Sunday, November 1, 2015

Post 32A

   The Time has come                  

The time has come . . .                                  
        "The time has come," the Walrus said,
          To talk of many things:
           Of shoes--and ships--and sealing was-- and sealing wax--
          Of cabbages--and kings--
          And why the sea is boiling hot--
          And whether pigs have wings." 

Evoking the Lewis Carroll poem  Through the Looking Glass, the time has come to talk of many things, but not about whether pigs have wings, but rather to talk about the end of this weblog and the end of Zenith
Radio Corporation as we knew it.  The posts had their beginnings in February 2013, so it now has been nearly two years of posting.    

It has been quite an adventure wandering through the history of Zenith Radio Corporation, and the author has been glad to have had the company of so many of you.  There have been 9,333 page views, and the posts have garnered the attention of thousands of  readers of Facebook and other sites worldwide.     

HOLD IT! Not so fast!  We are not ending this weblog yet.  New information has come to light about Zenith's final creation of a television picture tube that is a true marvel, and  and it deserves a Post of its own.  So the present Post is Post 32A, and the post with the revolutionary picture tube will be Post 32B.  Post 32A—the present Post,  will publish on November 1, and Post 32B shortly after, or as soon as the writer can get his act together.  It will be worth the wait, believe me.

Not that this Post 32A is inconsequential, not at all, for there is an announcement to be made-- 

                  This weblog will become a book!  

The book  will be published by Eugene M. Cummings—better known as “Gene” Cummings, and his co-publisher , Elizabeth Rynne.  Gene himself has been  active before in Zenith affairs, notably for his  quiet financial support of the Zenith employee reunions that have been so enjoyed by hundreds of Zenith employees.  His career is remarkably varied, as shown by a career that includes being  an airline pilot, and  flying the big jets worldwide. 

Eugene M. Cummings
Here is Gene’s story as told by him--

 “Zenith has had a profound and lasting effect on my life.”

In 1959, while a first year student in Electrical Engineering at Northwestern University, I selected Zenith as my employer in Northwestern’s Engineering Work Experience Program. For the next three years, I worked alternate quarters at Zenith, first in the Plant 1 Quality Control Department, then in the Television Engineering Department, where I reported to Richard (“Dick”) Gray, Chief Engineer of Television, and Nate Aram, Vice President of Television Engineering.  These were very exciting and challenging times for me. I was given the opportunity to work with the best television engineers in the country on Zenith products we were justifiably proud of.

“After graduation, I was offered a full-time position in the Zenith Television Engineering Department, again reporting to Dick Gray. I really enjoyed my work and still remember the excitement and pressure of trips to Plant 1 to solve technical problems on production lines that had been shut down. I also became involved in various special projects, including, because of my previous experience in Broadcasting, reconstructing Zenith’s FM broadcast station WEFM, and because of a previous patent project, assisting Zenith’s Patent Law Department with reorganization of its technical files.

“It was as a result of the latter project that I was offered the opportunity to attend law school, with concurrent employment in the Patent Law Department. After much deliberation, I accepted the offer and worked for John Pedersen, Chief Patent Counsel, and Frank Crotty, Vice President of Patents, until my graduation in June 1969.

“Subsequently, I left Zenith to accept a position as a pilot with United Airlines, where I flew the Boeing 727 as a Second Officer. Frank Crotty and John Pederson granted me a leave of absence with the expectation that I might return to Zenith. I did return in 1971 as a patent attorney. I eventually left Zenith to join a Chicago patent law firm as an associate. Three years later, I became a partner in Lockwood, Alex, Fitzgibbon & Cummings.

“My legal and flying careers continued. I eventually went back to United first as a Boeing 727 First Officer, and then as a Boeing 727 Captain, from which position I retired in June 2001. I am currently managing partner in Eugene M. Cummings, P.C., a law firm I founded. I have also founded several companies since leaving Zenith. Telesonics Systems developed and licensed the MTS system for transmitting stereo sound on NTSC color television transmissions. Automark Technical Systems designed and managed a voting machine which allows persons with physical disabilities to mark preprinted paper election ballots. Currently, I am serving as President of Beacon Technical Systems, a company I founded to develop and market a sump pump test and monitoring system.

”If it were not for Zenith, none of this would have happened. I will always be grateful to the company and to the many wonderful people at Zenith for their help, guidance and support.”  ­­--Eugene Cummings.

 Here is Gene with the  staff of the  intellectual property firm he founded.  The firm is known as known as Eugene M. Cummings, P.C.  

Cummings founded the firm bearing his name in 1981 with the sole intention of providing world class intellectual property representation to businesses and individuals. His firm is respected as one of the top intellectual property firms in the country.  Clients ranging from individual inventors to large corporations that trust him and his firm  to represent them in their intellectual property interests. The firm focuses on providing personalized representation, protection and enforcement of rights to individuals, and businesses in all areas of intellectual property.

And we must not forget Norman Kidder and William Krucks, who are the President and the Chairman of the Board, respectively, of Rauland
Borg, formerly a manufacturer of television picture tubes, but now specializing in medical electronics.

Norman Kidder
William Krucks
When in their student days, Kidder and Krucks joined Zenith as summer interns.  They worked with Howard Lange on the development an electro-photographic  screening process --a process for depositing color phosphors on the faceplates of television cathode ray tubes. 

So you could also view the President and the Chairman of the Board of the Rauland Borg Corporation—as well as Gene Cummings-- as "products" of
Zenith in that they learned applied electronics, and how corporations work at Zenith.   And so it was with others who became notable after following a similar path. To their names, you could also add Robert Adler, Carl Eilers, Walt Ciciora, and so many others of us.   

