The Hoffmann Manufacturing Company was the first ball bearing factory in the UK; established in 1898 in Chelmsford, Essex by Cousins Geoffrey and Charles Barrett and bankrolled by American ball bearing machine manufacturer Ernst Gustav Hoffmann from whom the company took its name.
The firm expanded rapidly and soon achieved world renown for its precision-made bearings boasting accuracy better than 1/10,000 of an inch (2.5 micrometres) for all its products.
Hoffmann bearings were later used in the first transatlantic flights and extensively on machinery in the First World War. From the early 1900s, Hoffmann supplied all the major car manufacturers including Rolls Royce, Bentley, Daimler and Austin.
During the Second World War the Hoffmann Bearings Factory was a big part of the war effort. Special bearings were produced for control pulleys and hinges. There were 1,000 Hoffmann bearings in a Spitfire fighter’s engine and 4,000 in the engines of the legendary Lancaster bomber. Unsurprisingly, the Germans bombed the Chelmsford factory several times. The worst single loss of life took place on 19th December 1944 when 39 people were killed and many more injured, when a V2 rocket hit a street near the factory.
From the 1960s Hoffmann’s fortunes went into decline, mainly due to the increasing competition from Japanese made bearings.
In 1969 the company merged with Ransome & Marles Bearing Co. and Pollard Ball and Roller Bearing Co. to become Ransome Hoffmann & Pollard (R. H. P.).
The factory in Chelmsford was wound down in the 1980s and finally closed down in December 1989. Most of the factory was demolished in 1990 and the site is now occupied by the Rivermead Campus of the Anglia Ruskin University.