GEC traces its origins to G. Binswanger and Company, an electrical goods wholesaler established in London during the 1880s by a German immigrant Gustav Binswanger (later Gustav Byng). Regarded as the year GEC was founded, 1886 saw Byng joined by a fellow immigrant, Hugo Hirst, and the company changed its name to The General Electric Apparatus Company (G. Binswanger).
This small business found early success with its unorthodox method of supplying electrical components over the counter. Hugo Hirst was an entrepreneurial salesman who foresaw the potential of electricity and was able to direct standardisation of an industry in its infancy. He travelled across Europe with an eye for the latest products and in 1887 the company published the first electrical catalogue of its kind. The following year the company acquired its first factory in Salford where telephones, electric bells, ceiling roses and switches were manufactured.