One of the high-frequency industrys longest-running success stories has diversified over its 50 years to become a leading supplier of microwave components and test instruments.
Fifty years ago, Narda Microwave became a corporation. What began as a self-funded experiment in starting a business between three engineers and a businessman has transformed over time into one of the most trusted names in the microwave industry. Very much representative of the industry itself, the company has shown the resilience and flexibility over the years to weather the harsh, cyclical nature of the high-frequency-electronics business. Narda has been a strong supplier to both military and commercial customers for its high-performance components and assemblies, and is nearly synonymous with industrial radiation-monitoring equipment and personal electromagnetic (EM) safety monitoring with its Nardalert XT and RadMan XT portable personal monitoring devices.
The company actually began in 1953, started by three engineers, Bill Bourke, Jim McFarland, Stu Casper, and John McGregor, a writer and businessman. The four had earned a $20,000 contract with Kollsman Instrument to supply engineering services at Kollsman. While not at Kollsman, Stu Casper and Jim McFarland were designing instrumentation for X-band use while Stu also devised a frequency meter for wideband measurements. Bill Bourke and Jim McFarland were also designing a variety of passive components for high-frequency use, including attenuators and terminations. Working in a small rented space in Mineola, NY in the back of a machine shop, they subcontracted prototypes to the machine shop and ran the company on funds withdrawn from their own bank accounts. Early products (and sales) included an X-band slide screw tuner and various attenuators, fabricated by machine shops according to their engineering drawings.
The first "high-level" product was the model 802 frequency meter, manufactured under contract by Peerless Instruments. In October 1953, the fledgling company sold one high-power impedance meter to Maxson Corp. and another five to Bell Telephone. At a unit price of $1700, these sales gave the company a then-record sales month of $8500 in bookings. As the funds from the Kollsman Instrument contract ran out, the partners found themselves working without salaries toward the end of 1953. Because they required additional test instruments to grow their product lines, they secured personal loans from banks totaling $12,000 to pay for the needed test gear.
The new test equipment enabled the partners to develop a line of bolometers that were announced in January 1954. Two months later, they would hire their first employee, and on July 1, 1954, they incorporated their company as The Narda Corp. Three years later, the name would be changed to The Narda Microwave Corp. By December of 1954, sales exceeded $10,000 per month. By late spring of 1955, they had outgrown their rented 1600 sq. ft. of space and moved to a larger site (about 6000 sq. ft.) at 160 Herricks Rd. in Mineola, NY. By the end of June that year, sales for the year had reached $116,000, growing to an annual total of $321,000 for 1956, and tripling to $891,000 by end of June 1957. By 1957, the company had 75 employees, including 11 engineers. That year, the partners made their first acquisition, a company called Kama Instrument, bringing the total number of products for the company to 325.
On August, 16, 1957, Narda made its first public offering of company shares, selling 90,000 shares at $3 per share. (Prior to that, the partners had offered shares in the company, but only to employees.) With the help of the finances from the public offering, Narda Ultra Sonics Corp. was formed on October 1, 1957 to design and market industrial ultrasonic cleaners. The following September, The Narda Hydraulics Corp. was formed to develop electronic equipment for government and commercial customers. By 1959, the company was housed in four buildings in Mineola (see figure) totaling 20,000 sq. ft. It offered 700 products and employed 125 people.
By 1960, annual sales exceeded $2,250,000, and the company had launched numerous successful products, including a high-power microwave modulator, a ferrite isolator, precision attenuators, and a digital frequency meter. The following year, annual sales had reached $2,651,435 and construction was completed on a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Plainview, NY. The company catalog now required 170 pages. In 1965, Narda acquired the Microline product line from the Sperry Rand Corp. The following year, annual sales exceeded $4,474,000. By 1967, the company's application for a listing on the American Stock Exchange is approved, and ground is broken on a 40-acre plot purchased in Melville, NY. New products that year included the model 4016 miniature Ku-band coupler, the model 3074 precision reflectometer coupler, and the model 445 precision RF power bridge.
By 1968, the new building was completed and occupied, and computers were now being used in the form of newly installed automated milling and drilling machines. The following year, Narda formed a subsidiary called Narcom (headed by Stu Casper) to sell commercial- and military-communications systems. That March, at an IEEE show, the company introduced the world's first commercial solid-state swept frequency generator. In addition, the company's new model 8100 Surveyor was acknowledged as one of the country's top 100 industrial products that year. Sales for fiscal 1969 reached $6,110,000.
In 1971, Bill Bourke was elected the company's Chairman of the Board. The following year, Nardacom was discontinued. In 1973, Narda France was formed to serve growing European markets. By 1974, export sales would exceed $2 million, and Cayuga Associates would become a subsidiary. The following year, after introducing lines of Gunn oscillators and PIN diode switches, annual sales exceeded the $10 million mark. Also in 1975, Narda purchased certain assets of a company called Anacom, Inc. (Santa Clara, CA), providing the basis for Narda's Pacific Operations to begin business that December is a new 6300-sq.-ft. facility in Santa Clara, CA. By 1977, the Pacific Operations would move to a larger facility in Sunnyvale, CA. In 1979, the company's 25th year, the firm introduced the world's first 6-to-18-GHz low-noise amplifier (LNA), and sales grew beyond $17 million.
By 1980, annual sales exceeded $20.7 million. That October, ground-breaking ceremonies took place for a new facility to be built on an 18-acre plot in Hauppauge, NY. In 1982, Narda's Pacific Operations, now known as Narda West, moved to a new 45,000 sq.-ft. facility. For the company as a whole, sales for the year exceeded $27,912,000.
In 1983, Narda was purchased by Loral Corp. for about $45 million. Narda continued to develop high-performance safety products and components for military system, but also expanded its product lines to meet the needs of a growing wireless-communications market, notably with the 72000 series of VSWR monitors, also known as the "CATS" Communications Antenna Test System.
In 1994, even though Lockheed Martin acquired Loral Corp., the Narda name survived and product sales continued strong. In 1998, a group of former Loral executives purchased 10 divisions of the former Loral Corp.—including Narda—and formed L-3 Communications.
In 1999, L-3 purchased the former Wandel & Goltermann Safety Test Solutions operation in Germany from Wavetek, combining those products with Narda's safety products under the Narda Safety Test Solutions name. In 2001, Narda introduced the Nardalert personal monitor. In 2003 came the SRM-3000 selective radiation meter. By November of that year, the Satellite Networks division of L-3 was merged into the Narda Microwave-East operation in Hauppauge, NY.
Today, Narda continues to develop innovative products in a wide variety of technology and market areas, such as the model 4229-10, a single broadband 10-dB coupler capable of operating from 1 to 40 GHz; the model PCSW11799-12, a DC-to-8-GHz electromechanical switch that fits in a package measuring only 0.79 × 0.75 × 0.4 in. and the SRM selective radiation meter, a powerful handheld instrument capable evaluating EM emissions on multiple sources from100 kHz to 3 GHz.