Philco (founded as Helios Electric Company, renamed Philadelphia Storage Battery Company) was a pioneer in battery, radio, and television production. In North America, it is the Philco brand owned by Philips. In other markets, it is the Philco International brand owned by Electrolux.
|Founded||1892 in Philadelphia|
|Parent||Philips (North America),|
AB Electrolux (elsewhere)
In the early 1920s, Philco made storage batteries, "socket power" battery eliminator units, and battery chargers. With the invention of the rectifier tube, which made it practical to power radios by electrical outlets, in 1928, Philco decided to get into the booming radio business. They followed other radio makers such as RCA, Atwater-Kent, Zenith Electronics, Freshman Masterpiece, FADA Radio, and AH Grebe into the battery-powered radio business. By the end of 1930, they were selling more radios than any other maker, a position they held for more than 20 years.
Philco built many iconic radios and television sets, including the classic cathedral-shaped wooden radio of the 1930s (aka the "Baby Grand"), and the Predicta series of television receiver sets of the 1950s.
Philco was founded in 1892 as Helios Electric Company. From its inception until 1904, the company manufactured carbon-arc lamps. As this line of business slowly foundered over the last decade of the 19th century, the firm experienced increasingly difficult times. As the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company, in 1906 it began making batteries for electric vehicles. They later supplied home charging batteries to the infant radio industry. The Philco brand name appeared in 1919. From 1920 to 1927, all radios were powered by storage batteries which were fairly expensive and often messy in the home.
First major household product
A very successful August 1925 product, called the "Socket Power Battery Eliminator", was a rectifier unit which enabled users to operate their battery-powered radios from standard light or wall sockets. By 1927 over a million of these units had been sold, but the invention of the vacuum tube rectifier (incorporated into the coming 1928 line of radio sets) made this technology obsolete.
In 1926, Philco decided to begin making radios. The first Philco radios were introduced in mid-1928, and 96,000 were produced that year, making Philco radios 26th in the nation in production volume. Up to that time most radios were handmade and priced for relatively wealthy consumers. Atwater-Kent, the leading radio seller, coincidentally was also located in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Storage Battery Company decided that prices of radios could be scaled for a mass market by incorporating assembly line techniques then only used by the automobile industry. By the 1929 model year, Philco was in third place behind Atwater-Kent and Majestic (Grigsby-Grunow Corp) in radio sales. In 1930 the company sold 600,000 radios, grossed $34 million, and was the leading radio maker in the country. By 1934 they had captured 30% of the domestic radio market.
Philco radios were notable for their economy of design without sacrificing quality or durability. Like other makers of the era, they offered a wide line of radios beginning with five-tube sets all the way up to high-fidelity consoles with 20 tubes in 1937-38. Philco also made battery-powered radios which were by then called "farm radios", most of which had cabinets identical to their AC powered versions. The Philco "Baby Grand" (today called "cathedral" radios by collectors) was a shape that featured an arched top that wrapped from the sides over the top. This was for economic reason partly, as one piece of wood formed both the top and sides. Philco sold far more of this style than any other maker, a total of over two million (in over twenty models, with from four to eleven tubes) from 1930 to 1938; many of them exist today in collections. By today's standards, most are still excellent performing AM band radios when restored.
A few of their innovations were very futuristic. From 1939 to 1941, they sold radios that were remotely operated by wireless controls, the one-tube "Mystery Control", used on their 13-tube model 116RX-SU (or 39-116). This feature was not offered by any other maker until the 1970s stereo receivers. Philco ranked 57th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts.
Another interesting product was the Philco "Beam of Light" 78 RPM record players offered in 1941 and 1942. These units had a tiny mirror attached to the player's needle. A beam of light was focused on the mirror which caused a vibrating light to hit a solar cell and produce the audio signal. While this system had some advantages over the standard crystal phono cartridge of the time, it was unreliable and is today a very difficult unit to restore.
Expansion into other products
Philco began marketing car radios in 1930 and later expanded into other areas including air conditioners (1938), refrigerators (1939), home freezers (1946), consumer televisions (1947), electric ranges (1949), home laundry washers and dryers (1954), and home entertainment products. Their first consumer television set, the 1948 table Model 48-1000, had a 10 in (25 cm) screen and sold for US$395.
