James Powell Swift (1828-1906)

James Powell Swift was the son of a watchmaker, Thomas Swift, and his wife Elizabeth. He was apprenticed to Andrew Ross before, in 1853, founding his own company under the name “James Swift” on University Street and then on Tottenham Court Rd in East London. The company had a good reputation and their advertisements always reminded their readers that their microscopes had won six (and later, seven) international gold medals.

In 1884, his son Mansell James Swift joined the company and the name was changed to “James Swift & Son”. By 1888, photographic supplies had been added to their catalogue and they were continuously improving their microscopes. Swift microscopes were used on the R.R.S. Discovery during Robert Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic region in 1901, and were subsequently sold as “Discovery microscopes”. In 1903, James’ grandson, Mansell Powell John Swift, joined the company, 3 years before the death of his grandfather. Nine years later, it became a public limited company and the company name was changed to “J. Swift Ltd”.

In 1942, Mansell J. and his son died within two days of each other. In 1946, E.R. Watts & Son Ltd. took over the company. In 1949, they employed John H. Basset who, in 1968, took over the company.