Avery Robert Fisher
4 March 1906
|Died||26 February 1994 (aged 87)|
|Known for||transistorized amplifier, stereo radio-phonograph, philanthropy Avery Fisher Hall|
Avery Robert Fisher (March 4, 1906 – February 26, 1994) was an amateur violinist, a pioneer in the field of high fidelity sound reproduction, founder of the Philharmonic Radio Company and Fisher Electronics, and a philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to arts organizations and universities.
Early life and career
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Avery Fisher was the youngest of Charles (Anschel) (1868-1946) and Mary (Miriam) (née Byrach) (1869-1945) Fisher's six children. His parents had emigrated in 1903 (three years before his birth) from Kiev, then a part of Russia. Fisher said he became fascinated with music through his father's large record collection and that everyone in the family had to learn to play a musical instrument. “I was born into a musical family. Every one of my parents’ children was given an opportunity to learn an instrument. Papa would go down the line: violin, piano, violin, piano, violin.”
He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science Engineering (B.Sc.Eng.) degree in 1929 and subsequently worked for six years in book publishing and book design. During this time, Fisher, an amateur violinist, began experimenting with audio design and acoustics. He wanted to make a radio that would sound like he was listening to a live orchestra — a radio that would achieve high fidelity reproduction of the original sound.
Book design and moonlighting as an audio equipment engineer
Fisher explained his desire to leave publishing and move into audio design, saying "That's how I started to make a living when I got out of college. I worked with a publishing house, Dodd, Mead and Company - to whom I owe everything when you get right down to it. I worked at Dodd, Mead and Company for the single most cruel person I have ever met in my lifetime - and I'm not exaggerating. This man was only a year older than I. He was the boss's son, and I think he sensed my apprehension about having a job at all. I went to work there in 1933, having been in the advertising agency that handled their account before that. That agency closed when the banks closed in 1933, and I was out of work for about six months. In the fall of that year, I went to Dodd, Mead asking if they could use my services, and they hired me for $18 a week. After about six months, perhaps out of guilt or something, they gave me a two dollar raise. I was doing the same work there that I was doing for them at the agency, and the agency used to charge them $100 to design a [promotional] brochure. I used to turn out two or three of those a week, and I still was getting only $18 or $20."
Fisher continued "In 1937, I noticed that the advertising department of Dodd, Mead was buying their photo engravings from one source and their book manufacturing department was buying from another. If they combined both those purchases and bought from one source, their quantity discount would save them just under $10,000 a year. I went to my superior, Ed Dodd, and told him about it. He said, "That's a great idea, Fisher." He never called me by my first name - always by my last, you know, like a deckhand. He said, "I think I'll do something about it." And they did. And I said, "By the way, I'd be very grateful if I could have a five dollar raise." He could have said, "Well, not right now." But instead he said, "Well, no. We probably could get some young Yale boy in here to do your work for less than we're paying you." That day, I said to myself, "I've got to get out of here one way or another," and I started putting [radio-phonograph] sets together for friends. I was moonlighting, and I did that for a number of years before I was in a position to get out and really spend full time on this. By 1943, I'd built up my company, Philharmonic Radio, to the point where I could draw enough money from it to earn a living. By that time I had a wife and child. So I owe them [Dodd, Mead] everything. Because I really loved my work as a book designer, and I turned out some very fine stuff, which won prizes. One of the books I turned out was called Grassroot Jungles, which became one of the 50 best books of the year for graphic design--this is out of 40,000 titles--and Ed Dodd never let me put my name in a book for credit as the designer. Now this is a long answer to your simple question, what got me into hi-fi. It was an act of desperation -- and also of love, because I really enjoyed hearing good equipment."
Fisher explained the start of his career in high-fidelity audio, saying “…I was developing my hobby in hi‐fi, and a number of friends asked me to make for them the kind of equipment I was constructing for my own home, the sort of thing that was not commercially available, the type of thing found in radio stations or movie theaters. And so I started constructing for this small group of people and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a business.”
Philharmonic Radio Co.
In 1937 Fisher established his first company, the Philharmonic Radio Company with Victor Brociner, producing the company's first high-fidelity radio receivers. Philharmonic Radio equipment was well regarded, earning Fisher the beginning of his reputation as a leader in audio equipment.
