The Story of Safran Electronics & Defense
When it was founded in 1925, SAGEM employed seven people. The company became Safran Electronics & Defense in 2016, and now has more than 10,000 employees, who mobilise their expertise and team spirit to design high-tech solutions for the aerospace, defense and aeronautics industries.
Marcel Môme, a visionary engineer
Born in Clermont-Ferrand in 1899, Marcel Môme entered the Ecole Nationale des Arts et Métiers in 1917. Mobilised in 1918, he obtained his engineering diploma in 1921, and started working as a fitter for Michelin, then for the Compagnie des Signaux et d'Entreprises Electriques (CSEE)
He founded the Société d'Applications Générales Electriques et Mécaniques (SAGEM - Company of General Applications of Electricity and Mechanics) in 1925. In its early days, the company employed seven people, with its first site on avenue de Clichy and its head office on rue du Mont-Dore in Paris. It manufactured Pathé Baby cameras and projectors, tools for Michelin, the railways, and public transportation, and mechanical conjugators for the French navy. It also supplied power to telephone exchanges and installed electrical risers in Parisian buildings. By the end of 1926, it had 50 employees.
In 1927, Marcel Môme opened a factory in Argenteuil, before moving his new head office to rue de Naples in Paris in 1928. In the 1930s, the company's activities shifted to fine mechanics: sighting angle indicators, searchlights, gun mountings, mechanical conjugators for artillery (the forerunners of firing calculators).
In 1934, a new factory was built in Montluçon. The company had 883 employees. SAGEM started manufacturing more complex products: firing direction stations, platforms for rangefinders or night rangefinders, and road markers. It also developed its industrial design capabilities by manufacturing compass equipment for the French Navy.
At the end of the 1930s, at the government's request, SAGEM began designing weapons products: anti-tank guns, cannons, direction-finding equipment and two-way radios. The company expanded, enlarging the Argenteuil site, buying the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray plant, and acquiring SAT. The company then employed 2,000 people.
The diversity of its activities enabled SAGEM to withstand crises. During the war, SAGEM manufactured gas generators, refrigeration plants, and shoe-making machines. Marcel Môme studied and developed a new product that was launched at the end of the war: the teletypewriter, a prototype of which picked up the message announcing the Allied landings in Normandy. At the end of the war, despite a critical financial situation, two activities saved the company: the licensed manufacture of cutters for coal extraction, and the industrial production of teletypewriters. At the same time, from the 1950s onwards, arms orders picked up again.
In the 1940s, SAGEM made a definitive commitment to inertial navigation, investing in the floating gyro assembly workshop at the Argenteuil plant and acquiring an American licence for this brand new technology.
By the time Marcel Môme died in 1962, the group, which by then had 10,000 employees, was already a world leader in inertial navigation and thermal imaging (infrared).
The age of electronics
In the early 1960s, Sagem built the world's first electronic teletypewriter, which quickly put an end to the electromechanical model. In the years that followed, SAGEM's design offices and production lines adapted to and perfected electronic technology.
Following close collaboration with the Centre national d'études des télécommunications, which began in 1956, SAGEM developed prototypes of the SPE teleprinter. Its modern design and aesthetic appeal made it highly competitive internationally when large-scale production began in 1964. The scale of orders from the civil and military sectors necessitated the opening of new factories in Fougères and Coutances. In 1971, the Pontoise plant complemented the Argenteuil activities in research and prototype design.
In the field of inertia, SAGEM took part in the French conquest of space by building an inertial unit for the Diamant rocket. Weighing 20kg, it was the result of major work on miniaturisation.
At the end of the 1960s, a new activity was born at SAGEM: information technology, with different products such as the 8-digit code, punched cards and badges.
In the 1970s, SAGEM made a name for itself in the aerospace sector by creating a dedicated department. After supplying the inertial units for the Concorde, it was chosen to equip the Airbus A300. In 1973, it supplied Dassault's Super Etendard, the first military aircraft to be equipped with an inertial unit. SAGEM also developed inertial navigation systems for submarines and guidance systems for the first generation of ballistic missiles. Finally, SAGEM developed its activity in the "Transport and Land Armament" sector by adapting inertial navigation to land vehicles. In this way, SAGEM was also developing its optronics activities, notably with an optronic sight-pointer chosen to equip the French army's tanks.
In the early 1990s, SAGEM designed its first mobile phones. In 1996, the Crécerelle drone made its first flight. Developed by SAGEM, it was chosen as a reconnaissance drone by the French Army. In 1999, SAGEM produced the mirror for the optical system of the VLT (Very Large Telescope) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
In 2005, the merger of SNECMA and SAGEM created Safran, a group specialising in aerospace, defence and security. Within the Group, two new companies took over the activities of the former SAGEM: Sagem Défense Sécurité and Sagem Communications. Sagem Communications was itself split into two companies, which were subsequently sold. The civilian activities of Sagem Défense Sécurité were spun off in 2007 to form Sagem Sécurité, which was renamed Morpho in 2009 and sold in 2016.
That same year, all the Group's companies joined forces under a single logo, and their historical corporate names were changed to include the Safran brand. SAGEM became Safran Electronics & Defense.