Meet the Henry Fords of radio: the Crosley Brothers story, Part 1

Meet the Henry Fords of radio: the Crosley Brothers story, Part 1

By Don Radebaugh — It reads like a fairy tale; but plays more like a major motion picture. It’s the story of how an 11-year-old boy and a “toy” would ignite a radio manufacturing revolution that reverberated around the world. And that’s exactly what happened when Powel Crosley, Jr. and his son Powel III gazed upon one of the country’s first wireless radio sets at Precision Equipment in Cincinnati, Ohio. Powel Crosley’s amazing journey may start with a low-cost, affordable radio; but his legacy would reach well beyond – to home appliances, cars, planes, the most powerful radio station in the world, top-secret wartime materials and more.

It was 1921, the start of the “Roaring 20s”, when anything seemed possible. After all, it had already been nearly 20 years since the Wright Brothers took off in flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. If humans could buzz around overhead in motorized, controlled flying machines, then why couldn’t an electronic box talk without phone wires attached? As hard as it may have been for some to get their heads around the concept of wireless radio, the fascination grew exponentially from those moments forward.

Crosley, ever the visionary, thought the new toy was not only too high-priced, but thought he could build a better one for much less money. It wasn’t that Crosley couldn’t afford the new $130 radio set – by now he was a successful businessman in the growing field of aftermarket automobile parts – it was more about seizing the opportunity he saw before him. The mass-production wheels in his head immediately began to turn. The “Henry Ford of Radio” was officially born. And like Ford, Powel would one day use the economies of mass production to bring to market a low-priced product every bit as good as those costing more.

“The idea of charging that much for that little thing,” Crosley said, “I could build that set for half the price.”

Although Crosley wasn’t about to spend $130 dollars on something he could do better, he did not leave Precision empty handed, buying a copy of “The A.B.C. of Radio” for a quarter. After reading the small pamphlet, Crosley decided he and his son would build their own. The “Better – Costs Less” theme that would become one of the trademarks of his corporate reputation down the road, would also become his pathway toward an empire. From there, he rolled up his sleeves and went at it.

Source & photo credits: Crosley, by Rusty McClure, Copyright 2006

Find the History Mystery Man on Facebook and YouTube.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *