The Philadelphia Storage Battery Company was organized from the Helios Manufacturing Company in July 1906, with Frank S. Marr as its first president. While Helios had produced carbon-arc lamps, the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company produced storage batteries for cars, trucks, and mine locomotives.

In 1911, the company hired James M. Skinner as a chemist. Skinner quickly rose up through the ranks, eventually becoming general manager and vice president. It was Skinner who introduced the name Philco as an abbreviation for the company’s name in a 1919 advertising campaign.

Philco started making batteries for consumer radios in 1923. These early radios, which were becoming increasingly popular, required two types of batteries, A and B. When a battery ran out of power, the consumer had to take the radio to a service station for it to be recharged. Philco, however, began producing and selling battery chargers so radio owners would not have to take their batteries outside the home to be recharged.

Under Skinner’s leadership, Philco ran aggressive ad campaigns in a wide array of magazines. It also shipped instructional booklets to Philco dealers to ensure that salesmen were well-versed in the company’s products. In 1927, Philco began a weekly Friday night radio broadcast on four stations in the eastern U.S. By September, the “Philco Hour” had become a regular program on NBC.

In 1925, Philco got its first taste of large-scale success with its Socket-Power units, which allowed a radio to be plugged in to an electrical outlet. Even though the radio still required an A battery to function, the Socket-Power units utilized trickle charging to ensure that the battery wouldn’t die.

Two years later, however, the Radio Corporation of America developed technology which allowed radios to be plugged directly in to a wall, making Philco’s Socket-Power units obsolete. In an attempt to adapt to the changing market, Philco began to explore the possibility of making radios, not just batteries. To this end, Philco bought the Wm. J. Murdock Company in February 1928 to acquire all the proper patents and licenses.

Philco released its first radios later that year. This line of radios later became known as the 511 series and included a metal table model designed by Hollingsworth Pierce, as w...

In an effort to appeal to female buyers, Philco hired artist Matild Massaros to create floral designs for the furniture cabinet models; these designs were hand-painted. Philco also devoted substantial resources to advertising. In 1929, for example, the company sponsored broadcasts of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the early 1930s, Philco also signed a number of advertising deals with Paramount, which included promotional giveaways featuring actors’ autographs.

At the same time, Philco sank massive capital into retooling the Murdock company factory to make it fit for mass production. Despite taking on some short-term debt, this transition allowed Philco to become the third-biggest company in the radio industry in 1929, selling more than 400,000 radios.

As Philco dropped its prices and introduced new features, it quickly became an unpopular competitor among radio manufacturers. In 1930, it introduced Tone Control, which allowed a listener to change his or her radio’s sound to brilliant, bright, mellow, or deep, depending on the desired balance of low and high frequencies.

As the Depression grew even more serious, Philco produced one of the first cathedral radios—small table model radios with arched tops, which made them look like cathedrals. Featuring an Art Deco design, these models were cheap, marketed to those hit by the Depression. In particular, Philco’s Baby Grand model quickly became a success. By the end of 1930, Philco was the top radio manufacturer in the United States.

That same year, Philco bought the Automobile Radio Corporation and renamed it the Transitone Automobile Radio Corporation. Transitone released the Model 3 automobile radio, which was smaller and cheaper than its competitors.

The company’s fortunes did suffer as a result of the Depression, but innovation allowed Philco to stay in business. In 1934, its Model 200-X became the first true high fidelity radio receiver on the market, beating out its competitors by a full year. In 1936, Philco introduced its Automatic Tuning system, which allowed listeners to assign their favorite stations to presets. Three years later, Philco introduced the Mystery Control, the first wireless remote control made for radios.

By 1938, Philco had produced its 10 millionth radio; to mark the milestone, it manufactured a small number of 38-116 radios with a commemorative brass plaque. Even so, the company began diversifying its product lines, producing an air conditioner called the Cool-Wave in 1939 and initiating a line of refrigerators in 1940, the same year Philco sold its 15 millionth radio and reorganized as the Philco Corporation. Philco also started selling its first TVs in 1939, and the company began broadcasting from its own television station, W3XE.