Philco was also a pioneer in television broadcasting, launching experimental station W3XE in 1932. In 1941 the station became the third commercially licensed TV operation in the United States as WPTZ. It was sold to Westinghouse Broadcasting in 1953 and operates today as KYW-TV.
The Philco Predicta TV set was introduced in 1957 for the 1958 model year. It was a black and white television with the picture tube mounted in a unique steerable pod on a pedestal. There were many versions: 17" or 21" picture tubes, wood or metal cabinets and table or floor standing versions, some with rare UHF tuners. Its specially designed, high-deflection-angle (to achieve a shallow front-to-back depth) picture tube turned out to be a very unreliable design, and cost the company dearly in repairs and reputation. Many of them were sold to motels and bars due to the convenience of the swivel tube arrangement. It was discontinued in 1960; a great failure for Philco. Today, due to the unique design, the Predicta is a collector's favorite and restored examples can easily be found.
Transistor research and product development
In late 1953, engineers at Philco Corporation invented the surface barrier transistor, the first high frequency transistor suitable for use in high speed computers.
In June 1955, the National Security Agency and the United States Navy entered into a contract with Philco to build a specialized scientific transistorized computer based on Philco's surface barrier transistor technology. The project was called SOLO, since the idea was to have powerful personal workstations, and the computer was later commercially named the Philco Transac S-1000 . The SOLO transistorized large scale scientific computer was finally built and delivered to the National Security Agency in November 1957. Philco also entered into a contract with the U.S. Navy's David Taylor Basin Research Division in 1955, to build a larger scale fully transistorized computer using its surface-barrier transistor technology, which was named the CPXQ model and later became the Philco Transac S-2000.
Philco had developed and produced a miniature transistorized computer brain for the Navy's jet fighter planes in 1955, which was called the "Transac" (C-1000, C-1100) and which stood for "Transistor Automatic Computer". It used Philco's high-frequency surface-barriers transistors in its circuitry design.
Chrysler and Philco announced that they had developed and produced the world's first all-transistor car radio and it was announced in the April 28, 1955, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Chrysler made the all-transistor car radio, Mopar model 914HR, available in Fall 1955 for its new line of 1956 Chrysler and Imperial cars, as a $150 option. Philco's radio manufacturing plant in Sandusky, Ohio, had produced the all-transistor car radio unit for the Chrysler Corporation, which also used Philco's surface-barrier transistors in its circuitry design.
In 1955, Philco developed and produced the world's first all-transistor phonograph models TPA-1 and TPA-2. This was originally announced in the June 28, 1955, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Philco had begun selling these all-transistor phonographs in the fall of 1955 for $59.95. The October 1955 issue of Radio & Television News magazine (page 41) printed a full-page, detailed article, on Philco's new consumer product all-transistor phonograph. The Philco all-transistor portable phonograph TPA-1 and TPA-2 models played only 45rpm records and used four 1.5v "D" batteries for its power supply. "TPA" stands for "Transistor Phonograph Amplifier". Its circuitry used three Philco germanium PNP alloy-fused junction audio frequency transistors. After the 1956 season ended, Philco decided to discontinue the all-transistor portable 45rpm phonograph models, for transistors were too expensive compared to vacuum tubes.
The Philco Transac models S-1000 scientific computer and S-2000 electronic data processing computer, were the first commercially produced large-scale all transistor computers, which were introduced in 1957. It used discrete surface barrier transistors instead of vacuum tubes (as the integrated circuit had not yet been invented). It also used a fast adder, originally invented by Bruce Gilchrist, James H. Pomerene and Y.K. Wong of the Institute for Advanced Study. It incorporated a speed up technique for asynchronous adders reducing the time for additive carry-overs to propagate.
In 1959, Philco developed and produced the world's first battery-powered portable transistorized TV. This TV model was called the "Safari" and it contained 21 transistors inside. Philco had developed the VHF micro-alloy diffused-base (MADT) transistors and used them in the Safari portable TV. The retail selling price was $250.00 plus the cost of the rechargeable battery, which was $5.25 extra.
In 1962, the Philco 2000 Model 212 computer was chosen for use in the North American Aerospace Defense Command's famous Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Three of the machines were installed that year and ran until 1980. The machines were also used by research labs at Westinghouse Electric and General Electric.
In 1960, NASA contracted with Philco to build the worldwide tracking station network for Project Mercury, and all subsequent man-in-space projects until the ground station network was replaced by the TDRS communication satellites in the 1990s. Philco's Western Development Labs ultimately became Space Systems/Loral, which continues to manufacture spacecraft. In later years, the company produced automotive electronic controls, aerospace tracking systems, and artificial satellites.