Back to the forthcoming book!  The title of the book will be—

    Zenith: The Rise and Fall of a Great American Company

Much work will have to be done before the book sees daylight, and your author has dedicated himself to that task.  He will be helped and advised by John Harding Coult, a long-time business associate and friend. John was the last Chief Counsel of the Zenith Patent Department. 

Further, there are several tasks that remain, and this  final Post  32 will go on to picking up “loose ends,” such as the description of a technology---if pursued--that could have replaced television as the prime product for Zenith, and enabled it to survive (namely,  Zenith Data Systems).

None  of these subjects will be easy to write, but nothing is really easy for a writer.

Now to go on with the content of this Post 32A—

                                                * * * * * * *

One fine day, a quiet genius  in Zenith marketing had an inspiration:  why don’t we get into computers?  It is the “coming thing. ” RCA is into it, and it promises great growth.  Let’s call it Zenith Data Systems  and put some  Zenith muscle into it. 

And lo! It was done.

When that was said, the question arose:  Where are we going to get a computer?  The answer came:  “There is a small company in Benton Harbor, Michigan, that offers a kit for assembling a computer.  The company is called ‘Heathkit.’   Let’s buy it.”

And Zenith did, and Zenith got the greatest bargain  it had ever acquired, and for only $67 million!

(This story of the genesis of the Zenith Data Systems  is apocryphal, but it indicates pretty much how marketing people work and think.)

The Heathkit computer kit enabled a dedicated amateur to actually assemble a working computer!  The first Heathkit computer—the Heathkit H8—came with a complete set of instructions for its making, along with  schematics and with the detailed assembly instructions  that Heathkit was  famous for. And probably every Zenith engineer or budding scientist has one time or another had built an Heathkit product—an oscilloscope, a VTM, or more likely, a short-wave radio set which got them on the air as a radio amateur.  And as a plus, Zenith had an immense source of picture tubes that may be required, and the ability to make any size or any design.  It was like a marriage of technology made in heaven.

The first computer that Zenith featured was essentially the Heathkit H89-- 
(Notice the Microsoft Basic Instruction Book tucked behind the computer. The Microsoft Basic program  was the foundation of Bill Gates’s fortune, eventually making him the richest man in America.)
And here is Zenith’s version of the Heathkit H89—
This looks pretty simplistic to us, now—a RAM 48 KB on  main board, and optional 16 KB on a memory card.  Now we commonly have programs that require 100 MB to operate--they'd never work on this computer!  And look at that price! $4,800!  Several years went by before computers broke the  $1,000 mark.  Now we live in a computer paradise, price-wise.

The author of this blog used an  H88  computer in the patent department.  Writing with it required a special program using symbols to indicate capitals, italics, etc.  I used WordStar. If you wanted to all-kaps a word or phrase, you preceded it with a typed-in KB, for example, and end the capitalized phrase with another word symbol, such as a B. It was pretty tedious.  Now, you just select the word or phrase you want to capitalize, and press a key, such as cap“B”, and it will be capitalized.   

Anyway, Zenith sold 27,000 of the H88 computers.

And for Zenith: Nirvana!  Paradise!  Finally, a replacement for the  television market that had been pre-empted by the Japanese. 

And it got even better!
In October 1983, the United States Navy and the Air Force awarded a $27 million computer contract to Zenith Data Systems. In 1984 ZDS won a $100 million contract with the United States military for Tempest-shielded computers. In 1986 it won two other large contracts, one for portable computers for the Internal Revenue Service and a $242 million contact—the largest in history at that time—for 90,000 computers to the Department of Defense.                                                              
By 1985 ZDS's revenue had grown to $352 million, and in March 1986 The New York Times newspaper described Zenith's "remarkable accomplishments" amid the company's losses in the television market against Japanese competition.
However—and there were far too many such howevers for Zenith--Zenith bid on and won a large Air Force contract for a system known as “Desktop IC." It was a competitive bid, and in bidding to get the contract, Zenith made computers that can only be described as “cheap,” with seriously defective parts (the quality didn’t go in!).  Also, Zenith had agreed to replace defective parts. Not only that, Zenith had also agreed to upgrade the computers for free. As a result, Zenith lost  a large portion of its shirt, and management apparently became disheartened, for it sold the computer operation to a firm known as Group  Bull for  $635  million.  So Zenith’s plunge into the computer market was not a total loss, because it had bought the basic computers that  got Zenith into the business for only $68 million.   
(Note : Much of the foregoing is derived from  the invaluable  Wikipedia.  Please donate to them and keep them alive!)
And what happened to the Heath Company?  It had taken a glory ride with Zenith, and had been in the end, cut loose.   As a result, there was resentment among many  of the Heath people. 
And as with old Zenith radios, Heathkits themselves have a certain immortality in that if you have an urge to put together a Heathkit, you can get an “unbuilt kit” from eBay. An example—


Looks like fun. (I don’t know how many of those I have burned out from over-voltage testing.) Also, you may be too late in attempting  to buy this one: they go fast.   
* * * * * * *  *
And that, dear readers, is the end of Post 32A.  In Post 32B, we’ll go on to describe one of Zenth’s most remarkable inventions—the flat tension mask  (FTM) cathode ray picture tube.  It could be considered the culmination of all of Zenith’s engineering triumphs over the years. 


And note that the faceplate is flat, as well. At last, a television  picture tube with a flat face!

So Post 32B will be a description of the tube, and a tribute to the engineers who created it.

'til we met again, and for the (next to!) last time--


 --Ralph Clarke

(. . . and someday, maybe, I will send out a blog where all the type is the same size.)

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