The company known today as Zenith was founded at a kitchen table in Chicago in 1918 by Karl Hassel and Ralph H. G. Mathews. In 1919, Hassel and Mathews moved their operations into a 14-by-18-foot garage, where they formed the Chicago Radio Laboratory (CRL). They used half of the garage to make hand-engraved radios out of Bakelite and the other half for their amateur radio station, 9ZN.

That same year, the Chicago Radio Laboratory began placing advertisements for its products in “QST,” the American Radio Relay League’s Magazine. One of CRL’s employees suggested that 9ZN be listed with a small “ith” after it. 9ZNith soon became Z-Nith.

In 1921, CRL moved into a 3,000-square-foot factory in Chicago. In early 1922, the company was making five radios each week; by June of that year, it was making 50 per week. With investment money from Eugene F. McDonald, Jr., Hassel and Mathews founded the Zenith Radio Corporation in 1923 as a marketing division for CRL. A few years later, the two merged and both manufactured and advertised under the Zenith name.

Zenith quickly became known as an innovator. It released the first portable radio in 1924, followed two years later by the first radio that operated entirely on household electricity. In 1927, Zenith introduced the first radio with push-button tuning, and in 1940 it broadcast the first FM radio station in the Midwest. In fact, Zenith co-invented the FM stereo broadcast system, which was authorized by the FCC in 1961.

Zenith expanded throughout the 1920s. In 1927, the company debuted its now-famous slogan, “The Quality Goes in before the Name Goes On.” The company also helped found the Consumer Electronics Association, and Zenith’s CEO was the first president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

With the coming of the Depression, Zenith was forced to change its focus from high-quality radios to more affordable ones. Following the lead of Philco’s Baby Grand, Zenith released its own cathedral radio, the moderately successful Zenette Model L, in 1931. Like many of Zenith’s other radios of that era, the Zenette featured an Art Deco design.

Zenith also produced chairside and table models, many of which had a handle on top to make them even more portable. The company’s 500H was considered the highest-quality portable...

During World War II, Zenith made bomb fuses and other devices for the government. Afterward, the company shifted gears and devoted most of its attention to televisions. Here, too, Zenith became an innovator, releasing the first wireless remotes for TV in 1955 (the Flash-Matic) and 1956 (the Space Command).

Collectors of Zenith radios can use model numbers to help identify a radio’s model year. From 1930 to 1935, each radio had a two- or three-digit model number; in general, larger number models were made later in this five-year stretch.

Starting in 1936, Zenith’s radios had a much more descriptive six-digit model number. The 6-S-646 is a good example of the typical format. The first 6 indicates the type of vacuum tubes in the unit (this figure could be one or two digits). The S indicates the capabilities of the model; D, for example, meant the model had AC/DC power and only received the broadcast band, whereas S usually meant that the radio was AC-powered and also received one shortwave band.

The first number of the last three digits indicates the model year. The number 1 corresponded to 1937 model radios, 2 corresponded to 1938, and so on (if this number was missing, that indicated a 1936 model year). Finally, the last two digits indicated how deluxe the model was, with lower number models generally having fewer features than models with higher numbers.

In 1950, Zenith switched to a four-digit model-number system. The first letter indicated the model year, with G corresponding to 1950, H corresponding to 1951, and so on. The three digits afterward were somewhat arbitrary.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Zenith Stratosphere: Behind The Dial

