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    

Philco Model 45c... 1934 Butterfly... Tube Radio..... Beauty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Vintage 1948 Philco Old Retro Radio Atomic Mid Century Modernistic Jetsons !!Old Antique Wood Philco Vintage Tube Radio - Restored Working Art Deco TombstoneAntique Philco RadioOld Antique Wood Philco Vintage Tube Radio -restored Working Art Deco Table Set Antique Philco Vintage Tube Radio In Wood Cabinet Restored And Working Pair (2) Philco 45 St Tubes For Cathedral & Tombstone Radios & Audio AmplifiersRadio Tube Lot Raytheon Cunningham Ge Sylvania Philco Radiotron Untested 50+Vintage Philco Wood Radio Model 40-130-great Working Condition1938-philco Tube Radio-model 39-25t Table Console-w Org Papers & Letter KitsVintage Old Federal Atomic Mid Century Swirled Speckled Marble Radio Modernistic1938 Philco 38-17 Wood Deco Table Tube Radio Excellent All-the-wayAntique Philco Tube Radio. Rough ConditionPhilco Model 89 Code 123 Antique Cathedral Radio.. Plays Super& Nice!!Vintage Philco Speaker Lollypop Chrome Radio Tv Ham Cb Rat Rod Hot RodPhilco Slant Top Vintage Radio Model 39-25, WorkingPhilco 90 Set Of Chassis Bolts, Washers Etc.Antique Philco 42-345 Short Wave Radio, As Is Antique Art Deoc Philco RadioPhilco "roll Top" 1940's Vintage RadioTwo Philco 46-350 Radios Mini Tube Parts Set Radio Vtg Table Antique Roll TopBig Pile Mix Loktal Tubes F/ Old Ham Radio Philco Zenith Receiver Tube Audio Amp2 Tested Sylvania And Philco Type 45 Power Triodes Vintage Philco 46-1201 127a "bing Crosby" Radio & 78 Phono - Parts Or RestoreEarly Philco Radio Resistor Counter Cardboard Display Philco Tranatone Clock Radio Ac DcVintage Philco Transitone Bakelite Case 48-200 Tube Radio For Parts Repair Vintage 1948 Philco Model 48-300 Tube Table Radio Rare Nice Cab.Vintage 1930s Philco Radio Brass Dial Plate Bs1 8804Vintage Philco 1946 Tube Table Top, Roll Top Radio, "not Working". Model # 46350Vintage Philco Radio19 Tested Good Rca Uy-227 Radio Tubes Type 27 Cunn Nu Philco Eveready/raytheon +Vintage Working Philco Model T805 Portable/transistor Radio

Recent News: Philco Radios

Source: Google News

Garry Brown: Meet the 21st century Fibber McGee and his hall closet
MassLive.com, April 26th

Heck, anybody who grew up with a huge Philco radio as the living-room centerpiece would know that. After all, the "Fibber McGee and Molly" show ran from 1935 to 1959, making it one of the true treasures of those long-gone radio days. In his home – at...Read more

Gardner, McCroan Engagement
Jackson County Floridan, April 25th

Brittany is currently employed with Gentiva Home Healthcare as a Registered Nurse. Justin is a 2005 graduate of Port St. Joe High School and co-owner of Philco Incorporated of Port St. Joe, where the couple will make their home. The wedding will take...Read more

'The Sweetheart,' a first novel about lady wrestling, delivers a punch
Charleston Post Courier, April 25th

It's a coming-of-age story set in a time of Philco TVs with rabbit ears, Edward R. Murrow and large flash bulbs on cameras. Leonie Putzkammer is a teenager growing up with her widower father in Philadelphia. Like many teenagers, she dreams of being ...Read more

Philco sembró alevinos en Andiviela
Diario Voces, April 23rd

Mientras se cubría la nota informativa de la siembra de alevinos, la autoridad edil, acompañado de dos miembros de la prensa que cubrían información a bordo del bote, sufrieron la volcadura de la misma, que felizmente, no paso a consecuencias que ...Read more

Computers used to be so rare that they got their own retirement parties
Vox, April 21st

Back in 1981, computers were still rare enough that one particularly special machine was given a retirement party — after 20 faithful years of service. The Computer History Museum recently released this video from December 1981 of the Philco 2000...Read more

There's A Modern TV Hidden Inside This Classic 1950s Philco Predicta
Gizmodo Australia, April 1st

There's nothing quite as retro-futuristic as the Philco Predicta television from the late 1950s. That bubbly, detached picture tube. The metal frame. It's gorgeous. Unfortunately, the iconic TV set is also notoriously unreliable — and what good is a...Read more

This Tiny 3D-Printed TV Brings Back the Space Age
Popular Mechanics, March 30th

The original Philco Predicta was an iconic futurist design—an early, ambitious attempt at a flat-screen TV that looked nothing like the big cabinet sets of its day. It was produced from 1958 to 1960 and sold by the Philco corporation, otherwise known...Read more

Mini-TV aus dem 3D-Drucker: Philco Predicta aus den 50ern feiert Comeback
gizmodo.de, March 30th

Der Philco Predicta ist ein Fernseher des US-amerikanischen Herstellers Philco Company aus den späten 50er-Jahren. Das Modell gehört zu den kultigsten TV-Klassikern überhaupt, obwohl er dem Unternehmen erst sehr schlechte Verkaufszahlen und ...Read more