To keep sales high, Philco employed a number of winning strategies. Its ads usually promoted the company’s cheapest models, hoping that low prices would lure customers into the store, where a dealer could talk them up to a more expensive model. Philco dealers also had to meet monthly quotas in order to continue to be allowed to sell the company’s radios. In the early 1930s, Philco introduced an annual cruise for all of its dealers, during which the company would tout its new line.

With the coming of World War II, Philco secured contracts to manufacture radar and other technology for the U.S. government. After the war, Philco slowly made the transition back to consumer electronics. The delay in getting its television line back in step allowed the Radio Corporation of America to gain a huge head start in the market, a lead it never relinquished.

In the 1950s, Philco expanded its product line and began research into computers and transistors, diversions that hurt the company as a whole. In 1961, Philco was bought by Ford, which sold the company in 1974 to GTE-Sylvania. Philco later became part of the Philips Consumer Electronics Corporation.

For collectors, dating Philco radios is easy. Most models have a five-digit model number. The first two digits indicate the year of manufacture, so a 41-255, for example, was made in 1941. In its long history, Philco produced many types of radios, from the small cathedral radios to larger Lazyboy chairside models.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ron Ramirez's comprehensive reference on the former Philadelphia Storage Battery Company and Philco Corporation. In… [read review or visit site]

Jim's Antique Radio Museum

Jim's Antique Radio Museum

Jim Tripp's showcase of radios from the 1920s to late 1950s, organized by style and theme (wood, console, plastic, … [read review or visit site]

The Radio Attic's Archives

The Radio Attic's Archives

This photo gallery of over 7800 vintage radios, categorized by manufacturer and model number, is a group effort wit… [read review or visit site]

Alan Voorhees' reference resource for vintage radio collectors includes a photo gallery, article library, PDF archi… [read review or visit site]

This vast archive and community of radio collectors features over 120,000 radio model listings and 350,000 photos a… [read review or visit site]

Phil's Old Radios

Phil's Old Radios

This extensive collection of antique radios includes beautiful photos and detailed historical descriptions. The sit… [read review or visit site]

John Pelham's collection of wood and plastic radios from the 1930's and 40's. What sets this site apart is the deta… [read review or visit site]



Steve Erenberg's extremely wacky and well-done collection of vintage mad-scientist devices and contraptions. Writte… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1930s Old Art Deco " Tempo Tone " Amazing Antique Streamlined Tube RadioPhilco Radio "atomic Age" Stunner 5 Tube Pale Lavender Pink Mid Century Working!Super Rare 1952 Philco Model 52-545 5 Tubes Ac Am Clock Brown Radio 30w MintOld Antique Wood Philco Vintage Tube Radio - Restored Working Art Deco Table TopVintage 1950s Old Philco Solid Pink Plaskon Bakelite Great Style Clock RadioPhilco Model 40-125 Vintage Antique Tube Radio-fantastic Shape-must SeeVintage Philco Model 34 Wood Tube Cathedral Radio * Very NicePhilco Model 90b Cathedral Radio,original ConditionVintage Philco Radio 46-420Old Antique Wood Philco Vintage Tube Radio - Restored Working Art Deco Table TopVintage Art Deco Philco Cathedral Tube RadioAntique 1940 Philco Radio Model 40-130 Works & Looks Nice Great Vintage Antique Philco Tube Radio Model 38-12 Nice ConditionBeautiful Vintage Philco Model 46-200 - Working.Vintage Philco Cathedral Radio Type 19 Code 126 Parts/repairAntique 1931 Philco Lowboy Radio Model 90a Nice Original Cabinet Plays WellVintage Art Deco Philco 37-620 Tube Wood Radio 18.5" Tall WorksPhilco Small Cathedral Radio ProjectVintage 1930s Radio Speaker From Philco Model 70 Grandfather Clock RadioPhilco Transitone Vintage RadioPhilco Model 38-12 Table Radio 5 Tube Am Circa '381942 Philco Model 42-pt95 "transitone" Radio Vintage Antique 1937 Philco Tube Radio Floor Model 37-610 Art Deco DesignVintage 1940's Philco Transitone Wood Case 31-2354g Tube RadioVintage Philco Tube Radio Model 41 - 259Philco Cathedral Tube Radio1942 Philco Chairside Radio, Restored, Vintage, AntiquePhilco Model 95 Metal Table Radio Circa 1930Philco Model 42-380 Tube Console Radio For Parts/restorePhilco Parts Catalog 1936Philco 48-460 Tabletop Tube RadioDial Glass For Early 1940s Radios Face Plate Philco Or Zenith NosPhilco Radio SpeakerPhilco Radio - 1940s2 New In Box Philco Mesh Plate Type 38 Balloon Shaped Power PentodesVintage Philco Transitone - Tube Radio