In 1963, Philco was also responsible for the design, manufacturing, installation, and service of all the consoles used in both Mission Operations Control Rooms (a.k.a. Mission Control) at Building 30 of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Philco technical representatives worked with NASA staff to design and integrate the consoles with NASA hardware and systems. The consoles were used for the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle missions until 1998. The Philco-designed and installed consoles in Mission Control 2 at the Johnson Space Center have been preserved and will be restored to their Apollo-era configuration for historical purposes. The control room is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the "Apollo Mission Control Center".
Water purification systems
In 1971, Philco-Ford began to sell reverse osmosis-based water purification systems that used tube-shaped membranes developed by the company to filter and desalinate raw polluted water for municipal utilities and manufacturing.
By 1960, Philco Corporation had applied for bankruptcy protection. On December 11, 1961, Ford Motor Company purchased Philco and continued to offer consumer products, computer systems and defense related projects. The company continued to provide Ford with car and truck radio receivers and consumer product investments were made to color television production. Along with color and black and white television Philco continued to produce refrigerators, washers, dryers, air conditioners, stoves, radios, portable transistor radios, portable phonographs, audio console systems with high quality "Mastercraft" furniture cabinets, and component stereo systems.
The company branded Philco products as "Philco-Ford" in 1966, and console stereo systems reached their zenith during 1966 and 1967, with high quality cabinet construction and powerful stereo chassis systems of 100- and 300-watt consoles. Philco at one time was one of the largest furniture producers in the world, but the end was near for "high quality" furniture cabinets along with stereo equipment. High quality cabinets were replaced with cheaper wood composites covered in vinyl paper with plastic wood pieces, and the quality electronic systems were replaced with cheaper versions imported from Philco in Taiwan. Eventually, all consumer electronic goods would be made by Philco-Taiwan, to lower costs of production and be more competitive in the market. This was a prevailing trend in the American electronics industry but Philco-Ford was one of the first to implement it.
In 1973, a complete line of refrigerators was introduced, consisting of eight side-by-side "Cold Guard" models, which used about one-third less electricity than comparable competitive makes. In 1974, Ford sold Philco to GTE, which also owned Sylvania Electric Products. In 1977, Philco International was sold to White Consolidated Industries (WCI). (In 1986, WCI was bought by AB Electrolux.)
The company (as well as the Sylvania brand name) was acquired from GTE by Philips in 1981 so that Phillips could gain the rights to use its trademark in the United States. Philco had been able to keep Philips from using its trademark because of the similar-sounding names, so Philips had sold its products in the United States under the name "Norelco". Philips later used the Philco name for promotional consumer electronics and licensed the name for private brands and retro-style consumer electronics. Philips also licensed the Philco brand name to Funai for digital converter boxes for analog TVs in the USA. As of September 2019, the US website is no longer functioning.
In Brazil, Philco (then Philco-Hitachi) was acquired in 1989 by Itautec, becoming Itautec-Philco and in August 2005 Itautec sold Philco to Gradiente. In August 2007, Gradiente sold the brand to a group of investors, who intended to license the brand to Brazilian appliance maker Britânia.
In 2003, the Merloni Group acquired rights to the Philco brand (from Philco International) for use in Italy. The Italian Philco produces household appliances in affiliation with ex-Bendix Corporation and Thorn EMI Moyor Electronics (e.g. Bendix 71258 1000 automatic washing machine 1986). As of 2006, the company is mainly recognised in Australia.
In Argentina, in March 2004, Philco was acquired by a group of Argentine investors. The presence of Philco in Argentina dates since 1930 and remains a traditional mark of appliances in this country. It currently manufactures refrigerators by Helametal Catamarca S.A. (Philco Argentina). All the line electronics, LCD TV, Car Stereos, Air Conditioning, MWO, Audio & DVD, is represented by Newsan SA SANYO and DatandHome SA, with the line of washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioning, water heaters, also the same group.
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- Philco International
- A brief history of Philco
- The Internet's Leading PHILCO Resource with comprehensive history and photo gallery sections as well as on online forum devoted to Philco
- Everything for the Philco antique radio collector and restorer
- Online community of former Philco Tech Reps
- Video: Philco's Early Computers