Sunday, February 15, 2015

Post 23

 At the close of the last  Post--Post 22--a question was asked:   

Shall this weblog  carry on with the story  of  the remainder of Zenith's         triumphs and failures?

     The results are in. And the answer is "yes, continue!" Here are some typical comments in response to that question.

     Please continue!  We need to hear more.  --M.K. 

     Ralph: You are doing a great job and providing great information.  I enjoy reading every one of your posts.  --N.M.

     Ralph. this was a fantastic eye-opener.  I knew the issues but not as detailed in this write-up.  I thank you for this history knowledge. --C.C.

     Ralph, I learned from this post, and it almost made me ill.  Thank you for your hard work in getting this information posted.  --H.L.

     I think this is very valuable.  I would hope later in the year when things free up a bit, to write something about my experience in the R and D group under Carl Eilers,  then in  the cable group.  There is quite a story about Teletext and Zenith's pioneering efforts with information on television. --W.C.

(Author's Note!  Please do write that up, W.C.!  There is so much I do not know, and your information will add so much to the history of Zenith.)

     I always look forward to the next blog entry.  Please continue.  A.H.

(Response to A.H. I  hope to continue.  But 95 is not an age known for its longevity.  I will go on as long as I have any "marbles" left. (I count them every day, and there always seem to be some missing!) And that is why I need the help of those with specific and important knowledge of Zenith's successes and failures.)

Thank you for your encouragement!

Now let's get our noses back to the grindstone--

                                                                    * * * * * * * *

                                                            THE AFTERMATH

So Zenith lost its Second War, and lost big! And the other losers were the entire American Consumer Products Industry, and  the 800,000 American workers who lost, as well. And Zenith's  contemporaries in  television manufacturer--Motorola, Warwick,  Raytheon, Philips and others lost.  Some were bought by Japanese firms and  now sold Japanese television sets as "American."  Even RCA, which had supported the Japanese cartel, was gone, eventually sold to a foreign company.   Zenith remained largely alone as  the sole American manufacturer of  television sets.

Now Zenith was facing ruthless and unfair competition, and facing it alone. Zenith, with Phil Curtis as its leader, had fought the good fight.  In afterthought, it seems incredible that so many should lose, and lose so big.   But there it was--defeat! Whatever was our government thinking of to support such an incredible breech of its laws?  Even the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have been subverted.

What will Zenith do now?  How will it survive  in the face of such devastating opposition? A meeting of worried executives discussed the  options. They "counted their blessings" as to what Zenith had going for it that made it competitive--
  • A sterling reputation for manufacturing  quality products,
  • A sterling reputation for supporting those products,
  • A devoted work-force  dedicated to creating and producing  quality products. 
  • An engineering staff second to none.
  • An American public that was so devoted to Zenith products that is was said that  America had a "love affair" with Zenith.
More about Zenith's production workforce--a work force typified by  women production-line workers who would pick up a piece of hook-up wire found on the floor, and solder it into a hand-wired radio-set chassis ("Let nothing in our company  go to waste".)  

Zenith's  employees were largely  from Middle Europe--the Poles, the Czechs, the Germans, Italians, Scandinavians--many first generation, or the children of that generation.  Their names were  Korling, Gyzinski, Baumgartner, Polley, Sacco . . . ,--in short, a cross-section of America that had pretty much settled  in  Chicago's great West Side, and close to the workshops of Plant 1  and Plant 2. And they viewed Zenith as an almost their personal possession!  it was their company, and an all-American company.


Their ambitions were simple:  a three-bedroom house (for the kids present, or future),  one with a  a basement and a garage--the Chicago bungalow!  After years of scrimping, they might have acquired a boat for fishing, and even a cottage on a lake up in Wisconsin.. They would have joined a club of their fellows.  And when it was all over, a place of rest  in the Bohemian National Cemetery, the Queen of Heaven,  or other cemetery of their own.  And they formed the most devoted, hard-working, upward-striving workforce ever assembled.  An All-American workforce!

And they were Zenith's prime asset!  And Zenith could not let them down . . .  not give in to a  vile cartel, even one  supported by their own government.

It would be  tough going.   Remember that final 4 percent profit cited in the last Post?  Neither Zenith nor any American company--no matter how well managed--could  survive on  a profit that skimpy. One could say that Zenith "fell from heaven of a 12 to 15 percent return on profit to a hell of 4 or 5 percent return."

And Zenith had once made a profit of 15 percent!  That figure came out one day in a conversation with Jim Rooney, the  Zenith  factory manager.  There was a question about why Zenith was bidding on  government contracts.  Jim asked:  " Why are we going after business that pays only a 10 percent profit when we can't keep up with the demand on a product that pays 15 percent?"  That product was, of course, television. 
A Zenith best seller--the 27-inch television set. 
The bottom line now was that   Zenith had to do better than that 4 percent to survive in a brutal competitive environment.

