Tuesday, March 11, 2014

POST 3 of the story of the rise and fall of Zenith Radio Corporation


 Those breakfast meetings where we gathered and talked with old friends are now history. But now there is a Facebook site where we can all meet again! Just click on this address,or copy it into your internet address bar:

--and join in the conversation about that great company Zenith, which is, sadly, no more, yet warm in the memories of so many. Please note that there is not much “on” the Zenith Facebook as yet, but there will be much more as we all learn how to interact on Facebook.   Note:  About 300 million do use Facebook, worldwide. So can we!

This little guy—the Zenith Town Crier, will announce all new developments on the Zenith Facebook and in this blog—                                                                             

 Access the Zenith Book blog at  http://www.zenithbook.blogspot.com/   (You know this,of course, otherwise you wouldn't be reading it here now!) 
The first two posts of this blog was written to whet your interest. Two stories were offered:    The Story of Zenith and The Birth of Zenith. Now is the time for a another story— 
Two women were conversing while wading in the warm-water pool of the Gottlieb Hospital Health Center, located on the west side of Chicago.
One woman asked: “Do you remember the Zenith ‘porthole’ television set—the one with the round picture window?”.
“Yes,” the other answered. “It was the television set of ‘Mr. Zenith’–Commander McDonald.”                                                   
                                                          "Mr. Zenith."

The two were recalling Commander Eugene F. McDonald, Jr. one of the founders and long-time President of Zenith Radio Corporation, and widely-known as "Mr. Zenith." And they were speaking about a Zenith television set that had  appeared on the market 30 years before that talk in the warm water swimming pool! 
 Such was the legend of Commander McDonald and Zenith in Chicago!
 About that porthole television set--It all came about because Commander McDonald took a personal and intense interest in every aspect of Zenith manufacturing. Before it left the factory, every Zenith product had to meet the credo The Quality Goes in Before the Name Goes On! So McDonald examined  every television set before it went into production. One day, he was shown the latest model, one however without the escutcheon—that rectangular metal plate that encloses the picture tube and defines the televised image. The escutcheon wasn’t ready, but McDonald insisted on seeing the set anyway. So he was shown a cabinet from which projected a round picture tube—but no picture-outlining escutcheon.
   He loved it! Perhaps it recalled his days as a Naval Commander and the times he spent at sea peering out of portholes. And that television set went into production and on the market, and had a successful sales run. This despite the fact that the transmitted picture was not round, but rectangular! The American public loved it because it was a Zenith!
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­More Zenith history. Below is a reduced copy of the front page of the magazine Zenith ServiceWorld, a publication designed to support the Zenith distributors and enhance Zenith’s reputation for quality. The page tells what the Distributors did for Zenith customers. The distributors were a vital component of Zenith’s marketing system.
The foregoing question was answered by Walter Fisher, President of Zenith Sales company.                         
“Through more than 50 years of experience, Zenith has found that good independent distributors, with deep personal roots in their own local communities, are best equipped to serve the marketplace they call home.” 

That particular issue of ServiceWorld magazine goes on to tell how the distributors help satisfy Zenith customers. There were 85 distributors located throughout the United States and Canada that employed thousands of American workers. What happened to them when Zenith went out of business? Did they go bankrupt as well? Or did they try to diversify into other forms of service?
The distributors were a vital component of Zenith’s reputation for quality and service.  They were also a financial load in that they comprised 15% of the cost of a Zenith set. When the big box, cut-rate stores appeared on the marketing scene, there was little or no maintenance and service figured into their product costs. So the stores could undersell Zenith by at least 15%.  Potential customers would “showcase”  Zenith sets at a distributor, decide what features they wanted, get the model number, and buy the set at the cut rate of the big box store.  But if that set failed, he would come to a Zenith distributor for the repair of the set. But the distributors said “Not!  If you bought it at big box store x, let them repair it.”  A   large controversy inevitably ensued.
When Zenith and the rest of the consumer electronics industry disappeared from the American scene, so did the repair protocol, and the throwaway society was born.  Manufacture it as cheaply as possible, and if it stops working,  throw it away –because there is no one to repair it. As a result, a new industry was born--the reprocessing of computer waste, especially of the plastic components.  Most of the discarded computer components are sent overseas, mostly to China, where labor is cheap.  (For more information, see the March 2014 issued off Popular Science magazine.  It is a fascinating story!)

