In 1856, 26-year old Stephen Wilcox of Rhode Island, USA, patented a water tube boiler that increased heating surfaces, allowed better water circulation and that was inherently safe. In 1867, he and his friend, George Babcock, established a partnership, Babcock, Wilcox & Co, to manufacture and market Wilcox's boiler. In 1881, the company was incorporated in America as The Babcock & Wilcox Company.
In 1881, the company opened a sales office in Glasgow, Scotland, and by 1883 boilers were being made by sub-contractors in Scotland. The first completely British-built Babcock boiler was manufactured for the Singer Manufacturing Co works in Kilbowie, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. A British company, Babcock & Wilcox Ltd was formed in 1891 with a capital of å£240,000 with its sphere of operation to include the world outside of the USA and Cuba that were already covered by the American company.
Babcock & Wilcox Ltd established its own manufacturing facility at Renfrew, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1895 and increased the company's capital to å£1,575,000 in 1900. The firm rapidly became a leader in both land-based and marine boilers and opened subsidiaries and production facilities around the world. The group developed a large defence business during the 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 World Wars, producing tanks and munitions in addition to their naval boiler business. In 1926, the company provided massive steam generating hardware for Battersea Power Station, London, England.
In 1965 , Babcock & Wilcox Ltd established a subsidiary company, Babcock & Wilcox (Operations) Ltd with its head offices in London. By 1969 , the company was reponsible for the management of certain of the parent company's UK assets involving the marketing, manufacture, construction and commissioning of medium and heavy engineering products including conventional and nuclear steam raising plant, pressure vessels and heat exchanger equipment for power, chemical, metallurgical, and other industries. The company held licence arrangements with European and American organisations for selected products including construction equipment plant. It also serviced licensees throughout the world who manufactured and sold similar products. The company held a technical interchange agreement with Babcock & Wilcox Company, USA.
Babcock & Wilcox (Operations) Ltd was divided into 5 divisions: boiler and nuclear engineering based in London, England; chemical and processing engineering also based in London, manufacturing, construction and research and development all based at the Renfrew site. Major contracts received by this time included the boilers for the nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point, Somerset, England, and Sizewell, Suffolk, England and Wylfa, Wales. Boilers were also supplied to nuclear power stations in Italy and Sweden, to oil refineries such as at Grangemouth, Scotland, and pressure vessels for the British nuclear submarine programme.
By 1975 , Babcock & Wilcox (Operations) Ltd was divided into 3 divisions: contracting, production and construction. The contracting division designed, developed and manufactured fossil fuel fired and waste heat boilers, water tube and shell components for nuclear power stations and high pressure pipe work. They also undertook research and development for their parent company's (Babcock & Wilcox Ltd) products and processes. The production division manufactured pressure vessels, heat exchangers, boiler pressure parts, heavy fabrications and solid drawn tubes. The construction division dealt with the erection of central power station steam plant, both nuclear and conventional; and industrial, chemical and processing plant. They also undertook plant maintenance, rehabilitation and repair, manufacture and supply of spare parts for land and marine boilers and pipework.
In 1979 , Babcock & Wilcox Ltd became Babcock International Ltd and in 1982 a public limited company as Babcock International plc . Babcock & Wilcox (Operations) Ltd continued as a subsidiary and was renamed Babcock Power Ltd in 1979 . At this time, substantial investment was made in Babcock Power Ltd, including a new å£20 million machine and assembly shop extensively equipped with computer controlled machine tools being fitted at the Renfrew site.
By 1984 , Babcock International plc had restructured into 7 groups and Babcock Power Ltd was the chief company its UK Power Group. This group employed around 7,750 people and served customers both in the UK and abroad with a wide range of plant, equipment and services for power generation, petrochemical and process industries, steelmaking, and for offshore and marine industries. Major contracts included the Castle Peak power station in Hong Kong and orders for stations in South Africa and Zimbabwe. As the chief company within the group, Babcock Power Ltd operated a number of subsidiary companies. These companies were: Atlantic Power & Gas Ltd , Babcock Calorizing Ltd , Babcock Jenkins Ltd , Babcock PED Ltd , Babcock Product Engineering Ltd , Babcock Welding Products Ltd , Babcock Worsley Ltd and Fluidised Combustion Contractors Ltd . There were also a number of associated companies including Diamond Power Speciality Ltd, Multifuel Boilers Inc, and Wanson Company Ltd.
FKI Electricals plc, engineering company, London, merged with Babcock Power Ltd's parent company, Babcock International plc, in 1987 to become FKI Babcock plc . At the same year, Babcock Power Ltd was renamed Babcock Energy Ltd . FKI Babcock plc de-merged in 1989 to form FKI plc and Babcock International Group plc .
A further de-merger occurred within Babcock International Group plc in 1995 when the Mitsui Engineering & Shipping Co (est. 1917), Japan, bought-out Babcock Energy Ltd and a number of its subsidiary companies and constituted it as Mitsui Babcock Energy Ltd with its main offices in Renfrew. However, Babcock International Group plc retained a 25 percent share of Mitsui Babcock Energy Ltd, managed through Babcock (Management) Ltd .
In 2002, Mitsui Babcock Energy Ltd continued to trade, specialising in energy and nuclear plant, fitting the first vertical low mass flux once through boiler at Yaomeng Power Station, China, in 2001