A January, 1940 Consumers Union comparison test of high fidelity radio-phonograph recommended Philharmonic's $ 295 (equivalent to $5,384 in 2019) 14-tube Linear Standard console unit, saying "Quality of reproduction judged best of high fidelity radios tested. For critical listeners who want the best possible tone quality regardless of price, the extra cost of this model is justified." The second unit recommended was the $ 219 (equivalent to $3,997 in 2019) Philharmonic Futura Carillon. "Difference in quality of reproduction between this model and the Linear Standard discernible only to the musician or engineer... the tone quality of this set will be considered perfect.
With the invention of FM broadcasting by Edwin Armstrong, Fisher's desire to have a radio and amplifying device that could meet his goal of true high fidelity became a reality. In one of the earliest comparison tests of six FM receivers, Consumers Union gave the Philharmonic Futura K-1 its highest recommendation, saying "its performance on broadcast was outstanding." The November, 1941 review of the $ 377.50 (equivalent to $6,571 in 2019) unit also said "It also used one of the most satisfactory of the record changers tested and was best as to tone quality." The review also noted the unit was safer than others, saying "Only radio tested with no shock hazard at record player."
Military and government production
Production of radios for civilian use was suspended by US government order in April, 1942.
Reformed as the Philharmonic Radio Corporation, the company started producing military radio equipment, manufacturing the SSR-5A radio receiver during World War II for the US and Allied forces. Part of the SSTR-5 (Strategic Service Transmitter-Receiver) Radio Set, the set was developed late in the war, was considerably smaller than the SSTR-1, and was carried in a canvas shoulder bag. Components included the SSR-5 receiver and the SST-5 transmitter. The set was designed to be operated from battery power (the receiver uses 135V, 6V, and 1.5V). In addition to a standard model, both "A" and "B" variants were made. The SSR-5A receiver was made by Philharmonic.
Philharmonic Radio also produced airport instrument landing systems for use in control tower communication with commercial and military airplanes. One of their largest installations was deployed at the New York Municipal Airport, now named the LaGuardia Airport.
Fisher said "During the war, we were working on subcontracts for the Navy. We were turning out IFF equipment, which is Identification, Friend or Foe. It was a transponder, so you could tell whether an aircraft was one of ours or one of theirs. You'd send out a beam, and you had to get a signal reply back. We also designed the first instrument landing system used at LaGuardia Airport for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in Washington. In 1943, we didn't have enough money to finance the contract work we were able to get, so the company was sold to American Type Founders, which needed an electronic division." Fisher stayed on as president until 1945 but when the war was over he resigned and, taking certain key people with me, started Fisher Radio.”
Fisher sold his interest in Philharmonic Radio and founded his second audio firm, Fisher Radio Company, which developed, manufactured and marketed high-performance audio products under the trade name "The Fisher".
By the 1950s, the term receiver was used instead of radio for a unit that combined a tuner and an amplifier, but lacked speakers. In 1957, the Fisher Radio Company produced their first high fidelity FM/AM receiver, the monophonic 14-tube Fisher 500 (TA500).
In 1958, H.H. Scott, Inc. introduced the first true stereophonic receiver, which used a stereo multiplex decoder. Fisher followed with its $350, 22-tube, stereophonic 600 (TA600) receiver in 1959. (A multiplex option, the Fisher MPX-200, would add four more tubes)
Between 1963 and 1964, Fisher introduced their first all-transistor stereophonic receiver, the Fisher 400T. Early transistor receivers were not highly regarded by hi-fi enthusiasts, so manufacturers such as Fisher moved gradually with the technological advance. In the 1960s, Fisher made two trend-setting breakthroughs, marketing the first all-transistor (solid state) amplifier and the first receiver-phonograph combination, the forerunner of the compact stereo and integrated component system. These products brought Avery Fisher both fame and fortune. From 1959 to 1961, the firm also made important improvements in AM-FM stereo tuner design.
Sale of Fisher Electronics
In 1969 Fisher sold his company to the Emerson Electric Company for US $31 million. Fisher distributed a sizable portion of the proceeds from the sale among his key employees. Fisher served as a consultant to the new management team. Sanyo purchased Fisher Electronics from Emerson in May 1977.
