In 1847 William G. Armstrong, later Lord Armstrong, established an engineering works on Tyneside to manufacture his newly-invented hydraulic machinery. Within a few years he was asked by the British Government to improve the Army's artillery weapons, since these had not changed significantly in design since the Middle Ages. By 1852 Armstrong had developed a coiled welded system form of a breech-loading cannon, and by the end of the decade he had perfected the world's first successful breech-loading system of field artillery that fired elongated, fused projectiles through a polygroove rifled steel barrel.
The failure of the Armstrong breech-loading guns, and the subsequent introduction of muzzle-loading cannon in their lieu, in 1869, did not change one of the essential features of the present construction - the employment of coiled welded wrought-iron sections - but led to a modified form.
Armstrong's company began a long period of expansion into an engineering, shipbuilding and armaments manufacturer of world standing. It was keen to develop an international standing, and entered an exhibit of 'war-like material' in the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, for which it won a gold medal. The company had previously won a gold medal at the Sydney exhibition in 1879 for the same exhibit.
Within a few decades of his first success the Armstrong factories in Britain were turning out guns of all types, from .303-inch calibre rifles to relatively sophisticated 110-ton naval guns. The business also became known for its research and development work in ballistics and propellants. By the 1890s naval ships were added to Armstrong's range of products. Battle-ready ships could be supplied, with every component built by Armstrong.
In 1897 Armstrong merged with the business of another significant Victorian engineer, Sir Joseph Whitworth. The company was renamed Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the company offered an extraordinarily wide range of military equipment and were receptive to the commercial potential of a broader range of products and ideas. For example, Armstrong-Whitworth established its own car and truck business in 1902 and manufactured a wide variety of military aircraft.
In 1927 Armstrong-Whitworth merged its defense business with another prominent defence and transport company, forming Vickers-Armstrongs. Vickers-Armstrongs was deeply involved in the re-armament programme prior to World War II, including the development of the King George V class 14-inch battleships and the Spitfire and Wellington aircraft. Wartime naval production by Vickers-Armstrongs comprised 225 naval ships. For the Royal Air Force, the company produced 21,676 Spitfire and Seafire fighters and 11,461 Wellington Bombers. On land, the pre-rearmament British Army was largely a Vickers-armed army. Its automatic infantry weapons were the Vickers and Lewis machine guns. The main tank of the army was the Vickers Medium. The new tanks of the re-armament period were the Vickers Light Tanks, the Vickers A9 and A10 Cruiser tanks and the Vickers Valentine Infantry Tank.
After World War II, Vickers and Vickers-Armstrongs consisted of four main areas of manufacture: aircraft, steel, shipbuilding and general engineering. Post-war achievements include the first British nuclear submarine, the first British V-bomber and the Viscount and VC10 airliners. The company's aircraft, shipbuilding and steel businesses were subsequently nationalised.
In 1986 Vickers Defence Systems acquired Royal Ordnance fighting vehicle factory at Leeds. In 1998, Specialist Engines Division, a Vickers company based at Crewe and formerly part of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, joined Vickers Defence Systems.
Vickers acquired Reumech OMC in 1999, the South African armoured vehicle manufacturer, creating Vickers OMC.
Alvis Vickers Ltd website http://www.vickersdefence.co.uk/brochure/AlvisVickers_history.pdf
Civil War Artillery website http://www.civilwarartillery.com/glossary/glossaryac.htm
National Register of Archives, UK, website http://www.hmc.gov.uk/NRA/searches/Codocs.asp?CR=5893
Central Array of Relayed Transaction for the Advance of General Education website http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/Biographies/MainBiographies/F/falknermeade/1.html