John Herbert Orr
In 1945, Orr was among the U.S. Army Intelligence officials who investigated this technology, which was originally developed in Germany during the 1930s. According to one story, in 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to record a message to the German people, which he did using captured German tape. However, the tape had not been completely erased, and Hitler's voice, so the story goes, could be heard intermittently along with that of Eisenhower. Eisenhower ordered that no more captured tape could be used, and ordered Major John Herbert Orr to use captured German scientists to set up an American tape manufacturing facility. Paper tape was the medium in use at the time, but the German engineers had been experimenting with a plastic based tape; they provided Major Orr with the data on this and it became the basis of the modern audio and video recording industry. When the German engineers gave Orr their studies on plastic tape, the only place in Europe manufacturing the material was a factory making ladies imitation leather purses.
Orr's early knowledge allowed him to establish Orradio in 1949. When, after some uncertainty, tape became the standard medium for magnetic recorders, and as other uses such as data storage and videotape appeared, Orradio's sales expanded rapidly in the late 1950s. Orradio produced the first commercially available audio tape, video tape, and computer tape in the world. The company was purchased by a larger competitor, the Ampex Corporation, in 1959 when Ampex decided it was cheaper to own the plant than to keep buying all their tape.
Orr then founded OrrTronics, which developed the lubricated tape used in closed loop tape systems. The system, called the "Orrtronic Tapette", was produced in versions for home, commercial, and automotive use, and was offered as a prize on television game shows. Evolving from a single track mono design (which stayed in production as the radio station "cart") through two-track mono and stereo versions.
OrrTronics was then sold to Delco Battery and Orr formed Orrox Corporation, which specialized in hard disc drive controllers, refurbishing of Quadruplex videotape recorder heads, and computerized video tape editing systems for TV broadcasters and post-production houses. The latter product, CMX Systems, was for many years the preferred editing system for 80% of all television programming originating on videotape.
Orr retired from Orrox in 1976 and founded Orr Proprietorship, which transcribed recorded media, from early cylinder recordings to 1960s tape recordings, onto modern tape for preservation.
Orr died of a heart attack in 1984 while on a Sunday afternoon drive with his sister.
- Jack Mullin - Another American magnetic tape pioneer.
- Richard H. Ranger - Another American magnetic tape pioneer.
- WJHO - Radio station initially licensed to Opelika, Alabama
- John Herbert Orr Collection
- Harvard Business Review Archives (Winter 1993 - at bottom of page)
- Today's Engineer article
- Transcript of PBS' History Detectives program (Car Tape Deck segment, Episode 6, Season 3, 2005).