What will Zenith do now?  How will it survive  in the face of such devastating opposition?

An advertising campaign was initiated that was designed to show that Zenith could compete no matter how large the wage differential. An ad  was created that praised the American worker. 


Now lets leave Zenith in its struggle to compete against unfair competition, and visit it later to see the results.   There some good years left, and many great products to come. 

                                                                                    * * * * * * * * 
Do you recall the story told in a previous Post, of how Zenith played a part in coping with 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 American 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, making  it less visible.  It is said that Kinney and the sale-maker worked overnight it to produce a  canvas-covered Trans-Oceanic.  A tape recorder was added to the package to record the code  used for communication between the Russians and the Cubans.  The radios were delivered to the special forces who used them, and then buried in the sand. 

Recently, one of those converted Trans-Oceanics was located!  Here it is: 

 Zenith Radio Corporation Model R-1000 (M)

The (M) suffix indicates that it is "militarized."  The tape recorder, shown in a separate pouch  on the back of the unit,was a Dictaphone "Dictet," a top-of-the line recorder of the time.  That the canvas bag was made in a great hurry (overnight!) to meet the crisis  is apparent. It is said that only 100 were made, and some are still available.  They're a bit of history from a frightening  time. 

Later, the Government and Special Products group under Bill Van Slyck made a fully militarized  version of the Trans-Oceanic--                                                                                       


  (I recall making a sales movie for the militarized Trans-Oceanic.  In one scene, we banged it around,sank it in muddy water, then   fished it out. It worked fine.)                                                                                   

                                                          * * * * * * * * 
Remembering Bob Adler.

His full name is Robert Adler, of course, but everyone knew him as "Bob." A gentle, unassuming man, he was much esteemed by those he worked with.  He is also an engineering and an inventive genius, with over 200 patents to his credit, and a series of landmark inventions that were of immense value to Zenith.  And he  was the Vice-President of Research, with a large contingent of scientists and engineers located on the sixth floor of the Zenith  Glenview plant. 

Adler  is known also for his wisdom and insight. During a discussion as to whether America could survive in what appeared to be a transition from and industrial economy to a service economy, he said:  "We can't survive as nation by taking in each other's laundry."  And during an interview for Zenith's Service World magazine, he was asked to predict when panel TV would reach the market.:

He answered: “Making predictions is a risky business. If you are correct, nobody notices.  If you turn out to be wrong, somebody will take great pains to point it out. Logical arguments which show  that something cannot possibly happen, have a particularly poor track record. " 

Adler's  delight was to take his vacation with his wife Mary at the Paradise Inn  located on a slope of Mt. Rainier, in Washington.  There he would actually go skiing in his late 70's, and later when he was "older," just  go on short hikes with Mary. 

(An aside:  The author has visited Paradise Inn, and it is a glorious place.  The Inn  is quite high up on  Mt. Rainier, and when the sun rises over the peak , the view is breathtaking. 


(However, it is also noted that Mt. Rainier is also a volcano, and like all volcanoes, apt to erupt. The oscillograph needles at the Ranger station higher up on the slope are always quivering as they record the constant earthquakes.  There is a huge mass of magma just under the mountain, and if ever  that becomes active, hell will  come Washington State. The first appearance of an eruption will probably be as "a subsidence"--millions of tons of rock and mud will slide from a mountain side and travel several  miles along a the valley of one of the rivers from flow from the mountain. It will be very quiet slide, but immensely destructive.  Then the weakened side of the mountain may then open  with a tremendous roar, and the smoke and lava will  pour out, just as it did from  nearby Mt. St. Helen.  Seattle and Tacoma, which are also not far away, will become very unhappy  places to live during the eruption.  

 (Note: The ever-indispensable Wikipedia provides a fascinating account of Mt Rainier and its destructive potential as the third most dangerous volcano in the world.)

And when Rainier  erupts,  say farewell to the the Paradise Inn. It will  slide all the way to Seattle. 

(Sorry.  Digression over.  Back to Bob Adler.)

When Bob was asked by letter whether he knew Philo T. Farnsworth, whom some consider to be  the "creator" of the essential television picture tube, Bob  responded:

"Hi, Ralph - good to hear from you again. No,  I did not know Farnsworth; I may be old (88) but not quite that old. I started working for Zenith in 1941.  Of course I had heard of Farnsworth and his experiments when I was still in Europe, but I never had a chance to meet him." 

 Bob was also asked about the "lone inventor" and his future: 

                 (And this is for all you would-be "lone" inventors!)  

