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LIttlefuse lights the way to innovation

By
Kelly Dawson
May 8, 2018
13 min read
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Littlefuse is part of our Renewable Engergy portfolio.

  • Littelfuse is an indispensable aspect of the automotive, electronics, and industrial fields, and it reported $1.2 billion in sales last year
  • Littelfuse currently has 12,000 employees and a global network of manufacturing, engineering, sales, and distribution locations that support its Chicago headquarters
  • Littelfuse works with a vast variety of businesses, including those involved with military, wastewater, mining, telecom, and medical subjects.

If there’s one thing we all use a lot but generally know very little about, it’s electricity. We expect a switch to turn off and on at the flick of our fingers, and we take for granted that the automatic engines of our cars will start without incident. And then there are the things we just assume will work without our input: streetlamps, residential lights, and even air conditioners are just a few.

But of course, someone has to know a thing or two about electricity, especially since it continues to be a malleable aspect of our modern lives. At the time Littelfuse began in 1927, its founder Edward Sundt was one of those people — he started the business after working for General Electric. And since Sundt was an in-the-know individual who saw electricity for its profound intricacies and everyday potential, his business has grown to become the leading circuit-protector operation in the world. Currently, Littelfuse is an indispensable aspect of the automotive, electronics, and industrial fields, and it reported $1.2 billion in sales last year.

In a 2016 article in the Chicago Sun Times, former CEO Gordon Hunter described this hometown company’s versatility and breadth like this. “Littelfuse’s products are an integral part of cars made by Ford Motor Co., BMW and Hyundai Motor Co., as well as the leading electric-car manufacturer,” he said. “Our fuses and safety systems are also in drones, LED lights, solar and wind-farm electric converters, Samsung TVs, Haier refrigerators, Dyson vacuum cleaners, First Solar solar chargers and Gogoro electric scooters in Taiwan.”

Given that the company has a hand in so many recognizable products, and a clear need amongst everyday consumers, Littelfuse is building on that ubiquity by broadening its catalog and committing to more global partnerships that stress cooperation. Because while most of us can take electricity for granted, Littelfuse keeps ensuring that we can.

Spark of something new

Littelfuse currently has about 12,000 employees and a global network of manufacturing, engineering, sales, and distribution locations that support its Chicago headquarters, but it didn’t always look this way. When Sundt started his nascent business more than eighty years ago, which was then known as Littelfuse Laboratories, it had one product to offer from its Midwest flagship: a protective fuse.

The fuse was not unlike the products the company offers today. It helped to regulate the electrical current flowing through test meters of diagnostic equipment to keep them from burning, and it was enough to jumpstart the company’s success. A decade later, it incorporated with its singular moniker, and spent the rest of the midcentury making inroads into the automotive, media, and aviation fields. Its fuses helped cars drive faster and televisions get a more reliable picture. And it also ensured the workings of micro-circuitry when NASA came knocking for help on its Gemini space program.

By the time Sundt retired in 1965, the booming $10-million-dollar company had gone public three years prior and moved to Des Plaines, Illinois. So, it was the perfect time for yet another standout change: a purchase by defense electronics company, Tracor, in 1968.

The rest of the company’s 20th-century history can be described by that same momentum, because much of its later changes had to do with expansion. Littelfuse opened more factories and introduced more items — most notably, the “littlites” electronic indicator bulbs that could be used in household products and large computers — and by 1987, Westmark Systems bought Tracor. By 1991, Tracor filed for bankruptcy.

This turning point is where Littelfuse’s modern history begins: It reincorporated as its own entity and becomes a publicly-traded company that year. It spent the next two decades unveiling new operations throughout Asia and Europe, and it returned its headquarters to Chicago in 2008. It also made more than a dozen acquisitions to create its predominant role in car, commercial, and industrial parts.

That’s not bad for a company that got started with one product, right? These days, Littelfuse is known for its protective devices, but it now makes them for past and present technological advances, from fuel and electric cars to traditional and wind-powered illuminations. For those in the company’s three aforementioned main industries — automotive, electronics, and industrial — consumers can hope to find fuses, electric switches, battery managers, gas discharge tubes, and more. Overall, Littelfuse works with a vast variety of businesses, including those involved with military, wastewater, mining, telecom, and medical subjects.

When these companies decide to work with Littelfuse, its engineering team also helps them choose the right products, and can even create custom equipment where needed. And if you’re one of many who doesn’t know much about electricity, that isn’t a problem. Littelfuse partners with companies to pass on their knowledge from the design, to the installment, to the upkeep. Phew.

Trip the fuse

Although Hunter stepped down as CEO to be the executive chairman in 2016 (he was succeeded by Dave Heinzmann), what he said in that Chicago Sun Times interview about the company’s future still holds true. He said, “As a company, our goal is not just to develop products, but to develop global working relationships.”

Littelfuse is continuing to make good on this statement by expanding its role across the world. And as it grows into new like-minded fields, it’s also aware of how its products can have a harmful impact. Littelfuse has planned to reduce or eliminate toxic materials in its items, which include cadmium, mercury, and lead, among others. It hopes that as it grows, it can do so with a smaller environmental footprint.

We may never have a universal comprehension of the ins and outs of electricity and its parts, but with Littelfuse’s historical experience, perhaps we don’t have to. Thanks to generations of revolutionary work, this company has made it so the power of electricity can be effortlessly used, even if it’s not easily understood.

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