Powel Crosley, Jr.
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Powel Crosley, Jr. (September 18, 1886 – March 28, 1961) was an American inventor, industrialist, and entrepreneur. He and his brother Lewis were responsible for many "firsts" in consumer products and broadcasting. He was the builder of the Crosley automobiles. He was the owner of the Cincinnati Reds major league baseball team for many years. Crosley Field, a stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, was renamed for him. The street-level main entrance to Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati is named Crosley Terrace in his honor.
- 1 Youth, education
- 2 Early career with automobiles and parts
- 3 Consumer products
- 4 Crosley Radios
- 5 WLW and Crosley Broadcasting
- 6 Appliances
- 7 Sports
- 8 Seagate in Florida
- 9 Automobiles
- 10 Airplane
- 11 Crosley's war effort
- 12 Post-war auto manufacturing
- 13 1950 to today
- 14 Death, heritage
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Powel Crosley Jr. was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to Charlotte and Powel Crosley, a lawyer. He completed his first year of high school in College Hill, after which the school closed. He transferred to the Ohio Military Institute, where he graduated in 1905. He attended the University of Cincinnati but dropped out after two years, obsessed with the mechanics of automobiles. The mass production techniques employed by Henry Ford also caught his attention and would be implemented by his brother, Lewis, when the two began manufacturing radios in 1921.
Early career with automobiles and parts
In 1907, Crosley formed a company to build an inexpensive automobile, the Marathon Six, in Connersville, Indiana. It failed. From there, Crosley traveled to Indianapolis where he went to work for Carl G. Fisher as a shop hand in the Fisher Automobile Company. That job ended when he broke his arm starting a car. From there he went to work for several auto manufacturers in Indianapolis and Muncie, Indiana. Although he often claimed that he was slotted to be a driver in the Indianapolis 500, that was not quite true. He tried but was unable to find a sponsor.
When Powel returned he married Gwendolyn B. Aiken in Hamilton County, Ohio on 17 October 1910. They had two children during the next five years, Powel returning to Cincinnati after the birth of the first, Powel Crosley, III. Powel made several additional failed attempts to manufacture cars (one of them a cycle car) before finding success in auto accessories. In 1916, he co-founded the American Automobile Accessory Company with Ira J. Cooper. The company's best seller was a tire re-liner of Powel's invention, which mail order giant Sears soon picked up. Another popular product was a flag holder that held five American flags and clamped to auto radiator caps. World War I generated patriotism and thousands were sold. Crosley's two secrets of success were his ability to invent useful gadgets and the business sense of his brother Lewis M. Crosley. By 1919, Powel and Lewis Crosley had sold more than a million dollars in parts and were diversifying into other consumer products such as phonograph cabinets.
He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 1920, Crosley first selected independent local dealers as the best way to take his products to market. He insisted that all sellers of his products must give the consumer the best in parts, service, and satisfaction. Always sensitive to consumers, his products were often less expensive than other name brands, but were guaranteed. Crosley's "money back guarantee" set a precedent for some of today's most outstanding sales policies.
During the early 1920s, his young son asked for a radio, then a new item. Crosley was shocked at the prices for such a "toy" at a local department store, all of which were priced in excess of $100. Instead, he purchased a booklet titled "The A.B.C. of Radio," and he and his son built their own radio.
He recognized the appeal of radio almost immediately, and soon he was manufacturing radio components. Not long after his company was manufacturing radios. He hired two University of Cincinnati co-op students to help design a set he named the "Harko." This consumer radio was sold for $7, bringing the radio to the masses. By 1924, Crosley Radio Corporation was the largest radio manufacturer in the world. The slogan "You’re There With A Crosley" was used in all Crosley advertising.
Crosley's firm arranged for the 1928 construction of the Crosley Building in Camp Washington, using it for radio manufacturing as well as for WLW broadcasting and for manufacturing other devices. In 1930, Crosley was marketing the Roamio, with "screen grid neutrodyne power speaker" for automotive use, priced at US$75 before accessories and installation. It was claimed to be able to receive thirty stations, with no signal strength change.
The Crosley Pup and Bonzo
In 1925, Crosley introduced a small 1-tube regenerative radio called the "Crosley Pup" that sold for $9.75. While RCA Victor had Nipper (its mascot from the famous logo showing the dog listening to "his master's voice" from a phonograph), Crosley also adopted a mascot in the form of a dog with headphones listening to one of his "Pup" radios. In the 1920s, a cute, pudgy little dog named Bonzo, a creation of British artist George E. Studdy, was the inspiration for much commercial merchandise, such as cuddly and mechanical toys, ashtrays, pincushions, trinket boxes, car mascots, jigsaw puzzles, books, calendars, candies, and a profusion of postcards. Soon, Bonzo, wearing a set of headphones, became associated with the Crosley Pup radios.
