Early Days

The early Pye factory in Haig Road, Cambridge around the year 1923

William George Pye was born on 27th October 1869. He was trained by his father in the instrument business.

 In 1892 he joined the Cavendish Laboratory as an instrument maker.

In 1896 W. G. Pye set up a part-time business (which later became W G. Pye and Co.) making scientific instruments such as galvanometers.

The business began in the garden shed of the family home at 19 Humberstone Road, Cambridge and grew steadily.

By 1913 they were located in Cam Rd/Haig Rd (now called Elizabeth Way) and had 40 employees making laboratory equipment for students.

The Cambridge Daily News of the 4th October 1913 provides a splendid record of the opening event to celebrate the opening of the new Pye factory. It may be viewed here -

From 1914 to 1918 Pye helped the war effort by making military equipment such as gun-sights and the first Aldis Signalling lamps.

The First Pye Wireless Set of 1922

W. G. Pye and Co entered the field of wireless receivers in 1922 by making laboratory equipment for teaching schoolboys and undergraduates the rudiments of wireless. This was widely bought by radio amateurs as well as schools and colleges.

 At the end of 1922 the beginning of broadcasting transformed and greatly increased the market for wireless receivers. Within months Pye were making a range of sets at various prices. 

Pye Radio Works at Haig Road

The 1920s saw the development of radio broadcasts and the early days of the British Broadcasting Company. 

A newsreel from 1957 praised the speed in which Pye built its first radio – one week – and observed that Pye’s radio business was really starting to take off.

Pathe News – Pye newsreel is at …

The product quickly improved resulting in these two landmark products from the mid 1920s. 

These wireless sets were now largely self-contained, gradually moving towards the more familiar integrated footprint.

An Irishman, Charles Orr Stanley (known as C.O.) ran a publicity company called Arks Publicity. 

Spotting a developing market for wireless and self assembly kits for receivers, he was instrumental in starting a periodical. Partly funded by manufacturers and firmly targeted at this market, it was published quarterly.

The magazine was titled "Radio for the Million". It helped generate interest and sales in this new technology, and illustrated Stanley's own focus on this developing business.

Charles Orr Stanley (C.O.)

In 1928 Philips, the Dutch electronics company, bought the business of Captain Stanley Mullard who made valves which were used by Pye.

 At that time C.O. Stanley's, publicity company Arks Publicity worked for both W.G. Pye and Mullard.

 W.G. Pye was at heart an instrument maker not a radio man.

He asked C.O. to broker a deal whereby Philips would buy the radio part of Pye for £60,000.  C.O. asked Philips for £5,000 commission. 

The Pye 25 Wireless Set - the first portable set.

Philips baulked at the commission that C.O. was requesting, so he offered to buy the Pye radio business himself from W.G. Pye for £60,000 with a down payment of £5,000.

 At the time, C.O. did not have £5,000 but after demonstrating a Pye 25 portable radio to his bank manager he persuaded his bank to grant him a loan and bought the Pye radio activity.

 Later in 1928, C.O. launched Pye Radio Ltd as a public company, enabling him to pay W.G. Pye out of the proceeds, while he acquired a personal controlling interest via his shareholding.

Here we see work inside the Pye factory on Haig Road, Cambridge. It’s also possible to just see the new, but distinctive front of the wooden casework – a “Rising Sun” motif which would become an important Pye image for its radios.

1936 - Pye Radio Service Workshop

1936 - Pye Radio Service Training School

Photographs courtesy of Ken Webb

The radio sets would, from time to time, require servicing. This often consisted of valve replacement, or "valve pushing" as it was known by the service personnel, but for anything more complex would be returned to the manufacturer. These two photographs, taken in the Pye Radio Service shop and training centre, date to the year 1936, before the outbreak of WW2.

Meanwhile W.G. Pye, with his son Harold, set up a new company as W.G. Pye & Co Ltd at 80 Newmarket Road, Cambridge. They made a huge range of scientific instruments for use in schools and universities, and for research etc.

 Their 1926 catalogue was 157 pages in length and included a large number of mechanical, electrical and optical instruments for use in a wide range of physics experiments.

These included galvanometers, Wheatstone Bridges, resistance boxes and many other precision instruments. 

Below are a few of the hundreds of products designed and manufactured by WG Pye's company for educational and scientific research purposes. The work continued successfully and the company was re-acquired by Pye Ltd in 1946. This part of the story continues on the Pye Unicam section of the website.