Philco (founded as Helios Electric Company, renamed Philadelphia Storage Battery Company) was a pioneer in battery, radio, and television production. In 1961 the company was purchased by Ford and was known as Philco-Ford from 1966. Ford sold the company to GTE in 1974, and it was purchased by Philips in 1981. In North America, the Philco brand is currently owned by Philips. In other markets, the Philco International brand is owned by AB Electrolux.
In the early 1920s, Philco made storage batteries, "socket power" battery eliminator units (plug-in transformers), and battery chargers. With the invention of the rectifier tube, which made it practical to power radios by electrical outlets, in 1928, Philco entered the radio business. They followed other radio makers such as RCA, Atwater-Kent, Zenith Electronics, Freshman Masterpiece, FADA Radio, and AH Grebe into the battery-powered radio business. By the end of 1930, they were selling more radios than any other maker, a position they held for more than 20 years. Chapter 3: Leadership in Radio; Philco History.
In 1926, Philco decided to begin making radios. A Brief History of Philco Oldradio.com The first Philco radios were introduced in mid-1928, and 96,000 were produced that year, making Philco radios 26th in the nation in production volume. Up to that time most radios were handmade and priced for relatively wealthy consumers. Atwater Kent, the leading radio seller, coincidentally was also located in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Storage Battery Company decided that prices of radios could be scaled for a mass market by incorporating assembly line techniques then only used by the automobile industry. By the 1929 model year, Philco was in third place behind Atwater Kent and Majestic (Grigsby-Grunow Corp) in radio sales. In 1930 the company sold 600,000 radios, grossed $34 million, and was the leading radio maker in the country. By 1934 they had captured 30% of the domestic radio market.Internal Philco Corp. document Philco-Ford Image, by Glenn Allison, app. 1965
Philco radios were notable for their economy of design without sacrificing quality or durability. Like other makers of the era, they offered a wide line of radios beginning with five-tube sets all the way up to high-fidelity consoles with 20 tubes in 1937-38. Philco also made battery-powered radios which were by then called "farm radios", most of which had cabinets identical to their AC powered versions. The Philco "Baby Grand" (today called "cathedral" radios by collectors) was a shape that featured an arched top that wrapped from the sides over the top. This was for economic reason partly, as one piece of wood formed both the top and sides. Philco sold far more of this style than any other maker, a total of over two million (in over twenty models, with from four to eleven tubes) from 1930 to 1938;Mahon, p.116. many of them exist today in collections. By today's standards, most are still excellent performing AM band radios when restored.
A few of their innovations were very futuristic. From 1939 to 1941, they sold radios that were remotely operated by wireless controls, the one-tube "Mystery Control", used on their 13-tube model 116RX-SU (or 39-116).Mahon, p.127. This feature was not offered by any other maker until the 1970s stereo receivers. Philco ranked 57th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts.Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis (1962) Harvard Business School p.619
Another interesting product was the Philco "Beam of Light" 78 RPM record players offered in 1941 and 1942. These units had a tiny mirror attached to the player's needle. A beam of light was focused on the mirror which caused a vibrating light to hit a photoelectric cell and produce the audio signal. While this system had some advantages over the standard crystal phono cartridge of the time, it was unreliable and is today a very difficult unit to restore.
By 1954, Philco had led the radio industry in volume sales for 24 straight years, selling over 30 million radios.Internal Philco Corp. book The Story Of The Philco Franchise, 1954
Philco was also a pioneer in television broadcasting, launching experimental station W3XE in 1932. In 1941 the station became the third commercially licensed TV operation in the United States as WPTZ. It was sold to Westinghouse Broadcasting in 1953 and operates today as KYW-TV, a CBS owned and operated station.
The Philco Predicta TV set was introduced in 1957 for the 1958 model year. It was a black and white television with the picture tube mounted in a unique steerable pod on a pedestal. There were many versions: 17" or 21" picture tubes, wood or metal cabinets and table or floor standing versions, some with rare UHF tuners. Its specially designed, high-deflection-angle (to achieve a shallow front-to-back depth) picture tube turned out to be a very unreliable design, and cost the company dearly in repairs and reputation. Many of them were sold to motels and bars due to the convenience of the swivel tube arrangement. It was discontinued in 1960; a great failure for Philco.MZTV - Museum of Television http://www.mztv.com/newframe.asp?content=http://www.mztv.com/predicta.html Today, due to the unique design, the Predicta is a collector's favorite and restored examples can easily be found.