WLW and Crosley Broadcasting
Once he was established as a radio manufacturer, Powel Crosley Jr. decided to develop broadcasting, to encourage purchase of radios. In 1921, soon after he built his first radios, he began experimental broadcasts from his home with a 20-watt transmitter using the callsign 8CR. The station was designed and built by Dorman D. Israel, a young radio engineer from the University of Cincinnati. After he left Crosley, Israel went on to become chief engineer and later executive vice president of Emerson Radio. On March 22, 1922, the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation won a commercial license under the calls WLW, operating at 50 watts. During the next six years, the station's broadcast power was increased to 50,000 watts. Crosley's hypothesis in increasing power being that the more powerful the broadcast, the cheaper he could build radios. In 1934, Crosley put a 500,000-watt transmitter on the air (on occasion, the station's power was boosted as high as 700,000 watts). It was the most powerful radio transmitter in the US, and operated with a special license subject to 6-month renewals.
Throughout the 1930s, Cincinnati's WLW was truly "the Nation's Station," producing many hours of network programming every week. Among the entertainers who performed live from WLW's studios were Red Skelton, Doris Day, Jane Froman, Fats Waller, Rosemary Clooney, and the Mills Brothers. Crosley developed some of the earliest "soap operas" with sponsorship by the Procter & Gamble Company.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that WLW had to reduce its power to 50,000 watts in 1939, partly because it interfered with other stations, but largely because of political trouble. During World War II, the great power of WLW was utilized again: its transmissions passed over the North Pole and could be heard throughout most of the world. The 500-kilowatt transmitter was crated for shipment to Asia, but the war ended before it was shipped.
WLW's engineers also built high-power shortwave transmitters that became the "Voice of America." Crosley's broadcasting company eventually expanded into additional markets and experimented in 1939, 1941 and after WWII with television broadcasting. (Crosley Broadcasting did not go on the air with regular television broadcasting, with WLWT-TV, until after Powel Crosley, Jr. sold the company to AVCO. Crosley was on the board of directors at this time.)
In 1930, Crosley added refrigerators and other household appliances to his products. Because he had invested in his own businesses instead of the stock market, he was better able than many other industrialists to keep his employees working and his products available to the public during the Great Depression.
The Icyball was an early non-electrical refrigeration device. The unit used an evaporative cycle to create cold, and had no moving parts. The dumbbell shaped unit was "charged" by heating one end with a small kerosene heater. Crosley Radio Corporation sold several hundred thousand Icyball units before discontinuing manufacture in the late 1930s.
In 1932, Powel Crosley had the idea of putting shelves in the doors of refrigerators. He patented this idea, and for the next several years his "Shelvador" refrigerators were one of the best selling models. This practice was universally adopted by refrigerator manufacturers when the patent expired.
Today's Crosley Corporation is not connected to anyone named Crosley; it was started by an independent appliance distributor who bought the rights to the name from AVCO in 1976. The appliances are manufactured mostly in North America by Electrolux. Crosley branded Top Load washing machines are made by Whirlpool Corporation at its plant in Clyde, Ohio.
In 1934, Crosley purchased the Cincinnati Reds professional baseball team from owner Sidney Weil who had lost much of his wealth after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Crosley secured permission from the baseball commissioner to hold seven night games at the renamed Crosley Field. On May 24, 1935, the first nighttime game in baseball history was held there between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies under newly installed electric lighting. With attendance up more than 400% from daytime events, the team's financial position was greatly improved. Crosley also approved baseball's first regularly scheduled play-by-play of all scheduled games on his "non-nation", local station WKRC-AM. The coverage increased attendance so much that within 5 years all 16 major league teams had radio broadcasts of every scheduled game.
On a personal level, Crosley was quite a sportsman. He never got a pilot's license, stating that he was too busy to keep appointments for lessons, yet he owned as many as six airplanes at a time, several of them seaplanes such as the Douglas Dolphin. He also built a series of five Crosley Moonbeam airplanes.
Crosley owned a number of yachts. The Crosley boats were luxury yachts with powerful engines, not sailing vessels. Powel Crosley was a renowned fisherman who participated in celebrated tournaments in Sarasota and rose to being the president of its sport fishing club.
