Alfred Herbert Ltd. was one of the world’s largest machine tool manufacturing businesses, and at one time it was the largest machine tool builder in Britain.
The company was founded in 1888 when Alfred Herbert and William Hubbard purchased a small engineering business in Coventry. The firm began making drilling machines, hand lathes, sorting machines and machines for the bicycle trade.
After a time the partnership ended and Hubbard was bought out. The company became known as Herbert Machine Tools before becoming Alfred Herbert Ltd. in 1894.
The number of employees rose from 180 in 1897 to 1,400 by 1908. In 1899 a foundry was built at Edgwick where most of the company’s operations were subsequently based.
By 1914, Alfred Herbert Ltd. was one of the largest machine tool manufacturers in the world. The company specialised in making lathes, automatic turning and screw machines, milling machines and ball bearing drilling machines.
In 1944 Alfred Herbert Ltd. became a public company. By this time the firm had a large number of overseas subsidiaries and agencies.
By the early 1970s the workforce had grown to around 12,000, but an escalation of machine tool imports into the UK signalled the start of the company’s decline. In 1980 Tooling Investments took over the business, but three years later debts of £17 million led to the company’s collapse.