Which leads us (kind of!) to the question: What destroyed Zenith and all the companies such as those distributors, and so many others who depended on Zenith? And what happened to all those other consumer electronics companies: Wells-Gardner, Motorola, Stewart-Warner, et al, and all the other electronics companies and the tiny independent servicers that in total employed 800,000 American workers? The Zenith Book, as presently temporarily embodied in this blog, will attempt to answer that question. The battle for survival of the American Consumer Electronics Industry is describe in a book written by Zenith attorney Philip J. Curtis, and titled: "The Fall of the U.S. Consumer elecronics Industry; An American Trade Tragedy."  The book is being remaindered by Amazon at a cost of$113.95.                     
 What the Curtis book covers is summarized in this review printed in the book-selling division of Amazon-- 

                       The story of a cartel that destroyed an American industry
By Philip J. Curtis
Format: Hardcover
If you have ever wondered why you can't buy an American-made radio or television set, the answer is in this book. And if you have ever wondered why the all-American company--Zenith Radio Corporation (later renamed Zenith Electronics Corporation) was driven to failure---Philip Curtis answers these questions. Curtis writes a brilliant and disturbing story and backs it up with citations, references, and compilations of evidence. Curtis was the "point man" for Zenith in two epic battles. Zenith won the first battle, but lost the second. The first battle was against a world-wide patent cartel, and the second, against an overseas dumping cartel that destroyed Zenith and the entire American consumer electronics industry. It is an epic story--an up-to-date David and Goliath story--with Zenith as little David against a Goliath comprising not only cartels of American, European and Far Eastern companies, but also the United States government.
--Ralph E. Clarke 

And those two epic battles for survival of Zenith, and eventually, the survival of entire consumer electronics industry, is told in the words of Phillip Curtis in forthcoming Posts of this blog. It is an exciting and distressing story.
                                                   * * * * *
NOW--BOOKS ABOUT ZENITH! Those who love the old Zenith will delight in adding such books to their libraries. Four such books are described below. They are primarily the work of two college professors, Harold N. Cones and John H. Bryant, who earned the name “The Radio Professors” because of their dedication to writing the history of Zenith and its products.  

Zenith Trans-Oceanic: The Royalty of Radios. (2008) $22.95.

Zenith Radio: The Glory Years, 1936-1945. (2003) Illustrated Catalog and Database. (With Martin Blankenship.) $23.46 

Zenith Radio: The Glory Years, 1936-1945: History and Products. (With Martin Blankenship.) $27.05.

dangerous crossings  (sic) 1925.  $2.85 (Actual price quoted!)

The book dangerous crossings  describes the exploration of an area of the  far north by Donald MacMillan, Richard Byrd, and Eugene McDonald. McDonald played an extraordinary and heroic part in the expedition. It is there that he introduced the Zenith short-wave radio system that revolutionized world-wide communication. The radio system was perhaps the first of the many “firsts” that Zenith was notable for.
The books are available from Amazon.com. Prices are effective as of March 12, 2014. Bookseller Barnes and Noble and your local bookseller may also have them, or can get them for you.  

Above is a recent photo of Professor Marianne McDonald, the daughter of Commander McDonald.  She is a woman of many accomplishments, and a daughter the Commander would be proud of.  Click on  Wikipedia to see what she has accomplished.  I have been trying to reach her to tell her about this blog and the Facebook pages, but have not been able to do so.Perhaps you know how to contact her.  
                                                                * * * * *
This is the third Post. Your opinion is requested: what do you think of this blog? Please respond in the “Comments" section at the close of this blog.   
I have been trying to expand the readership. I had hoped to get a list of those who attended the Zenith breakfast get-togethers, but the list seems to be missing. There were over 400 in attendance at the final meeting. So, again, please tell all former employees that you know about this blog and ask them to read it.  
As noted, you can respond directly to this Post  3 by using the Comments box below. Some readers have found the box difficult  to use. If you have found it so, go to the Zenith Facebook page  to express yourself, greet your old friends, and reminisce  about your Zenith experience. It is your Facebook page! Here is that Facebook address again— 

WATCH FOR POST 4, coming soon! We’ll begin the story of how and why the American Consumer Industry was destroyed, and how  Zenith, and Zenith attorney Philip J. Curtis, were the valiant fighters in what turned out to be a lost cause.  

--Ralph Clarke  (Note:  There is just me writing this blog about Zenith.  There may be grammatical and spelling errors, and some unhappy page layouts, but I have no proof-reader or QC manager, so please accept my apolgies for that.  I shall try to do better.)