Other sports, hunting, and fishing camps Crosley owned as retreats included an island in Canada called, Nikassi, where he spent every August fishing and hunting. In later years he owned Bull Island, located off the coast of South Carolina. He also owned a retreat in Jennings County, Indiana that now is called the Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area, as well as a house in Havana, Cuba, and another on Cat Cay in the Caribbean.
Seagate in Florida
In 1929, Powel Crosley Jr. built a Florida winter retreat on Sarasota Bay for his wife, Gwendolyn. The retreat was built along the bay front of a sixty-three acre parcel (243,000 m²) that was platted in 1925 as a subdivision named Sea Gate. According to early official county documents and grandson Lewis L. Crosley's birth certificate, the name was spelled on early documents as two words, Sea Gate, but has become contracted in use over the years, including the name of the street leading to the building which was renamed as, Seagate Drive, by the county.
The two-and-a-half-story Mediterranean Revival style house, and the auxiliary garages and living quarters for staff, designed under the auspices of New York architect George Albree Freeman, Jr. by Ivo A. de Minicis, were built in the southwest corner of Manatee County by Paul W. Bergman. The house contains ten bedrooms and the same number of bathrooms.
Seagate was the first residence built in Florida using fireproof steel frame construction that provided protection against hurricanes, as well. The cross-axis design and a circular tower that contains a second-story teak-lined study with metal oculi are significant elements of the house. Other important features included double louvered and screened pocket doors and transoms for all rooms that could provide privacy while allowing the natural flow of on-shore and off-shore sea breezes to cool the house through window and door grilles and rejas; a telephony system wired into the walls of the house and servant quarters; electrical wiring under the tiles in the floors to provide power for table and standing lamps; chamfered and polychrome stenciled pecky cypress beams; galleon carvings on the loggia; massive carved doors; terra cotta tile floors that were laid into unique designs for each room and the main staircase; detailed plaster ornamentation; and stained glass of ochre and lavender randomly placed in casement and French windows. External features included flagstone detailing of the patio, walkways, and entry porte-cochere, fountains, a swimming pool, a seaplane dock, and a yacht basin. Crosley had a deep path dredged from the center of the bay to a berth that accommodated his yachts and the seaplane in which the Crosleys regularly flew to Sarasota from Cincinnati, as well as to resorts. Tide level indicators were built into the walls of the berth. The berth remains as a current aspect of the property. A wind indicator to alert Crosley to changes in wind conditions, swept around the ceiling of his second-story study. It was driven by a distinctive weathervane atop a tower built into the house. The circular tower has a bank of windows along the entire curve, providing a broad vista overlooking the bay.
After the death of his wife, Gwendolyn, of tuberculosis at the retreat in 1939, Powel Crosley all but abandoned the house. During World War II, Crosley allowed the Army Air Corps use of the retreat to house men learning to fly fighter planes. A nightclub was operated there for a brief period. Following the war, the property was sold and the large portion west of Tamiami Trail was retained as a residence by the Mabel and Freeman Horton family for forty years.
The house and remaining forty-five acres was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 by a purchaser who intended to build an exclusive condominium project on the site using the historic house as a clubhouse. The project failed when the economy faltered shortly thereafter. Seagate was saved from commercial development by the efforts of adjacent residents led by Kafi Benz, who opposed several ensuing proposals for development and initiated a campaign for preservation and acquisition through Friends of Seagate Inc., a nonprofit corporation. She published an illustrated guide to Seagate and, with other members of the board of the organization, developed extensive documentation and conducted research on the property and buildings, as well as its owners.
In 1991 the property was purchased by the state of Florida and 16 acres (65,000 m2) of the original subdivision along the bay front, containing the structures built by Powel Crosley, were designated for renovation by Manatee County while the larger portion of the property was designated for the University of South Florida and New College of Florida for future expansion.
Today, the 1929 historic structure houses the Powel Crosley Estate, and is used as a meeting, conference, and event venue. The estate is aided by fundraising through the Crosley Estate Foundation. In a re-separation of New College from the University of South Florida, the satellite campus for the Tampa-based university was removed from the original New College campus on the nearby Edith Ringling estate and a solo campus was created on the eastern portion of the Seagate property for use by the university alone.
