A History of the

Electrical Porcelain

Industry in the United States

By Jack H. Tod

R=∞ Home


On June 10, 1950, Jack Tod married Susan Caroline James and I believe they had two daughters.  He was employed with Motorola Research Labs in Phoenix, AZ after graduating with an electrical engineering degree the prior month.  Jack was also a prominent coin dealer in the U.S. and apparently was very successful.  In the 1960’s he retired from Motorola after selling his coin business.  He had a cabin up in the mountains where he and his family retreated from the excessive summer heat in Phoenix. It was his place to get away from the city and relax and work on research.

Jack became interested in porcelain insulators some time around the mid-1960’s.  He was very inquisitive and started researching insulator manufacturers.  He made many trips back East to old plant sites to dig around for insulator shards and do research in area libraries and museums.  Friends such as Jerry and Marilyn Turner in Goshen, OH joined Jack on many of the digs and hunts.  They found many artifacts and Jack labeled all the pieces of porcelain cleats, knobs, etc. that he found.  This spurred his interest even more, which led to more hours of research.  He visited and corresponded with managers at all the major insulator manufacturers at that time and they helped him tremendously with what they could find in old files.

Jack’s first book, Porcelain Insulators Guide Book for Collectors was published in 1971.  It laid out a system of identifying and cataloging unipart pin-type insulators using U-numbers.  The book contained scale drawing, which Jack made himself, of more than 900 insulator styles plus histories of all manufacturers and the markings they used on insulators.  The hobby of collecting porcelain insulators received a great boost. He published two supplements to the book with new U-numbers.  In 1976, he published the 2nd edition of the book and in 1988 he published the 3rd edition with more updated material. This 3rd edition was reprinted by Elton Gish in 1995 and is still available: Porcelain Insulators Guide Book.

In 1972, he started writing a column on porcelain insulators, which appeared regularly in the hobby magazine, Crown Jewels of the Wire.  He continued the column until July 1984 when he asked me to take over.  In 1977, the culmination of years of research and examining old insulator factory sites Jack published his second book, A History of the Electrical Porcelain Industry in the United States.  The book is full of details and history of the electrical porcelain primarily for electrical house wiring and low voltage distribution.  Jack’s curiosity led him to acquire a huge amount of information that was quickly being lost to time.  His own words describe why he wrote the book: 

“This book was also born out of fear – a fear that the vast amount of data I have accumulated might be accidentally lost to future historians.  I might die, or the house containing the files might burn down!  Some of the information in my files is irreplaceable – old plant sites being bulldozed away for freeways, people whom I interviewed having passed away, old files being discarded by newer managers in porcelain plants.  It thus became of paramount importance to stop being curious long enough to draw a line on the research and publish the key information already at hand – even if only a handful of books were printed and deposited in key libraries where future historians could find them." 

So, to that goal, Jack Tod published the soft-cover book.    

In 1985 he also published a book about the more important insulator related patents: Insulator Patents 1880-1960.  Jack's patent research has been expanded from 695 patent to more than 2500 patents.  These patents can be accessed without charge by clicking this link: INSULATOR PATENTS.  For a detailed history of insulator companies you can search THE INSULATOR GAZETTE which has more than 11,000 newspaper and trade journal articles. 

In addition, Jack Tod helped Marilyn Albers with her books on Worldwide Porcelain Insulators by making all the scale drawings and laying out the U-Chart for foreign porcelain insulators.

He was also very interested in the local Indian culture and often demonstrated basket weaving techniques. When Jack stayed with me after the first Houston National Insulator Show in 1980, I had to leave early for work the next morning.  My father drove past my house that morning and called me at work to ask, "What is that old man doing racking pine needles in your front yard?"  Jack took several bags of pine needles home so he and his wife could have materials to make Indian baskets.  The photo below appeared in a local newspaper as he demonstrates how to start a coil that would become one of his famous Indian baskets.

Adrian Myers wrote an excellent article about the electrification of the American home: "Telling Time for the Electrified: An Introduction to Porcelain Insulators and the Electrification of the American Home".  The article was published on the web site of the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA).  You can view his article by clicking one of the two links below:

View as HTML or View as PDF


Left photo: Elton Gish and Jack Tod meeting for the first time at the NIA National show in Hutchinson, KS in 1973

Right photo: Marilyn Albers, Carol McDougald, and Jack Tod at the NIA Regional insulator show in Nashville, TN in 1988


Hit Counter