Zenith Stratosphere: Behind The Dial

David Wilson’s handsome site is obsessed with Zenith's top-of-the-line 1934 console radio, which cost a whopping … [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 1938 Zenith Black Face 12 Vacuum Tube Shutter Dial Radio Chassis 12s267Zenith 5s29 Radio 1936Zenith 6s838 Five Tube Am & Shortwave Tombstone RadioVintage Zenith Bakelite Am/fm Tube Radio Model G724-restoredOld Antique Wood Zenith Vintage Tube Radio - Restored & Working Black Dial Vintage Old 1950s Antique Rare Color Am-fm Zenith Mid Century Retro Clock RadioZenith Walton 12s232 8 Inch Radio Speaker 49ab346 670 Ohm 12s445 10s443Zenith C845y Vintage Wood Cabinet Hifi Am/fm Tube Radio 1959 Ebony Beauty Works300+ Vtg Lot Of Antique Tube Radio Collection- Zenith Capehart Philco Victor RcaVintage Art Deco Model 9-s-324 Zenith Black Dial Tube RadioZenith Antique Radio, Vintage. Tube.Zenith Model 6d425, Art Deco Design Radio From 1940, Restored & WorkingVintage Zenith Table Top Tube Radio Model 7s633r As FoundZenith Ebony Bakelite Radio Original Restored 5 Tube Am M-g510 C-1949 Pristine!!Vintage Old 50s Zenith Mid Century Antique Very Rare Color Plastic Tube RadioVintage Zenith Trans Ocean Deluxe Wavemagnet Portable Short Wave Tube Radio.Working Zenith Consol-tone Wood Tube Radio Model 6d2615 Gravestone Parts RestoreVintage Zenith Trans-oceanic Wave-magnet Short Wave Radio Model Y-600Vintage 1939 Zenith 5s319 Fully Mechanically And Electrically RestoredZenith Transoceanic A600l Radio With 6a41 Chassis For Parts Or RepairRare Zenith Transoceanic R520a/urr RadioVintage Zenith K731 Am/fm Long Distance Radio ~ Excellent Condition ~ Working 1951 Zenith Model H724z Working Antique Vacuum Tube Bakelite Am-fm RadioZenith Trans-oceanic A600 "wave Magnet" Am/fm/shortwave Radio For Parts/repairVintage Zenith Transoceanic Royal D7000y Radio.Zenith Trans-oceanic Royal 1000 Wavemagnet Shortwave RadioRestored And Repaired Red Zenith Y-513r Antique 1955 Old Vintage Tube Am RadioVintage Zenith Tube Radio Model R 511r ( Not Working )Vintage 1940 Zenith 7s529 Fully Mechanically And Electrically RestoredVintage Zenith S213868 Long Distance "chassis Only" For Tube Radio 26-203 Zenith T/o 1965,royal 3000-1, !! From Nuvista48 !!with New Rechargeable BatteryVintage Art Deco Model 9-s-324 Zenith Black Dial Tube RadioVintage Antique 1951 Zenith Tube Radio High Fidelity S-53555 Works1959 Zenith Am Clock Radio Model B514v. Beautiful Original Pink Cabinet! Works!Zenith Transoceanic Royal 3000-1 Am Fm Multiband For Parts Or RestorationZenith Radio Black Dial Clock ~ Wood Octogon Shape ~ 10" Diameter ~ Nice LookingLot Of Three 1950's Transistor Radios--zenith Penney's Skymaster In Pink/ WhiteZenith Transoceanic 3000-1 Excellent Condition Works Well Antique Zenith Tube Radio Bakelite Model H 511 Works Racetrack Deco ConsoltoneVtg Zenith S-58040 Long Distance Am/fm Tube Table Top Radio Works! Model K7311940 Zenith Am Radio Model 6d510. Beautiful And Works Nicely.Vintage Zenith Universal Portable Model G503 Radio - Parts Or RestoreVintage Zenith Radio Part Front Faceplate For 41 Model 12s568e W/ Glass & ScrewsLot Of Three 1950's Transistor Radios-- 2 Zenith W/ Box/ Earphone And LafayetteZenith R7000 Trans-oceanic Radio-operating Guide 104 PagesVintage Zenith Tube Radio Mj1035 With Speaker Walnut Cabinet Vgc Sounds GreatNice Vintage Zenith Royal D- 7000- Y Trans- Ocenanic Multi- Band Radio Zenith Vintage Antique Am/fm Art Deco Tube Radio K725 Bluetooth/ipod Ready!Vintage C1952 Zenith J615 Tube Radio Electrically Restored.Vintage Zenith Consoltone Model 5d011 Tube Radio Bakelite Working "look"Zenith Model 7r887 Radio Cobras Record Player Tube Floor Console VintageZenith Transoceanic A600 Chassis 6a40 Tube Radio Multiban Vintage Zenith Radio Part 3 Piece Set Tuning Knobs Trio For 1941 Model 12s568e Antique Zenith Radio, Tubes, No. S-17365,not Working, Made In UsaZenith Transoceanic D7000y Radio Vintage -zenith K731 Am/fm Radio **work Well**Vintage Zenith Royal 16 Pocket Transistor Am Radio Model R16-l 16643136 Zenith 9s30 9s54 9s55 Black Dial Console Radio Tombstone Chassis Rare Vintage Zenith Space Age Retro Bakelite RadioParts - Zenith Transoceanic Am Fm Multiband Radio