This time, let's talk about the special products of Zenith. Not many know about Zenith and its special products, not even many Zenith engineers, nor did the general office workers. Zenith had seemed to be all about radios and televisions. But Zenith also had some incredibly gifted engineers-- electrical, electronic and mechanical-- that accomplished incredible things with special products.
The group that produced the special products was called, logically enough, "The Government and Special Products Division." The "Government" part was the obtaining of contracts for developing items such as proximity fuzes, safety and arming mechanisms (of which Zenith sold $200 millions worth), and all the other types of products listed in the following description. The division was located in Plant 5 at 6501 West Grand Avenue. Its managers were Ed Passow and Bill VanSlyck. (It is of minor note as being where the humble, self-effacing writer of this blog started his career at Zenith in 1951, coming over from Admiral.) The names of those working in Plant 5 include Donn Abbott, Don Anderson, John Quinlivan, Vito Brugliera, Wally Clay, Al Ditthardt, John Seifner, Leo Gizynski, Bill Counts, Jim Clark, Bill Russell, and others that escape memory. The author of this blog headed the tech writing group of two people, myself and Don Gayle, assisted by our girl Friday, Sandy Cherwin, who was lightning-fast on the word processor. She had to be, for our main job was writing proposals to obtain government contracts. We produced dozens of them, and they garnered several millions dollars in contracts. We also produced dozens of "facility descriptions." Here, for example, is the first page of a description of some of Zenith's production facilities.
The captions are difficult to read, so here is a rewrite of the two main captions. For the top photo: "Plant 2 Press Room covers 20,000 sq. ft., and contains 96 punch presses ranging in capacity from 3 tons to 200 tons."
--and the bottom photo caption: "This crane handles as much as 300,000 pounds of steel a day."
The facility descriptions were selected and "slotted into" proposals to obtain government contracts.
The prime purpose of the Special Products Division was to serve as a "back-up" to the main Zenith activity of manufacturing radios and television sets--and to make money, of course. If that prime endeavor ever failed (which it did eventually, as will be told), special products would be a "fall-back" so Zenith could stay in business. What happened to that backup will also be told in what can be called Zenith's phase of "throwing the baby out with the bath water" after the television market for Zenith had collapsed. (Oh!--there are such sad stories to relate. The saddest words are it might have been . . . . when applied to Zenith.)
OK! Special Products. Let's look at the catalog for the Special Products of Zenith--
Radio Set PRR-15(Z) is a man-transportable, monitor receiver continuously tunable from 0.54 to 205 MHz. Built to withstand military environments, the set receives AMF, FM, CW, and SSB signals while operating from an internal 12-volt battery pack, a 24-volt vehicular battery, or 120 volts, 50-400 Hz. The i-f bandwidth is selectable and a tuning calibrator and S-meter are provided. Accessories include a tape recorder, microphone, headset, and whip and wire antennas.
This radio set is obviously a militarized version of the Zenith Trans-Oceanic, with additions such as a tape recorder.
And there is a story that relates to this radio set--
It happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis! John Kennedy was President. Russia had installed rocket launchers on the island of its ally Cuba--rocket launchers capable of launching a missile with an atomic war head. Talk about a crisis!--America was in an uproar. The launcher installation was monitored from the air, of course, but it was necessary to get some special forces on Cuban soil. The forces needed a radio set with broadband capabilities, and the Zenith Trans-Oceanic was the only one available that fitted the requirements. But two problems arose: (1) the transoceanic was designed for consumer consumption, and it had shiny metallic surfaces that make it visible at night, and (2), it was needed immediately--like now!
The solution? Cover it up! Gene Kinney had a sail boat with canvas sails, of course, so he raced off to the boat-yard where there was a sail-maker who was put to work to supply canvas bags to cover the trans-oceanic, and make it less visible. They worked overnight it is said, and canvas-covered Trans-Oceans were delivered and played a part in resolving the Cuban missile crisis. The tape recorder recorded the code used for communication between the Russians and the Cubans. The radios were then buried in the sand.
And from that use there came about Zenith's militarized Trans-Oceanic called Radio Set PRR-15(Z).
(Thinking about that missile crisis--that's the closest we came to an atomic war. If whoever had control of the trigger of that missile launcher,had pressed it, it would have been a case of "MAD"--mutual assured destruction of Russia and the U.S. It is frightening even in memory for those who lived through that period.)
Let's look at another Zenith special product--The "Bell Boy" paging receiver--
And what product does the Bell Boy resemble? Yes, the cell phone, of which there are now five billion in world-wide use. Just combine a telephone circuit to paging receiver and you will have a cell phone. So Zenith was very close to offering a cell phone to the its customers.
Why didn't it? It was ready to. We'll see why later on in these postings.
More Zenith Special Products
[Sorry, but a better photo is not available. The original reproductions are quite beautiful. But there is a conflict between the half-tone screen of the original and the ability my printer to resolve it. Several tries were made with various printer dpi's. Color photos reproduce much better.]
Anyway, five such transceivers are shown. The one shown is for a base station and the other four are vehicular, for marine use, and airborne. There is also a hand-held transceiver.
The catalog goes on to list, describe and show the following equipment--
[The equipment is not shown (it is beautiful equipment) because the reproduction is so wretched.]
Air Traffic control and IFF Radar
Range Azimuth Beacon Monitor ZRC-42
Receiver-Transponder Drawer and R'T Group
Light Amplifier, The Uniscope
The Uniscope was described in some detail in Post 8. The description tells of its use in the
Viet Nam war as a night viewer for siting guns that fired at truck traffic on the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Uniscope technology is also used to make wearable night-vision glasses used by the military.
