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”)

Philcoradio.com

Philcoradio.com

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]

AntiqueRadios.com

AntiqueRadios.com

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

Radiomuseum.org

Radiomuseum.org

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]

Radiophile.com

Radiophile.com

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]

Radio-Guy

Radio-Guy

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 1959 Philco Danish Modern Space Age Eames Era Jetsons Atomic TelevisionOld Antique Wood Philco Vintage Tube Radio - Restored & Working Table Top RadioGorgeous 1930's Philco Tube Two Tone Wood Cathedral Am Radio Restored Works GoodVtg Wood Philco Transitone 42-pt-7 Table Top Tube Radio Bakelite Knobs WorksVintage Mid Century Atomic Age Bakelite Radio Tube Philco Antique Brown 49-501Vintage 1940s Old Philco Radio With An Outstanding Mid Century Cabinet Design1932 Philco 112 Magnificent Unrestored Radio Gorgeous Vintage Photo-finish 1938 Philco Table Tube Radio Am Sw Restored WorksAntique Philco Wood Tombstone Tube Radio Model 37-620 1930sAntique Philco Wood Refrigerator Tube Radio Model 42-kr-3 1940sAntique Philco Tube Radio, Restored And Works, Beautiful!!Philco Tube Radio Model 46-200Antique 1948 Philco Radio Model 48-460 Works & Looks GreatAntique Philco Vintage Tube Radio In Wood Cabinet Restored And Working. Philco Scantena Redish Square Desktop Tube Monito Radio VintageVintage Philco Model 60 Code 121 Cathedral RadioVintage Philco Knobs For Tv Or RadioVintage 1940's Philco Model #42-842 Suitcase Style Tube Radio Works Great!!1938 Philco Radio Model 38 62Vintage Philco Tube RadioVintage Philco Ford Clock Radio Alarm Am Fm Afc Full Feature Works Great!1930's Lot Tube Radio Brochures Sales Items Philco Kleer-tone Philco 6a8g Pentagrid Converter Vacuum Tube Philco Radio Band Switch KnobVintage Ford Philco Clock RadioVintage Philco Radio Model 49 - 902 Tubed Radio *no Reserve!!*

Recent News: Philco Radios

Source: Google News

Former Atlanta voice-over artist George 'Space Ghost' Lowe posts tribute to ...
Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog), August 20th

Announcer Don Pardo on the set of “Saturday Night Live” in 1992. Pardo, the durable television and radio announcer whose resonant voice-over style was widely imitated and became the standard in the field, died Monday in Arizona at age 96. ASSOCIATED ...Read more

Gordon Bell And DEC - The Mini Computer Era
iProgrammer, August 19th

The choice presented to him was to work for Philco or to return to MIT to complete a doctorate. He opted to put off joining a company and built a statistical sound analysis meter at the MIT Speech Computation Laboratory writing the first Analysis by...Read more

No delay on disclosing delays: new MTR boss
South China Morning Post (subscription), August 18th

General manager Philco Wong Nai-keung, who takes over from retiring Chew Tai-chong as projects director in October, said the additional costs took into consideration extra labour and "unforeseen circumstances". As to whether Leong wanted the post ...Read more

Accused Russian hacker must stay in custody, judge says
The Seattle Times, August 15th

(August 16, 2014) MORE. The pen is a nice place for that punk. Let the sorry dude watch an old Philco B&W TV, but no computer time... (August 16, 2014) MORE. Hell Yes!!! This guy should stay in jail, and no bail whatsoever!!! If you let this Russian...Read more

Army/Navy Game Analysis
Wicked Local (blog), August 14th

We watched on a black and white Philco television, and even though the “old man,” was World War II Army, I was rooting for Navy. It was a spine-tingling and controversial ending, with the Midshipmen hanging on for the 21-15 victory, as time ran out...Read more

Ahora Philco dice que no es viable la independización de Morales a EMAPA
Diario Voces, August 11th

El candidato a la alcaldía de Morales por acción Popular, Carlos Philco Balbín, a pesar que hace dos meses, en promesa electoral manifestaba que Morales debe independizarse de EMAPA San Martín y que incluso ya había hablado con la Comunidad ...Read more

A brief history of cooking with computers
Fox News, August 1st

Consumers first got a chance to have a kitchen computer of their own in 1969, seven years after Jane Jetson first prepared dinner by inserting a punchcard into a towering contraption attached to the family table—and two years after the Philco Ford...Read more

Carlos Philco denuncia a Pezo Carmelo, por publicidad en camiones ...
Diario Voces, July 31st

En entrevista con radio Intercativa, Carlos Philco manifestó que en los camiones compactadores de basura, todos los días se escucha campaña a favor del alcalde Pezo Carmelo, con la frase “Edilberto Pezo Carmelo, alcalde de Morales, creo que está ...Read more