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Clairtone logo.

Clairtone Sound Corporation Limited was a manufacturer of high-quality sound electronics and accessories based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Founded in 1958 by Canadian-Hungarian electronics engineer and businessman Peter Munk with furniture designer David Gilmour, the company established an international reputation for stereo and cabinetry design in the 1960s. It had failed little more than a decade later but in its heyday it made a notable contribution to the field of consumer electronics.

The most famous Clairtone design was the "Project G" series designed by Hugh Spencer. It featured black globe speakers, with a wood cabinet and introduced the now-standard modular approach to consumer audio[1] that offered a dramatic departure from boxy cabinet design popular until that time (and which Clairtone also manufactured). The Project G won a medal at the Milan Triannale as well as a Canada Design Council Award of Excellence.

Clairtone earned a reputation for combining futuristic designs with quality materials, and marketing them well. It opened its first international sales office in New York in 1960 and later hired Frank Sinatra as a pitchman. The Project G system was featured the 1967 film The Graduate, marking an early example of product placement. It became a true trendsetter when Hugh Hefner bought one of the futuristic systems.[2]

In 1964, Clairtone opened an electronics division and was an early advocate of transistors. The company was traded publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but even as it was winning awards for its innovative designs, Clairtone was facing insurmountable financial troubles. In 1963 it earned a profit of $300,000 on sales of $10 million, and profits decreased the following year as marketing costs rose higher than sales.[3]

Early investor Frank Sobey, who had been mayor of Stellarton, Nova Scotia from 1937 to 1959[4] and was then president of Industrial Estates Limited (IEL), helped the company obtain financial support from the Government of Nova Scotia to open an electronics manufacturing plant in Stellarton. The company decided to switch production to televisions at this time and was fully operational in Stellarton by the summer of 1966. There were close to 1,000 employees at the time.

Clairtone's entry into the colour television market was ill-timed (the market would not take off for another five years; see History of Television). Sales in 1967 were exceedingly poor, with losses of more than $6 million, and the business began to spiral out of control. In October, 1967, Industrial Estates Limited, an economic development agency of the Government of Nova Scotia, took control of the company. Sales continued to decline and share prices plunged from more than $15 in 1967 to a few cents by 1970.[5] A study conducted by Clairtone 1967 found that the failure of the plant was in large part due to the local workforce. "The general population is basically not geared to the manufacturing frenzy and especially the five-day workweek... The welfare situation is such that it has created conditions similar to Appalachia in the United States where the third generation is already on relief."[6]

By March 1970, Clairtone was sold to the Government of Nova Scotia and came under new management. At this time it began to offer cheaper products including the world's smallest transistor radio, the "Mini Hi-Fi".[7][8][9] The company hemorrhaged money to the amount of $19 million that year, losses that were absorbed by the province. It was finally closed in 1971. The assets were sold but the company was not officially dissolved until 1979. Over the period of its investment the Government of Nova Scotia lost approximately $25 million dollars, considerably more in today's money.[10]

Clairtone Mini Hifi from 1970; it is a copy of the Sinclair Micromatic.


  1. ^ Cool '60s Design: Canadian design to remember
  2. ^ Book Review: "Design In Canada Since 1945: Fifty Years From Teakettles To Task Chairs", Deirdre Hanna in Now Toronto Online Edition, December 2001.
  3. ^ Hopkins
  4. ^ "Town to dedicate bust of Frank Sobey". Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  5. ^ Roy George
  6. ^ "My Father's Brilliant Mistake - Nina Munk". Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  7. ^ Clairtone "Mini Hi-Fi" by Sarah Lowrey, 2001
  8. ^ WJOE Radio: Taking radio from the past into the new Millennium
  9. ^ Clairtone Sound Corporation
  10. ^ "N.S. author accounts rise and fall of stereo giant Clairtone in Stellarton - Local - The News". Retrieved 2015-11-03. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Roy E. George, The Life and Times of Industrial Estates Limited, Halifax: Henson College, Dalhousie University, 1974. (IEL was the company crown agency that attracted Clairtone to Nova Scotia and later took over the company.)
  • Garth Hopkins, Clairtone: The Rise and Fall of a Business Empire, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978.
  • Nina Munk and Rachel Gotlieb, The Art of Clairtone: The Making of a Design Icon, 1958-1971, by, May 2008. [1]
  • The Clairtone Sound Corporation Fonds is an extensive archive of photographs, technical drawings and graphical material deposited by Clairtone at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • There is also a small archive of Clairtone ephemera (catalogues and brochures) as well as a G2 console at the Design Exchange (DX) Resource Centre in Toronto.

External links[edit]