Also, Post 8 tells how a group of Zenith employees acquired the Uniscope technology when Zenith dumped it, formed a company, and became millionaires in the process. The Uniscope is now widely used by the military, and a "surplus" of them has been given to the police departments all over the country.
Not just Uniscopes are given! Over $4 billion worth of military equipment has been given to police departments nationwide, including such combat-ready equipment as tripod-mounted machine guns, grenades and grenade launchers, armored vehicles, some with a rotating turret, a pilot-less surveillance drone, helicopters and other combat aircraft, and various pistols, rifles, and assault armor. If you want a tank or a combat aircraft, you have to fill out a one-page form. And just about every government agency has its own "swat" team, including the Forestry Service. (What do they "swat"? Mosquitoes?)
(Just what are we preparing for? One shudders to think. But that is not the subject. Let's go on.)
In addition, Zenith Special Products offered an optics laboratory and expertise in microcircuits, both thick and thin-film. And of course, a mass-production factory available for all the special products.
All gone, now. Kaput. No longer available. During World War II, America was known as "The Arsenal of Democracy." No more. In case of a world war, the "arsenal" is scattered all over the world.
Joe Fiore is also named in the patent, but Kaplan was the true inventor. However, Fiore made the invention work!--an invaluable contribution, and he deserves to be listed as the co-inventor.
When a Zenith television set with a Chromacolor picture tube is set side-by side with a tv set with a standard tube in it, there is simply no comparison. The Zenith colors are brilliant blue, and the color blends are not washed out. Zenith had a winner! The concept was patented in every country except Japan, which meant Japan could sell it in Japan and all over the world, but not in the United States, the biggest market. This must have aggravated them for they filed a suit to nullify the patent. Let's look into this and see what happened. Here is what the papers of a patent suit as filed in a Federal court look like:
ZENITH RADIO CORPORATION, Appellant.
Decided Jan. 7, 1977.
And below is a copy of Zenith's patent--
Here is a description, and in simplest terms: Fig. 1 shows a tv picture tube in outline with three "guns" 22, 23, and 24 firing electron beams onto a screen 28 covered with dots of phosphor that emit red, green and blue light when energized by designated ones of the electron beams. The screen has a high-voltage charge to draw the beams to it. The three beams pass through a single aperture of a "shadow mask" or "color selection electrode," that helps ensure that the beams fall on the designated dots of phosphor. The phosphor dots are formed in triodes; one triode is shown (rather crudely!) by Fig. 3 --which is a doctored-up version of the original drawing to show the colors. The groups of triodes as they are applied to the screen are indicated by Figure 4.
Now look more closely at Fig. 3 and note that each dot of color is surrounded by a black ring, which is made from a dense black material. This ring is the "guard band" according to the invention, which provides for color isolation. Let's say that the red beam wanders away from its target--the red dot-- and toward the green dot; it will be intercepted by two of the black guard bands--one around the red phosphor dot and one around the green phosphor dot. So color purity is maintained.
This is a highly simplified description, and there is much more to the invention, but it is adequate to explain the invention. Let's see why the invention was rejected as invalid.
Zenith lost the patent as directed by the Court, which determined that the color tube concept embodied in the Zenith patent were obvious in view of the prior art, and that the patent was therefore invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 103 (1970). The prior art is Patent No. 2,846,637 to Frank J. Bingley. Bingley's patent is to a striped-screen tube wherein the red, green and blue light-emitting phosphors are arranged on the tube screen in a vertical direction as vertical color stripes, as indicated below--
(Note: the colors shown: red, green and blue indicate the colors of the vertical stripes, which extend the full heighth of the screen.)
So the vertical stripes of red, green and blue are flanked by black stripes, which can be assumed to be "guard bands," as in the Zenith patent. That fact that Bingley shows an entirely different picture tube, one with vertical stripes of color instead of dots of color, made no difference. Also, the fact that the Bingley picture tube was an "index" tube (let's not go into that) and that such tubes with vertical stripes were never successful, didn't matter: the judge decided that the black "guard bands" of Bingley disclosed the black guardbands of the dot screen tube. So the patent was found to be invalid on the basis that "the invention was considered to be 'obvious' under 35 USC 103."
The loss to Zenith? A good portion of market share, for the Japanese were now able to sell Chromacolor sets in the U.S. Also, the loss of the royalties which may have amounted to $10 millions over the years while the patent was in force.
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Here follows a page from the magazine Zenith ServiceWorld. The number 200,000 refers to the number of man-hours of technical training provided by Zenith to those who serviced Zenith products.
Zenith not only manufactured superlative products, Zenith also made sure that they operated during their full service life. Viz. The Quality Goes In . . . . And the customer was king.
All gone now. Once upon a time, you could get your radio or television set serviced in almost every city and town in the U.S. Not any more. All gone.
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Your modest self-effacing author of this blog landed with the cable group after being Rif'd from the patent department. The cable group needed someone to prepare technical manuals for the cable equipment, so there was I, twisting in the wind, and they dragged me in. And, of course, where I went, there would soon be a new publication, and so there was, and it was called Z-TAC News--
("Z-TAC" was the name of the Zenith cable box.) That was a fun time for me for I had access to a superb cartoonist, fascinating stock illustrations, and some great people to work with (as always at Zenith). But that is another story, and one to look forward to in Post 14.
For those who have commented and made suggestions, Thank you! Keep them coming, and please forgive any errors of fact.