Of all Crosley's dreams, success at building an affordable automobile for Americans was possibly the only major one eventually to elude him. In the years leading up to World War II, he developed new products, reviving one of his earliest endeavors. In 1939, when Crosley introduced his small car to the world, he broke with tradition and sold his car through many of his independent appliance dealers and department stores. The 1939 Crosley Motors, Inc. automobile had an 80-inch (2.0 m) wheelbase, a diminutive 38.87 cubic inch 2 cylinder air cooled Waukesha engine (637 cm³), and a price tag between $325 and $350. The car, with its chubby profile was offered in gray, yellow or blue color, and all had red wheels and a black top. Weight was only 925 pounds. The company had plants in Camp Washington, Ohio (a neighborhood in Cincinnati), Richmond, Indiana, and Marion, Indiana. During the pre-war period, Crosley produced 5,757 cars. However, the onset of war ended all automobile production in the United States in 1942.
The Crosley Moonbeam was built in Sharonville, Ohio and was first flown on December 8, 1929. It was designed by Harold D. Hoekstra, who was employed by Powel Crosley Jr., President of the Crosley Aircraft Company. Mr. Hoeskstra later became Chief of Engineering and Design for the F.A.A. Unique features of this aircraft are the square tube longerons used in the fuselage construction, use of torque tubes instead of control cable, and the corrugated aluminum ailerons. Original power was supplied by a four-cylinder inverted inline 90 hp Crosley engine. At one time it was also tested with a 110 Warner Scarab engine. N147N reportedly was the first airplane on which the spoilers were tested (in May, 1930) as a lateral control device. Five “Moonbeams” were produced. The first was a three-place parasol; next, a four-place, high wing cabin model; third and fourth were one place high wings. Due to the Great Depression, planned production did not take place. N147N (shown here) is the last of these planes in existence. It is housed at the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Lexington Kentucky.
Crosley's war effort
Crosley Corporation was involved in war production planning before December, 1941, and, like the rest of American industry, focused on war-related products thereafter. The company made a wide variety of products. The most significant was the proximity fuze, manufactured by several companies for the military. Crosley turned out more fuzes than any other manufacturer, and made several production design innovations. The fuze is widely considered the third most important product development of the war years, ranking behind only the atomic bomb and radar. Ironically, Powel Crosley himself did not have U.S. government security clearance, and thus was not involved with the project, was prohibited from entering the area of his plant that manufactured the fuzes, and did not know what it was until war's end. It was instead directed and supervised by Lewis M. Clement, the company's Vice-President of Engineering.
James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy said, "The proximity fuze has helped blaze the trail to Japan. Without the protection this ingenious device has given the surface ships of the Fleet, our westward push could not have been so swift and the cost in men and ships would have been immeasurably greater."
Commanding General of the Third Army, George S. Patton said, "The funny fuze won the Battle of the Bulge for us. I think that when all armies get this shell we will have to devise some new method of warfare."
Also of significance were the many radio tranceivers manufactured by the Crosley Corporation, including the BC-654, which was the main component of the SCR-284 radio set. The company also manufactured field kitchens, powered gun turrets for PT boats and B-24 and B-29 bombers, military radios, and so-called "morale receivers," which were used by civilians living in countries occupied by the Nazis to listen to Allied broadcasts.
Powel Crosley's auto manufacturing division, CRAD, in Richmond, Indiana, turned out experimental motorcycles, miniature Jeeps, a self-propelled gun and a variety of tracked vehicles during the war. All were powered by the 2-cylinder engine that powered the original Crosley auto. Crosley had nearly 5,000 of the engines on hand when auto production ceased in 1942, and hoped to put them to use in his miniature war machines.
Post-war auto manufacturing
After the end of World War II, Crosley resumed building its small cars. A new model of the Crosley automobile continued the company's pre-war tradition of being small, light in weight, and low-priced. It sold for $850 and got between 30 and 45 miles per US gallon. Unfortunately for Crosley, good gas mileage ceased to be an inducement after gas rationing ended. Also, Americans preferred big cars at the time. In 1949, he introduced the first disc brakes on an American automobile on all models from Pickup to his Hotshot sports car model. Crosley sold about 75,000 cars before closing down the operation in 1952.
1950 to today
Despite his ultimate failure as an automobile manufacturer, Crosley was not out of touch with consumer trends. His WLW was experimenting with television as early as 1929, when it received an experimental television license from the Federal Radio Commission (FRC, later the FCC).
He sold WLW (as well as Crosley Corporation) to the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) in 1945, earning a handsome return on his original investment in broadcasting of almost a quarter-century earlier. He remained on the AVCO board for several years afterward. AVCO put Ohio's second television station, WLWT-TV, on the air in 1948. At the same time AVCO began manufacturing television sets under the aegis of the Crosley Corporation. Some of the first portable television sets were manufactured by AVCO with the Crosley brand name.
