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The History of Philco

A family listening to their Philco 116X radioThis section of the website presents a comprehensive look at the history of the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company, which later became the Philco Corporation, from 1892 through 1945.

What you are about to read in this section is the product of twenty-three years of research including trips to Philadelphia to learn more about Philco and take on-site photographs. This is the most comprehensive history of Philco up to 1945 that has ever been assembled anywhere.

Notice: Most of the text presented herein is taken from the unpublished manuscript "Philco: The Early Years," © 2005-2013 Ron Ramirez. All rights reserved. This information may not be copied, in whole or in part, without the express written permission of the copyright holders.

FOREWORD

(As written in 2005 by Ron Ramirez for the unpublished manuscript Philco: The Early Years, modified as needed to fit this format)

The feeling was more than a little spooky when I first saw a picture of James M. Skinner a few years ago. I was immediately struck by our facial similarities. Perhaps this is the reason I have become a Philco historian – perhaps this was my destiny in life.

It is ironic that “Philco” is still a recognized name, but the man responsible for making that name so recognizable has become a virtual unknown. Yes, Skinner has been all but forgotten today, fifty-one years since his passing and sixty-six years since he resigned from the company he helped make famous.

It is apparent from the research I have conducted thus far that Skinner shunned publicity even as his peers delighted in it (as seemed to be the case with RCA’s David Sarnoff and Zenith’s Eugene McDonald). In addition, it is no secret that the radio industry was no fan of Philco, Skinner’s management of it, or Skinner himself, for that matter. For some time now, it would appear that Skinner’s peers may have had the last laugh, since he is no longer a known or recognized figure in the books of radio history.

Today, it is my earnest desire to see that J.M. Skinner receives his rightful place in those history books, alongside Powel Crosley, A. Atwater Kent, Cmdr. McDonald, and Gen. Sarnoff. These four gentlemen are still well known in the antique radio community. All four of them have been inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame, yet Skinner remains shut out.

When I wrote my first book, Philco Radio: 1928-1942, my writing experience consisted of a dozen or so articles published in Antique Radio Classified magazine. No books existed at the time which focused on any one radio manufacturer, and it was my first attempt at writing a book. It took two years to put together, with a manuscript written on an electric typewriter which received quite a workout during the time. When it was finally completed and published, the book attracted a great deal of praise, and a small amount of criticism – some of which, twelve years on, I can honestly say was deserved. Nevertheless, in the amount of time that has passed since 1993, I have been able to acquire a great deal more information on what has proven so far to be somewhat of an elusive subject.

So what’s so different about this? To begin with – pictures. My research has uncovered many photographs of Philco plant sites, early factory shots, and important people involved with Philco during their “glory years.” I wish I were able to share more of these historical photographs with you, but copyright questions have prevented that from happening. Nevertheless, I believe the serious student of Philco will find the photographs herein, mostly gleaned from period Philco publications, quite interesting. Now, most of you will get your first look at James M. Skinner, as well as some of the other important figures in Philco history.

Secondly – information. The history section relies much more on factual data and much less on Philco advertising. Naturally, a company will attempt to paint a superb portrait of itself. This time, the goal was to produce a more scholarly text with less “fluff.” I believe I have accomplished that goal, and in the process, have told the Philco tale more completely than it has ever been told before. Extensive endnotes show most of the sources for my narrative. In my research, I uncovered a little dirt to go along with the meat; this, too, is reported herein.

So I present to you the product of twelve years’ work on my part of gathering information, networking with other collectors, taking (and collecting) pictures. This entire book was put together on my computer – it was much easier that way. And instead of taking two years, this time I was able to complete the task in eight months. I hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, my work is not yet complete. I wish I had had more time to check out important sources of information before this edition was published, but rest assured I will continue the research. There are still many more facts to be gathered, more sources to be studied, and more stories to be told. Along this line, it is my future intention to continue the Philco saga with additional history spanning the years 1946 to 1961, since many of you have requested more information concerning the post-war Philco era.

   Thanks to all of you for your continued support in this endeavor.