Alexander and Charles Meston

Country of origin: Scotland

Businesses: Emerson (1890)

Headquarters: St. Louis, MO

2021 revenue: $18.2 billion

Worldwide employment: 86,700

Ranked 199 in the 2022 Fortune 500

  • Emerson sold the first electric fans in America, invented by two orphans from Scotland.

  • Today, Emerson is a global technology leader serving a range of  industries.

Charles and Alexander Meston were orphaned brothers from Scotland living in St. Louis in the late 1800s.

Summers in St. Louis are famously hot and sticky. The Meston brothers had the idea of attaching an electric motor to a fan to cool off. Electricity was still a fairly new technology, and the Mestons saw the unique business potential of developing a reliable electric motor. They sought a patent from the U.S. government and funding from John Wesley Emerson, a former Union army officer, judge and lawyer, who also lent his name to the new company. In 1890, Emerson Electric Manufacturing Company was born.

In 1892, Emerson introduced electric fans to America, which quickly became their signature product. As the company grew, it added electric motors to new products, including sewing machines, dental drills and power tools.

Emerson (as the company is now named) is a diversified global manufacturing and technology company that employs 111,000 people in 220 manufacturing locations around the world. In 2015, Fortune ranked Emerson fifth among the World’s Most Admired electronics companies. To learn about more Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrant entrepreneurs, explore the research report New American Fortune 500 in 2021.

Updated July 2022