"I think it is correct that a "lone inventor" has a hard time getting his work accepted nowadays.  I don't think the situation has changed much in the last 50 years.  Venture capitalists, largely in California, do help lone inventors get started, but mostly after the lone inventor has gathered a few colleagues  and inspired them to help him by working 80 hours a week, for options on a not-yet listed stock. Major Armstrong's case [Armstrong  invented the super-heterodyne circuit] is different; he was accepted, he was famous, his inventions were recognized, but there was something in him that prevented him from taking full advantage of his reputation."

[Bob was also fond of quoting America's greatest inventor, Thomas Alva Edison who, when asked about the "value" of  his inventions,  Edison replied: What is the value of a new-born baby?]                                                                                 
John J. Nevin

John J. Nevin, President and CEO of Zenith, was rumored to have asked  Robert Adler in words to this effect: Why does Zenith need a separate research department? You can always "buy" any needed research."  (When Nevin took over in 1971, his first step was to close all of Zenith's satellite research facilities in England, Canada, and California. But Bob's Glenview research group  was left in place--until one day . . . . but that is another story yet to come.)  

I asked Bob about that, and he responded:  "Ralph, I am sorry I do not remember any such initial conversation. I do remember  Nevin saying at some other time that he did not see the point of having research people on his staff since (and this is a reasonably accurate quote)  "If you need it you can always buy it from the outside."

Nevin was proved right in his conclusion about Zenith's video disk--

"We should remember that Nevin was no more consistent than the rest of us.  When it looked as if, working together with the Thomson-CSF group in Paris, we might soon have an optical video disk (we knew that Philips had one, but ours had certain advantages.)  Nevin told us "don't spare the horses, and if you need more people, go ahead and get them." Until, of course, one day he came to the conclusion that if all you had was a video disk player, but did not own  movies and movie studios, you would lose your shirt. So he stopped the video disk program cold. Later developments at other companies proved him right."

The value of research 'in house'--

"You can see that I have mixed feelings about Nevin. I don't think he understood the fact that research people need to work together for extended periods, that their ideas fertilize each other's thinking, that experienced teams aware  of the company's strengths  as well as its limitations are most likely to come up with ideas that are not just ingenious but also useful. That is the sort of thing you cannot buy from outside." 

Who gets the reward for research?--

"But it also true that often it is not the pioneer who gains the financial rewards  of a new idea. Often it is a second firm that looks a the invention, buys a license, discards parts of it that are not essential (even though they may be dear to the heart of the original inventor) and makes a killing.  So, if all you are interested in is 'stock holder value,' research may not be one of your priorities.

The difference private ownership makes with regard to research--

"The situation is quite different if, for example, the company's stock is privately held.  Often the owners feel that they are in their business for keeps, they attempt to plan years ahead and need to know what kind of problems they are likely to encounter. In this situation, well-directed research can make all the difference - and it's not the kind you can buy outside." 

Bob finishes his letter--

"At 87, I'm five years ahead of you, fortunately quite OK.  Still doing some consulting (for the firm in California that bought the surface wave touch panel patents). I remarried in "98 (my first wife Mary) died in '93) .  We've been doing a lot of traveling in faraway places (New Zealand, China, turkey, Patagonia.)"

Best regards - R. A. 


Robert Adler died at age 93. And those who knew him then said he was intellectually sharp right up to the end. 

Farewell, Bob.  You are perhaps the only near-genius we will ever have known.  And it was a rare privilege!

                                                                               * * * * * * * * 

Now begins a series of articles about  another Zenith luminary: Eugene F. McDonald, Jr. 

 Many  words are needed to describe McDonald's  eminence in the field of electronics and its management: a self-made man . . . a sterling leader . .  a pioneer in enhancing quality . . . and a kind benefactor not only to his employees, but to all men and women. Little is generally known about his personal life but perhaps that oversight can be remedied by the words that follow.  

Eugene Francis  McDonald, Jr.  was born  in 1986 in Syracuse, New York.  His ancestry was Irish as shown by his  family names of Connelly and Dolan.  (His mother's name was Mary Ann Dolan.) His father, Eugene McDonald, and his mother, Mary Ann, died when McDonald was in his early teens.  As a result, his formal education ended and he never completed High School. A age 14, he was forced to go to work to support his three sisters.  To earn money, he sold newspapers,  
fixed doorbells. and eventually found a job with the Franklin Automobile company. (Image below is from the invaluable Wikipedia.).)

McDonald must have shown himself to be what he was--a superb salesman in selling  those early automobiles! Little is known about his career in the years leading up to first World War except of his success as a seller of automobiles, with the sales enhanced by using a a credit financing system  to sell them--an innovative concept at the time. He had  unique ways of selling cars and a special flair for publicizing them.  For example, he drove one of his Franklin motor cars  up the steps of a monument as a way of showing its engine power--this at a time when automobiles were notoriously  under powered. 

