The Honeywell Heating Specialty Company, headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey, is still one of the largest companies of its kind in America. It has a rich and storied history that dates back to 1927, when the company joined with the Minneapolis Heat Regulator outfit in the business of thermostatic heating control. This merger would lead the company to be the leader in its industry for the better part of the 20th century.
In 1961, James H. Binger took the reins of the company. His main goal was simple, to increase profits. To do this would require an expansion of both facilities and products. As the company grew, it expanded into the manufacture of cameras, photographic equipment, and computers, as well as applications in the defense and aerospace industries. In the early days of computers, Honeywell’s products were competitive with IBM’s. Though the company would ultimately lose out to IBM in that industry, Honeywell was highly successful in creating cluster bombs, missile guidance systems, napalm, and land mines for the armed forces during the Vietnam War.
One of the main complications associated with manufacturing such a wide variety of products on such a large scale is the high temperatures required in factory production. To operate a facility that can withstand such extremes, as well as protect employees, special materials with heat resistant properties must be used. One such material that had widespread use was asbestos. It was cheap, easily mined from the earth, available in virtually all regions of the US and was thought to be relatively safe. Unknowingly, many employees used the material on daily basis to protect themselves, and some would become sick years later from this exposure.
Asbestos was also used in some Honeywell products themselves to add strength and heat resistance. These products were largely used for industrial applications, rather than household use, and included several brands of refractory and insulating cements as well as gun mixes.
As national awareness of the dangers posed by asbestos grew, the material was eventually phased out from manufacturing. This would come too late for many people, however, and there are still many former GE employees being affected today. Symptoms of mesothelioma, a cancer nearly always caused by asbestos exposure, take between 20 and 50 years after exposure to become evident, so it is only in recent years that people have begun to understand the full consequences of the wide use of asbestos.