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    

Zenith 9s365 Console RadioAntique Zenith Vintage Console Tube Radio Restored And Working Zenith "beehive" Art Deco Bakelite Plastic Case Am Tube Radio Model 6d312. Rare!Zenith Model 4v31 Tombstone Style Radio, Nice, UnrestoredVintage 1958 Zenith Old Antique Mid Century Transistor Radio In Rare Gift Box !(rare) Zenith Radio Nurse Designed By Isamu Noguchi 1930's Bakelite CaseAntique Zenith Vintage Tube Radio In Tombstone Wood Cabinet Model 6-j-230 Mint Restored Antique Zenith G615 Vintage Old Tube Bakelite Radio Works Perfect!Working Vintage 1937 Zenith Tube Radio Model 6d219 Foreign Broadcast, U.s.a.Zenith 12-s-568-e Console Radio 12 TubeZenith Tombstone Radio Unknown Model NumberExceptional Zenith 6d525 Am Toaster Model Great SoundZenith Transoceanic 12 Band - Model R7000 - Beautiful ConditionVintage Zenith Royal D7000y Transoceanic Solid State Shortwave 11 Band RadioZenith Console Long Distance Tube Radio For Parts Or Repair 1940s Copper ChassisRestored Antique Zenith Vintage Old Tube Bakelite Jet Space Radio Works Perfect!1930's Zenith 3 Channel Long Distance Radio 9 S-262Zenith Royal 500d Transistor Radio - Black Vintage Zenith Royal 500 Transistor Radio1938 Zenith 7s267 Chassis For PartsOld Zenith 2 Band Black Dial Wood Tube Radio ~ Nice!Zenith 10" Speaker From 9 Tube Shutterdial ChairsideVintage Zenith Bakelite Am Radio Model J615 Looks Great!!! PlaysClassic Vintage Zenith Bakelite Am/fm Tube Radio Model H725- Will Tune ChannelsZenith Transoceanic T/o 8g005tz1 WorkingOld Zenith Radio Wood "z" Knob 1967 Zenith Royal 51 Transistor Radio ~ Zenith's 1st Small Am-fm Set & It Works!Vintage 1930's Matching Wooden Zenith Radio Knobs ( Three )Zenith Royal 500e-1 White 1964 Transistor Radio - Works WellVintage 1930's Matching Wooden Zenith Radio Knobs ( Three )Vintage Zenith Royal 500h Transistor RadioZenith Vintage 1951 Transoceanic Radio Royal 1000-d Mint, Works!! W/leather CaseZenith Transoceanic T 600 Radio Wave Magnet Good Working Condition12.5" Zenith Trans-oceanic Fm/am Multiband Royal 3000-1 All Transistor Radio ~~1951 Zenith H511 "race Track" Rare Tube-life-saver Bakelite MintVintage Zenith "royal C25" Fm Am Transistor Radio With Manual Working ConditionClassic Vintage Zenith Bakelite Am Tube Radio Model 5d610 From 1941-restoredZenith “circle Of Sound” Table Radio, A424w – WorksVintage Zenith Am/fm Bakelite Model R721 Tube Radio Chicago S-19524 IllinoisVintage Zenith Bakelite Clock Radio W/alarm '50s (non Working) Rare!Zenith Transoceanic Model 3000 For Parts Or RepairAntique Vintage Zenith Portable Burgandy Bakelite Radio Works L505 Wave Magnet Zenith Cathedral Radio EscutcheonVintage Antique Zenith Portable Radio Brown Flip Dial Model G503 WorksVintage Bakelite Zenith Am/fm Tube Radio Model S-17366 Needs RestoratonZenith Royal 500 Deluxe Long Distance Transistor Radio Zenith 2 Band Tombstone Tube RadioArt Deco Zenith Am-fm Tube Radio W Alarm Clock Model S-40757 Works!!Zenith Royal 50 Transistor Radio- Plays Very Well-nice One!Summer Sale! Vintage Zenith The Royalty Of Radio Trans-oceanic Model G500 Zenith Model 10s690 ChassisZenith Model 10s690 SpeakerZenith Transistor Radio Model 675Zenith Console Tube Radio Misc Parts From Model # 10-s-567Vintage Zenith Wave Magnet Portable Tube Radio Model M505Vintage Zenith Console Turn TableZenith Royal 20 Vintage Transistor Radio Circa 1960'sVintage Zenith Pocket Radio