(Another digression!  Old timers in the Chicago area will recall a weekly event for Chicago-area automobile owners called  "The Algonquin Hill Climb. Algonquin, Illinois, is far-out suburb of Chicago. Just on the other side of the Fox River  in Algonquin,there is Route 31, a roadway with a steep hill that  was a challenge to the motorists of the time.  Groups of motorists used to go out to Algonquin on a Sunday to see if their beloved "motor cars" could climb the hill. Many of them stalled half-way up.  This was a time when a motor car was a prized possession and the beginning of America's love of the motor car.  (If you live near Chicago, go to Algonquin on a summer Sunday and "try" the hill.  It is quite steep, and a  challenge even with today's more powerful engines.  Algonquin is a fun place to visit, and it is said that there is an authentic castle  there.  And the "hill climb" is a yearly event!

Anyway, the bottom line is that McDonald climbed those steps  of that monument with his Franklin  to prove the unusual power  of its engine. Here is what the car may have looked like:

                                                             A 1919  Franklin--the Brougham 

Digression over. Sorry.  The writer is just an old cat in love with the past. He has had so much "past." 

                                                                                      * * * * * * * * 
Now,  back to Karl Hassel and his account of how McDonald got together with two early radio entrepreneurs.

As mentioned, McDonald joined  the Navy during the war, and was appointed a Lt. Commander in  Naval Intelligence.  (He retained the commission after he left active service, and the connection proved invaluable to Zenith, as we shall see. ) 

By 1921, McDonald  was so effective in selling cars that he must have been very near  to being a millionaire! This is indicated by the fact that he was living a bachelor's life at the Union League club in Chicago,--not a cheap lodging. And it was then he learned about a tiny company started by two War I veterans, a company with the call letters 9ZN. Let Karl Hassel, one of the original founders of Zenith, tell the story of McDonald's fir contact with what was to become Zenith Radio Corporation.  Here is the story that  can be titled "The Birth of Zenith."

The Birth of Zenith  can be traced to a rainy night one New Year's eve in 1920. Eugene F. McDonald, a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence during the war, and on reserve status, was selling automobiles in Chicago, as noted.  On that rainy night, he stopped to get his car serviced in a gas station. He heard a radio that was receiving a broadcast from the pioneer radio station KDKA, located Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The radio was named the "Paragon," and it was manufactured by a two-man company called The Chicago Radio Laboratory. McDonald was so impressed by what he heard that he sought out the Chicago Radio Laboratory, and bought a Paragon set, paying $75, which included tubes, batteries and headphones. (Note: that $75 is about $900 in today's money.)

The owners of the Chicago Radio Laboratory were Karl Hassel and R.G.H.
Matthews, who had been discharged as radio operators from the Navy in October
of 1918. The two had a dream, and that was to go into the business of building
and selling radios. Radio was a good choice as the radio business was about to
prosper. Stations that broadcast news and music, such as KDKA, were popping up
all over the country. The two entrepreneurs built a factory in a small garage
located near the Edgewater Beach Hotel on Chicago's north side, and started to
manufacture radios. Their transmission call letters were 9ZN, and their radio sets
were sold under the trademark Z-Nith, which of course was later transmuted into
the famous Zenith trademark.

Karl Hassel personally delivered and installed the Paragon in McDonald's room
at the Union League Club. Hassel described McDonald's enthusiastic response to
his marvelous acquisition. He figured that if people could sit in Chicago and listen
to music from Pittsburgh, there must be something to this radio business. So he
decided to put some money into this thing and get it going."

                          And "get it going" he did!

Let Karl Hassel tell the story in his own words--

Here is a transcript of Hassel's remarks as shown on the photograph above--

"This radio set is the Zenith Paragon. We first manufactured it in 1920
under the name Z-Nith.

"This oak cabinet contains the tuner. Another box called the 'Amplifigon'
sat alongside. The Amplifigon detected and amplified the broadcast signal so that
you could hear it with headphones. We outperformed our competitors.

"We started making sets on a kitchen table. Our first real factory was a
two-car garage. Half the garage was our transmitting station WEBH; the other
half was the factory where we built the Paragon and Amplifigon.

"Then Commander McDonald came in. He figured that if people could sit in
Chicago and listen to music from Pittsburgh, there must be something in this
radio business. So he decided to put some money in this thing and get it going."

(McDonald's biography to be continued.)

                                               * * * * * * * * * 
That is the end of Post 23.   In the interim until the next Post--Post 24--we must worry about how Zenith is going to "make out."  Will it be able to survive he onslaught of the cartel that  destroyed the entire consumer electronics industry--except for one--Zenith Radio Corporation? We know the ending, of course, but let's let  Zenith survive for awhile as we tell about its struggles to survive.  It is an inspiring story of triumphs and eventual failure.

Announcement!  There will be a meeting of "The Raulanders" at Russell's Barbecue in Elmwood Park on Thursday, February 26, from 1 pm to 3 pm.  


--Ralph Clarke