Garmin Ltd., incorporated in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is the parent company of a group of companies founded in 1989 by Gary Burrell and Min Kao (hence the name GarMin), that develops consumer, aviation, and marine technologies for the Global Positioning System. Its subsidiary Garmin International, Inc. serves as headquarters for the Garmin Limited companies and is located in Olathe, Kansas in the United States. The largest operating subsidiary and primary production facility of Garmin Limited is Garmin (Asia) Corporation (Chinese: 台灣國際航電股份有限公司), located in Xizhi District, Taiwan, a district of New Taipei City.
Gary Burrell, born in 1937, earned a degree in electrical engineering from Wichita State University and a graduate degree from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He went to work for King Radio, a manufacturer of aviation radios in 1963 just six years after that company was started by Edward King, Jr. in a farmhouse in Olathe. A certificated pilot, Burrell led development on some of King’s most successful navigation and communications products. The King Radio company went on to supply Boeing with aircraft radio equipment starting in 1969.
By 1989, Burrell had spent nearly his entire professional career — with the exception of a brief stint at Lowrance Electronics — working for King Radio. During these years the company went through many corporate changes. In 1983 King was acquired by the Allied Corporation and combined with the former Bendix Corporation to form Bendix-King. Allied later went on to merge with the Signal Companies in 1985 to form AlliedSignal which acquired Honeywell in 1999 and then assumed the Honeywell name. Corporate headquarters in Olathe, KSMin H. Kao (Name in Chinese: 高民環), was born in 1949 in the small town of Zhushan in Nantou in Taiwan (南投縣). After serving in the Taiwanese Navy Kao attended National Taiwan University and moved to the United States to attend the University of Tennessee where he obtained advanced degrees in electrical engineering. As a graduate student he performed research for NASA and the United States Army. He later went on to work for American defense contractors Teledyne and Magnavox.
Burrell hired Kao to join his division at Allied’s King subsidiary in 1983. Kao had been working at Magnavox developing military navigation systems using the Global Positioning System constellation of satellites, at that time known as NAVSTAR. During his years working with Burrell, Kao led the team that developed the first GPS navigation system that was to be certified for use in airplanes by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
At the time the satellite constellation was still being assembled. The 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger had set the system’s construction back by 24 months. The satellites had to be redesigned to fit aboard a Delta II rocket. The system was declared operational in April 1989, and went on to prove a decisive strategic advantage to U.S. and Allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
Kao had been thinking of starting a company, and had recently visited old school friends in Taiwan, one of whom was an investment banker, who assured Kao that if he wanted to launch a company, launch money would be available. Within weeks of their meeting, Burrell and Kao were on a plane to Taipei. Within months, they had raised $4 million, including the combined contents of their personal savings accounts. The capital was sufficient to hire a dozen engineers and to rent office and work space in Lenexa, Kansas. They named the new company ProNav, but changed it to Garmin in 1991 when a competitor, using the name NavPro on one of its GPS receivers, sued for trademark infringement. “Garmin” is a combination of the founders’ names, Gary and Min.