Foster Wheeler was officially established in 1927, but the beginnings of the company go back to a merger between Power Specialty Company and Wheeler Condenser & Engineering. The latter company began operating in 1891 as a manufacturer of steam condensers, steam pumps, and heat exchangers. These products came into demand by newly established electrical power plants and by marine industries. The U.S. Navy first bought these condensers during the Spanish-American War and continued to do business with the company long afterward.
Power Specialty Company was formed in 1900 out of New York City. The company originally manufactured equipment for water companies but soon, they began to manufacturer heaters and boilers, also. Like Wheeler, Power Specialty also established contracts with the U.S. military and the electrical industry. They created the first marine boilers used for the U.S. Merchant Marines.
When Wheeler and Power Specialty merged in 1927, they took on the name of the Foster Wheeler Corporation. The first company offices were established in England and Canada. Soon after forming, Foster Wheeler began work on expanding its product offerings. Some of their new products included feed water heaters, evaporators, and cooling towers. The product line expanded again in 1931 when Foster Wheeler acquired the D. Connelly Boiler Company, which gave them the resources to begin production of steam generator components.
During World War II, Foster Wheeler experienced unprecedented growth through lucrative military contracts. After the war, Foster Wheeler struggled to maintain profits. From 1957 to 1963, the company ran in the red as they scrambled to reorganize to fit the needs of the modern world. During this time, they expanded their boiler manufacturing and acquired companies they believed could help them in the market. Unfortunately, the company made use of asbestos in their boilers and other products that would be subjected to extreme heat during use. Because of this, workers at Foster Wheeler’s factories were often exposed to this dangerous substance.
A major period of reorganization began for Foster Wheeler in 1974. Foster Wheeler was turned into a holding company, while operations continued under Foster Wheeler Energy. Focus shifted primarily to manufacturing energy production equipment. The company experienced rapid growth and value through the 1970s, but was deflated in the 1980s. However, the company was once again revitalized in the 1990s. Today, Foster Wheeler is headquartered in Switzerland and posted $5.1 billion in revenue in 2007, though it has had to continue to pay for asbestos lawsuits as recently as 2008.