In 1943 H G Epstein and S F Suffolk designed an accurate lightweight chloroform vaporizer, the E.S.O., for use by airborne forces. To produce it for the Ministry of Supply, F H Gardner, Cox and Marriott formed a company and rented a room in Longworth Road, Oxford—a small back street not far from the Radcliffe Infirmary.
This company was registered in June 1943 as Longworth Scientific Instrument Company Limited. The founders had originally thought to call it Oxford Scientific Instruments Ltd. but, as this name was unavailable, had settled for the name of the street in which they had found premises.
By 1943 Macintosh had developed the revolutionary Macintosh laryngoscope and Longworth Scientific Instrument Co. Ltd. were the manufacturers.
In 1947 Longworth Scientific Instruments Co. Ltd. moved from Longworth Road to The Carpet Factory in Abingdon. Initially they rented the first floor and a small part of the ground floor of one four storey building.
Manufacturing in post-war Britain was not always easy and Longworth could not rely solely on their anaesthetic vaporizer and laryngoscopes to pay the bills. Other forms of income had to be found and one of those was contract manufacturing for companies as varied as Beckett Limited (toy manufacturer) and Rolls Royce. They also produced their own range of interesting products, including a mammal trap and ironing boards.
In 1952 Pentland Instruments Co. Ltd. was set up by an ex-employee to sell the EMO Ether Inhaler (developed with the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics). By 1959 Pentland’s debts where so substantial that the only way to pay them was to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Longworth.
Shortly after this time, it was decided to contract first three letters of both companies to create a new, easily trademarked company name, and Penlon was born.
In December 1957 Longworth purchased the Jackman sisters’ riding school on Radley Road. Construction of the new factory started in December 1959 and they moved in during July/August 1960.
In larger premises work started on developing new vaporizers and the first Penlon anaesthetic machine. The Penlon Drawover Vaporizer, Bryce-Smith Inhaler, Oxford Minature Vaporizer, OMV-50 and the Cardiff Infant Inflating Bag where all developed over the next few years.
In 1965 work started on developing the first Penlon anaesthetic machine with Dr James Parkhouse from the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics. It was another three years before the anaesthetic machine was displayed to the world at the World Congress of Anaesthesiologists in London.
The factory was extended at the front, the company bought its first computer and the Abingdon vaporizer, Oxford ventilator and plastic laryngoscope where all launched. To cap it all the company won a Queen’s Award for Industry in 1968, the first of four such awards that the company would win to date.
In 1974 Penlon was sold to Thomas Tilling Ltd., a large British conglomerate who were building a hospital equipment and medical supplies division to be known as InterMed. 1976 was to be a rewarding year for Penlon, they received their second Queen’s Award to Industry and a Design Council award for the Oxford ventilator.
In 1974 Penlon launched the world’s first fibrelight laryngoscope range.
In 1983 the InterMed division, along with other subsidiaries of the Tilling Group, was taken over by BTR plc. in what was reported to be the largest acquisition in Britain up to that time.
1993 saw the introduction of the revolutionary McCoy levering laryngoscope. Followed in 1994 by the introduction of the Sigma Elite vaporizer and the Prima anaesthetic machine range in 1997.
The McCoy laryngoscope is the original levering tip laryngoscope for difficult intubation designed by Dr Eamon McCoy. The McCoy laryngoscope was released in 1993 and in 1999 the Design Council awarded it Millennium Product. The revolutionary laryngoscope was displayed in the innovation spiral located in the grounds of the Millennium Dome (now The O₂).
In 1996 Penlon became an independent company again after a management buyout. The next year Penlon acquired East Healthcare, which had been started by H. G. East, the former works manager at Longworth.
In 2000 the AV900 ventilator and the Sigma Delta vaporizer are launched, followed two years later by the Prima SP anaesthetic machine.
In 2002 Penlon won a third Queen’s Award for Enterprise, this time in the Innovation category, for the Sigma Delta vaporizer. Also in 2002 Penlon acquired MPL, a medical gas pipeline business from Dräger, to bolster their own product portfolio.
In 2003 Penlon moved to Abingdon Science Park on Barton Lane. The following years saw the launch of the AV-S ventilator and the Prima SP2 anaesthesia system. In 2010 Penlon won a prestigious Queen’s Award… for a fourth time, this time in the International Trade category.
In 2013 the new Prima 400 Series Anaaesthesia System was launched and since then Penlon have continued to add more systems to the range.
In 2015 Penlon launched a range of anaesthesia products for use the MRI suite. The Penlon Prima 451 MRI anaesthesia system with the AV-S MRI electronic ventilator is approved for use at 1000 gauss in 1.5 tesla and 3 tesla scanner suites.
In 2015 Penlon were acquired by BPL Medical Technologies and since then there has been an increased focus on new product development, with the Prima 465 and Prima 320 Advance the latest products released.
In 2020 Penlon answered the UK Governments call-to-arms to produce ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, by designing the Penlon ESO 2 Emergency Ventilator. As part of the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium, alongside major UK manufacturers like Ford, Airbus, Siemens Healthineers and several Formula One teams (including McLaren, Williams and Renault F1), Penlon significantly increased output from our Abingdon premises and were able to supply the NHS with nearly 12,000 ESO 2 ventilators in just four months.