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    

Beautiful Working Philco Model 41-22clNear Mint Restored Antique Vintage Philco 48-250 Bakelite Tube Radio Works GreatVintage 1934 Philco Wood Table Radio #45 "the Butterfly"- Nice!Philco 90 Wood Cathedral Tube Radio---needs Some Restoration Antique Philco Tombstone Tube Radio. I-pod Compatible. Restored, Warranty!!!Vintage Philco Tombstone Am/sw Tube Radio Model 66b - RestoredPhilco 40-115 Wood Am Police Band Tube Radio Restored And Working1934 Art Deco Philco Wood Table Radio Model 45Vintage, Old, Antique, Wood, Table Top Tube Radio, Philco Model 40-125c (1939)Antique Working 1935 Philco Model 66b Tombstone Tube Radio (bc, Sw, 5 Tube, Ac)Gorgeous Deco 1940 Philco With Clock A52ck Wood, Table, Tube RadioVintage Frst Philco Transistor Radio Model T-7-126 And Leather Case Nice Vintage Antique Philco Transitone Tube Radio-plays Great!Gorgeous Prewar 1942 Bakelite Philco 5tube Radio Model Pt-2 Restored & WorkingVintage Philco Radio 1941?Nice Vintage Antique Philco Wooden Tube Radio -looks Sharp!! Am And Shortwave 1937-1938 Vintage Philco Am Radio Model 38-12 (tube) 1958 Philco All Transistor Shortwave RadioBeautiful 72 Year Old Philco 42-322 Tube Radio RestoredVintage Old Antique " Midget " Philco Ford Mini Transistor Radio Phonograph Antique Philco 48-206 Leatherette Am Tube Table Radio - Plays - Vintage 1948 Philco 46 350 Tube Roll Top Radio Tambour For Parts Or Repair HumsMagnificent Restored 1931 Philco Model 70 Cathedral Radio, Looks & Sounds Great!Philco 53-561 Transitone Radio (1953) Beautiful Case But Needs Repair (hums). NrPhilco Tube Radio Model 46-350Philco C.1955 Classic Transistor Radio, Black/white/gold1930’s Philco Table Top Tube Radio Model 37-600 Powers Up & Lights Up Parts Classic Art Deco Philco Antique Console Radio Receiver Model 41-260Vintage Speaker For Philco Tube Radio Model 89 Field Coil Circa 1933 WorksVintage Philco Transistor Radio Collectable Usa Made Working T4 Cd Philco 41-221 Code 121 Vintage Tube Radio - Shortwave 1940sPhilco Model 38-62 Tube Radio For Parts Or RepairVintage Philco Transitone Radio Model 53-651Philco Tube Radio 42 Pt 3 Restored1 Tested Nib Philco 5z3 Rectifier Used Vintage 5" Tube Radio Speaker From Philco Model 48-1201 RadioVintage Philco Model 38-39 Tube Table Radio, Battery OperatedPhilco 1949 Bc Fm Bakelite Tube Radio 49-906 Repair- RestoreVintage Antique Radio Knob - Philco Bandswitch Lever, Original 1930's Deco Philco Model 80 Cathedral Tube Table Top 1937 Vintage Cathedral Radio,restored"Philco "transitone" Tube Radio Model 48-200 Table 1941

Recent News: Philco Radios

Source: Google News

Sumarah brothers recall Halifax's Gottingen Street heyday (registration), November 21st

So here they sit — surrounded by old Studebakers, ancient wood-inlaid Philco radios that are as tall as a teenager, and Westinghouse and Admiral radios from which the voices of the Shadow and Jack Benny once emerged — a pair of untroubled men who ...Read more

Toys for Tots kicks off
Danville Commercial News, November 20th

In addition to the bike autographed by Tippin and the sword, the live auction will present a 1940s Philco refrigerator. It's been restored by the Downtown Danville Rotary Club, and features a painting of an American flag on the door. To see the...Read more

Armetha Spearman, 84, worked at Philco
The Philadelphia Tribune, October 17th

A former worker at Philco in North Philadelphia, she died on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. She was 84. Born in Ardmore, Okla., to Bernard Nelson and Georgia Watts, she got her early education there and, at an early age, came to Philadelphia with her family...Read more

Armetha Spearman, 84, former Philco worker and caregiver., October 16th

WHEN GREGORY SPEARMAN pushed his mother through the West Philadelphia neighborhood around 52nd and Market streets in her wheelchair, he felt as if he were chaperoning an important somebody. Everybody seemed to know Armetha Spearman, ...Read more

Restaurant review: Firing on all cylinders, Philco offers phenomenal HH bargains
Columbus Alive, May 7th

They're practically giving it away during happy hour at cheeky, stylish and fun Philco Bar + Diner. I mean a highfalutin, highly desirable — but usually high-priced — Rockmill beer for only $4!?! Fantastic local fried cheese curds for $3? Little corn...Read more

Philco Partners with EverythingMe to Release the World's First Out-of-the-Box ...
Business Wire (press release), April 9th

TEL AVIV, Israel--(BUSINESS WIRE)--EverythingMe ( is today announcing that Latin American electronics manufacturer, Philco, will start shipping the world's first out-of-the-box contextual phone, beginning April 2014. With industry ...Read more

On Restaurants | PhilCo + Diner offers breakfast (and more) all day
Columbus Dispatch, September 2nd

Philco's breakfast menu includes a breakfast biscuit with chorizo, goat cheese, shallot preserves and fried egg; a traditional breakfast of johnnycakes, two eggs and two strips of bacon; biscuits and red-eye gravy featuring andouille sausage and smoked ...Read more

Restaurant review: Short North's new “diner” Philco a big hit
Columbus Alive, July 18th

The new Philco Bar + Diner has metal counters, serves breakfast all day and will cook you a burger and fries; otherwise its “diner” designation is just a conceptual jumping-off point. In other words, if you're looking to kill a hangover with a hog load...Read more