Recent News: Philco Radios

Source: Google News

Actor John Glover returns to Salisbury for a cause
Delmarva Daily Times, September 21st

He used his gift to sell Philco television sets. Glover said he hopes to use his to make more people aware of the disease that took his father's life and get them to do something about it. 410-845-4630. On Twitter @Jeremy_Cox...Read more

Today's world has no use for what used to be
The Philadelphia Tribune, September 21st

Besides the radio in the console, I know some of you had a Philco Cathedral radio with a bunch of tubes. These radios also required considerable time to warm up. Did you listen to “The Shadow,” “Baby Snooks,” “The Lone Ranger” or “Amos 'N Andy.” What ...Read more

Jay Schlag, 76: Engineering professor loved teaching
Atlanta Journal Constitution, September 19th

A few years after receiving his bachelor's degree in science and electrical engineering from Duke University in 1960 he began his career working at the electronic pioneer corporation Philco. Fascinated by technology, in 1967 Schlag was appointed to the ...Read more

Too Big To Fail: Why The NFL On TV Is Still On Top
MediaPost Communications, September 18th

the NFL might someday join the ranks of other businesses once considered too popular to ever go out of business but that did anyway, citing brands as notorious (and, in some cases, ancient) as Crazy Eddie, TWA, Korvettes, Philco and even...Read more

Cheap Eats: 7 Favorite Fried Snacks
Columbus Monthly, September 16th

Philco's ping-pong-ball-sized hushpuppies ($2.50)—crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside—are versatile. Choose the savory option, served with spicy pickle mayo, for the perfect beer companion, or go with the sweet version, doused in powdered ...Read more

Jeiger Arévalo confirma que no apoya a Carlos Philco en Morales
Diario Voces, September 16th

En declaraciones a radio Interactiva de Tarapoto, Jeiger Arévalo, manifestó que no apoyará a Carlos Philco, en las elecciones municipales, y que apoyará a Fuerza Comunal, cuyo candidato a la alcaldía es el actual alcalde Edilberto Pezo Carmelo, porque ...Read more

Tito y Maca robaron un Philco y se lo dieron al tío Paco
Noticias de Villaguay, September 12th

El ilícito ocurrió en la tarde del 25 de marzo último, cuando personas desconocidas ingresaron a una casa de calle Almeida, entre Corrientes y Cepeda, en ausencia de su moradora, y sustrajeron de allí un televisor LCD marca Philco, de 32 pulgadas...Read more

Declaran inadmisible denuncia contra candidatura de Carlos Philco
Diario Voces, September 9th

El Jurado Electoral Especial, declaró improcedente el pedido de tacha contra la candidatura de Carlos Philco Balbín. Philco presentó en su hoja de vida un certificado de estudios del Queensland Academy of Technology, para cuatro meses de Inglés ...Read more