[2] With the engineering work of Elihu Thomson, Coffin was able to build the company, renamed Thomson-Houston up to be an equal to Thomas Edison's companies. During this time they deployed power plants in the South, including two in Atlanta, Georgia to run the electric lighting and in 1889, Joel Hurt's electric streetcar line.[3]

When General Electric was formed from Thomson-Houston and Edison's companies, Coffin was its first chief executive officer. The company was tested quickly during the Panic of 1893, where Coffin negotiated with New York banks to advance money in exchange for GE-owned utility stocks.[1]

He established a duopoly of important electric patents with Westinghouse Electric in the late 1890s, and in 1901 established a research laboratory for the company.[4] Suggested by Charles Proteus Steinmetz, this was the first industrial research lab in the US.[5] He supported GE engineers in the adaptation and development of the Curtis steam turbine, which advanced electric power generation. He retired from the board in 1922, and retained a large amount of GE stock. Upon his death in 1926, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Business positions
Preceded by
President of General Electric
1892 1912
Succeeded by
Edwin Rice
Preceded by
Chairman of General Electric
1913 1922
Succeeded by
Owen Young



  1. 1 2 Charles A. Coffin Archived March 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. "Coffin". Time Magazine. 1926-07-26. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
  3. Garrett, Franklin, Atlanta and Its Environs, 1954, Vol.II, p.189
  4. Charles A. Coffin | 20th Century American Leaders Database | Leadership at
  5. About Us - History
  6. Charles A. Coffin Biography at

Further reading

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