Former President & CEO John Olson of Whelen Engineering Passes Away


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John F. Olson, Whelen Engineering executive vice president and former president and CEO known for his unprecedented impact on the emergency warning industry, passed away Thursday at the age of 83.

Olson grew up in Deep River, Connecticut and graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1958 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He became one of the first full time Whelen employees in January of 1959. As an avid pilot and dedicated volunteer firefighter, ambulance driver, and snow plow operator, Mr. Olson was fully immersed and passionate about the industry.  

For more than a half century, he was at the forefront of an ever-growing market for emergency warning products. His progressive philosophy was responsible for Whelen’s development of strobe technology in the 1960s, lightbar design in the 1970s, and LED advancement in the 2000s. He expanded Whelen into the four divisions it encompasses today and helped make Whelen a leader in the global market. 

Olson became Whelen’s president in 1976. In 1984, he built Whelen’s corporate headquarters in Chester, Connecticut and in 1987 he helped expand the company by opening a second manufacturing facility in Charlestown, New Hampshire.

George “Sonny” Whelen IV said, “It has been my honor and pleasure to have known John for more than 60 years. Since 1976 when my mom passed, John led Whelen Engineering as it became the world’s leader in emergency warning products and systems. Loved by our company, feared by our competitors, John will truly be missed.”

His passion for American manufacturing was evident in his dedication to education. He supported collaborations between local school districts and Whelen to create a curriculum to train the next generation of manufacturers. His alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, is home to the John Olson Advanced Manufacturing Center, where students can work toward a degree in mechanical engineering.

Olson stepped down from his role as President and CEO in 2015 and became executive vice president, where he continued to improve manufacturing processes and lead education programs.

“His determination, leadership, and expertise were instrumental to Whelen’s success over the last 59 years. Whelen would not be where it is today without the efforts and vision of John Olson. We will all miss John, but it will be comforting to see his influence on our culture continue to live on indefinitely,” said President and CEO George Whelen V.

Read his obituary here.

About Whelen

Whelen Engineering designs and manufactures reliable and powerful warning lights, white illumination lighting, sirens, controllers, and high-powered warning systems for Automotive, Aviation, and Mass Notification industries worldwide. With two state-of-the-art facilities in Connecticut and New Hampshire, Whelen has the largest design staff in the industry and over 1,500 employees, all dedicated to producing products that people count on when lives are on the line. On the road, in the air, and around the world, Whelen is trusted to be seen, trusted to be heard, trusted to perform. For more information, click here.

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