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John O’Donnell founded EMSI (then Electro-Mechanical Systems International) in 1980, but his family roots in the industry stretch back generations earlier.  

Part of the “Greatest Generation,” John's father Jack was a US Army veteran who fought in WWII's Battle of the Bulge. When Jack returned home from the war, he found work as a salesman at his uncle's company, the John Maneely Company (JMC). JMC had been originally founded as a pipe distributor in historic Philadelphia, less than 100 yards down the street from the Betsy Ross House, the American Revolutionary War landmark. JMC later entered the manufacturing business through its acquisition of an abandoned pipe factory in Wheatland, Pennsylvania. JMC rehabilitated the factory and named its new subsidiary Wheatland Tube Company.  

With his hard-driving and competitive nature, Jack O'Donnell climbed through the ranks to become Chairman of JMC and then President of Wheatland Tube. After expanding the business’s domestic reach from its base in the Northeast, Jack turned his sights abroad. He saw that Saudi Arabia, with its booming oil sector and adherence to US standards, was an ideal market for Wheatland’s products. He needed an intrepid and talented salesman to develop that market and knew his son John was the right man for the job. 

John validated his father's vision by establishing Wheatland as the predominant supplier of US-made conduit and fittings to Saudi Arabia. In doing so, he also saw opportunities in the region for other US electrical products. After accumulating enough capital to strike out on his own, John left Wheatland and founded Electro-Mechanical Systems International (EMSI) in Philadelphia, not far from JMC's original offices. 

When EMSI was established in 1980, it represented four manufacturers. Two of them – Wheatland Tube and International Metal Hose – remain top sellers to this day. Its business model was an innovation in that it combined the model of a traditional domestic manufacturers’ representative with that of an export management company. That is to say, EMSI was formed as an international manufacturers’ representative, with a sales territory that lay entirely outside the US – primarily in the Middle East. The National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA) recognized this innovative model in 1983 by naming EMSI as the sole founding member of its International Chapter.

As EMSI's sales grew, John employed its profits as any shrewd investor would – he diversified. That diversification took the form of new product lines and geographic locations. EMSI expanded beyond conduit and fittings to wire and cable, cable management systems, grounding, lightning protection, lighting, safety products, and instrumentation. It expanded beyond the Middle East to Latin America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa. 

The world has changed significantly since EMSI was founded in 1980. Distances seem shorter and competition more intense. EMSI has adapted over the years, adopting technologies and strategies that enable it to navigate an ever more crowded international environment. But amid all this change, EMSI's core mission has remained constant: To deliver quality electro-mechanical solutions to international markets. 


Member since 1983

Electro-Mechanical Systems International Founded

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In 1980, Electro-Mechanical Systems International began representing Wheatland Tube, International Metal Hose, Electroline, and SEDCO, (now Cantex).

Buckingham Manufacturing Added to Linecard

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Universal Lighting Technologies to Linecard

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