Book design and typography
Though he left publishing in 1943, he said book design was "my first love." He still designed books long after he had made a fortune in audio. For example, he designed "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples," by Winston Churchill (1960) and "The American Seasons," by Edwin Way Teale (1976). He donated his fees for those projects to charities. Fisher told an interviewer in 1976 "Looking at a beautiful typographical design is like listening to music."
One of Fisher's most prized possessions was a genuine 1692 Stradivarius violin. He would loan the violin to promising artists for special performances.
Fisher was an life-long automobile enthusiast. As an enthusiastic driver, he said “I began in 1932 with the purchase of an Aston Martin, and since that time I've owned nothing but foreign cars. I still drive a 10‐year‐old Rover Mark III... when I die I'll be seated at the wheel of the Rover, and the whole thing will be lowered into the ground. Of course, all gassed up, in case I want to go somewhere.”
Fisher founded the A. R. Fisher Products Corporation, offering specialty products to the auto enthusiast market. He imported aftermarket foreign auto parts, selling items such as high-performance Abarth exhaust systems for Fiats and Volkswagens in the early 1950s.
A lifelong philanthropist, Fisher served on the board for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the New York Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Marlboro Festival. He also established the Avery Fisher Artist Program that includes the Avery Fisher Prize and Career Grants in 1974. Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center was named in his honor from 1973 until September 2015, when it was renamed David Geffen Hall.
Today, Avery Fisher is best known for the auditorium in the Lincoln Center cultural complex in upper Manhattan that once bore his name. Avery Fisher Hall housed the New York Philharmonic and was the site of various other musical and cultural events featuring many musical ensembles. The hall was named for Fisher in 1973 after he donated $10.5 million (U.S.) to the Philharmonic.
Fisher had a reputation for modesty. John Mazzola, the general manager of Lincoln Center, had to persuade him to permit Philharmonic Hall to be renamed after him. He protested that no one paid attention to such things and quipped, "Who's Major Deegan?" (a reference to the obscure namesake of the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx).
Four decades later Fisher proved prophetic when Lincoln Center officials announced their plan to remove his name from the Hall in favor of a new donor. On November 13, 2014 they laid out a timetable for naming rights to be sold to the highest bidder in a drive to raise a total of $500 million toward renovation set to commence in 2019. Said Lincoln Center chairwoman Katherine Farley, "It will be an opportunity for a major name on a great New York jewel." Fisher's three children accepted $15 million in return for acquiescing to the deal. The Hall was renamed David Geffen Hall in September 2015 after Geffen pledged a $100 million donation to the Lincoln Center renovation.
Fisher died at age 87 at the New Milford Hospital in New Milford, Connecticut on February 26, 1994 from complications from a stroke. His body was cremated. Fisher said of his life in a 1976 interview "You know, I’ve been awfully lucky. My whole life has been devoted to giving people pleasure."
- Kozinn, Allan. "Avery Fisher, Philanthropist, Dies at 87". The New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
- Marsh, Dave (September 23, 1976). "A Conversation with Avery Fisher". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
- Van Gelder, Lawrence. "Low‐Key, High‐Fidelity Donor Avery Robert Fisher". The New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
- Mergner, Fred (June 1994). "In Memoriam" (PDF). Journal of Audio Engineering. 42 (6). Retrieved March 21, 2020.
- Garud, Raghu (February 2009). Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks, and Organizations. John Wiley & Sons. p. 85. ISBN 9781405141949.
- "Radios and Combinations" (PDF). Consumers Union Reports. New York, New York: Consumers Union of the United States, Inc. January 1940. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
- "FM Radio-Phonographs" (PDF). Consumers Union Reports. New York, New York: Consumers Union of the United States, Inc. November 1941. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
- Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 591. United States Patent Office. October 24, 1946. p. 664.
- McCollum, Peter (1998). "U.S. Clandestine Radio Equipment". Retrieved March 22, 2020.
- United States Civil Aeronautics Administration (1946). "Federal Airways Manual of Operations, Volume 2". Federal Airways Manual of Operations. 2. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
- Fisher, Avery. "Avery Fisher". Created by N. Brewer 2008-08-13. IEEE Global History Network. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
- 600, Fisher, Fisher's First True Stereo Receiver, Ohio University,
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- "SANYO Electric Co., Ltd". 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
- Rockwell, John. "He's First a Music Lover, Then a Philanthropist". The New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
- [The cost of putting footprints in sands of time,] by Tom Buckley, New York Times, Oct. 17, 1973