"Crosley" ceased to exist as a brand name in 1956, when AVCO closed down the line due to lack of profit. However, the Crosley name was so well established that AVCO's broadcasting division, fronted by WLWT, retained the Crosley name until 1968. The name has since been reintroduced by Modern Marketing Concepts, as Crosley Radio in 1984. The new Crosley Radio is one of the US's leading manufacturers of vintage-styled turntables, radios, and other audio electronics.
In 1973, the Evendale, Ohio operation of AVCO Electronics Division was purchased by a group of key AVCO executives. The new company became known as Cincinnati Electronics Corporation, and manufactured a broad range of sophisticated electronic equipment for communications and space, infrared and radar, and electronic warfare, among others.
Since the creation of the Cincinnati Electronics Corporation in 1973, the company has been acquired by a handful of companies, including GEC Marconi (1981), BAE Systems (1999), CMC Electronics (2001), and L-3 Communications (2004–present).
Powel Crosley Jr. died March 28, 1961, of a heart attack. He was 74.
Crosley liked to label himself "the man with 50 jobs in 50 years," a catchy sobriquet that was far from true, although he did have more than a dozen jobs before he got into automobile accessories. He helped quite a few inventors up the ladder of success by buying the rights to their inventions and sharing in the profits. His work provided employment and products for millions of people.
A few of his more noteworthy accomplishments:
- second car radio (Motorola was first)
- first push-button radio
- early soap operas
- first non-electric refrigerator (Icyball)
- first refrigerator with shelves in the door (Shelvador)
- most powerful commercial radio station ever (WLW, at 500 kW)
- first lights on a major league baseball field
- newspapers broadcast by radio-FAX (Reado)
- first American car to have disc brakes
- Hall of Fame Opens Crosley Exhibit, Radio Ink, July 15, 2014 note: both the property and postal addresses of the Powel Crosley Estate, "Seagate", mentioned in the article cited, are Sarasota, although the house is located in unincorporated Manatee County, which recently has adopted the use of Bradenton as a marketing identity
- Graham, Gordon. "Historic Crosley Building Could Be Converted into Apartments", WXIX, 2014-05-02. Accessed 2015-08-20.
- Mahon, Morgan E. A Flick of the Switch 1930–1950 (Antiques Electronics Supply, 1990), p.74.
- Mahon, p.74.
- XERVAC, TJS Labs Gallery of Graphic Design (retrieved 19 September 2010)
- "Proceedings of the IEEE, 1947 edition."
- LaHurd, Jeff, Powel Crosley, Jr. remembered as a visionary, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sunday, November 15, 2015, page B-1
- Benz, Kafi, Notes for tours of "Seagate", Seagate Press, Sarasota, Florida, 1991 - a detailed history and discussion of the appointments of the structures, including illustration; a brochure first published by Kafi Benz during 1988
- Sarasota Magazine, May 1, 1992
- Banks, et al "Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire That Transformed the Nation" Chapter 28, p. 362, 368
- Minter, Jerry "Proximity Fuze: Secret Weapon of WWII" Proceedings of the Radio Club of America, Vol 54, No 2, October, 1980, pp. 3-10
- Jennings, Edward "Crosley's Secret War Effort" crosleyautoclub.com
- "Lewis Mason Clement – Pioneer of Radio cprr.org
- Fucci, Antonio. "Radio Set BC-654-A SCR-284-A Receiver and Transmitter".
- Michael A. Banks; David Stern; and Rusty McClure (2006). Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation. Clerisy Press. ISBN 978-1-57860-291-9.
- Michael Banks (2013). Crosley and Crosley Motors. Infografix. ISBN 978-1583882931.
- Crosley Radio History - archived page
- Crosley Automobile Club Inc.
- Antique Automobile Club of America, Powel Crosley webpage
- Powel Crosley Jr - His Life in Photos
- Foundation for Economic Education, America's Forgotten Entrepreneur, Powel Crosley Jr.
- Barry M. Horstman (1999-04-08). "Powel Crosley Jr.: Innovator, sportsman dreamed big". The Cincinnati Post. E. W. Scripps Company. Archived from the original on 2005-12-05.
- Crosley Car Owners Club (CCOC)
- Cincinnati Enquirer "Crosleys had the Right Formula"
- Art Deco Review of Crosley Radio retro classic product in the West Coast Midnight Run art book 2013 edition
- Crosley Fish & Wildlife Area, Vernon, Indiana
- Bonzo and The Crosley Pup
- Powel Crosley, Jr. at Find a Grave