In June 1955, the National Security Agency and the United States Navy entered into a contract with Philco to build a specialized scientific transistorized computer based on Philco's surface barrier transistor technology. The project was called SOLO, since the idea was to have powerful personal workstations, and the computer was later commercially named the Philco Transac S-1000. The SOLO transistorized large scale scientific computer was finally built and delivered to the National Security Agency in November 1957. Philco also entered into a contract with the U.S. Navy's David Taylor Basin Research Division in 1955, to build a larger scale fully transistorized computer using its surface-barrier transistor technology, which was named the CPXQ model and later became the Philco Transac S-2000.
Philco had developed and produced a miniature transistorized computer brain for the Navy's jet fighter planes in 1955, which was called the "Transac" (C-1000, C-1100) and which stood for "Transistor Automatic Computer". It used Philco's high-frequency surface-barriers transistors in its circuitry design.Inventing the Electronic Century, Author: Alfred Dupont Chandler Jr., Page 40The Philco Serviceman, September 1955, Volume 23 No.9 Wall Street Journal: "Radio Men Told Of Rapid Counter", March 25, 1955
Chrysler and Philco announced that they had developed and produced the world's first all-transistor car radio and it was announced in the April 28, 1955, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, "Chrysler Promises Car Radio With Transistors Instead of Tubes in '56", April 28, 1955, p.1 Chrysler made the all-transistor car radio, Mopar model 914HR, available in Fall 1955 for its new line of 1956 Chrysler and Imperial cars, as a $150 option ($ in dollars ). Philco's radio manufacturing plant in Sandusky, Ohio, had produced the all-transistor car radio unit for the Chrysler Corporation, which also used Philco's surface-barrier transistors in its circuitry design.Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Philco TechRep Division Bulletin, May–June 1955, Volume 5 Number 3, page 28
In 1955, Philco developed and produced the world's first all-transistor phonograph models TPA-1 and TPA-2. This was originally announced in the June 28, 1955, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal; June 28 1955; page 8; "Phonograph Operated On Transistors to Be Sold by Philco Corp." Philco had begun selling these all-transistor phonographs in the fall of 1955 for $59.95. The October 1955 issue of Radio & Television News magazine (page 41) printed a full-page, detailed article, on Philco's new consumer product all-transistor phonograph. The Philco all-transistor portable phonograph TPA-1 and TPA-2 models played only 45rpm records and used four 1.5v "D" batteries for its power supply. "TPA" stands for "Transistor Phonograph Amplifier". Its circuitry used three Philco germanium PNP alloy-fused junction audio frequency transistors. After the 1956 season ended, Philco decided to discontinue the all-transistor portable 45rpm phonograph models, for transistors were too expensive compared to vacuum tubes.
The Philco Transac models S-1000 scientific computer and S-2000 electronic data processing computer, were the first commercially produced large-scale all transistor computers, which were introduced in 1957.Digital Computer Newsletter, Office of Naval Research (unclassified), April 1957, pages 7-8 Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1958, "All Transistor Computer Put on Market by Philco", page A11 It used discrete surface barrier transistors instead of vacuum tubes (as the integrated circuit had not yet been invented).Rosen, Saul, "Recollections of the Philco Transac S-2000" , IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 34-47, Apr.-June 2004. "Profile: Philco" , Computer History MuseumPhilco Corporation, "Philco Transac S-2000 Information Brochure" , 1958 It also used a fast adder, originally invented by Bruce Gilchrist, James H. Pomerene and Y.K. Wong of the Institute for Advanced Study. It incorporated a speed up technique for asynchronous adders reducing the time for additive carry-overs to propagate.Gilchrist, Bruce, "Remembering Some Early Computers, 1948-1960" , Columbia University EPIC, 2006, pp.7-9. (archived 2006)
In 1959, Philco developed and produced the world's first battery-powered portable transistorized TV. Los Angeles Times, June 02, 1959, page 10 This TV model was called the "Safari" and it contained 21 transistors inside. Philco had developed the VHF micro-alloy diffused-base (MADT) transistors Wall Street Journal, October 09, 1957, page 19: "Philco Says It Is Producing A New Kind Of Transistor" and used them in the Safari portable TV. Fortune Magazine, September 1959 issue, page 55 The retail selling price was $250.00 ($ in dollars ) plus the cost of the rechargeable battery, which was $5.25 extra ($ in dollars ). The New York Times, June 01, 1959, pages 37,41
In 1962, the Philco 2000 Model 212 computer was chosen for use in the North American Aerospace Defense Command's famous Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Three of the machines were installed that year and ran until 1980. The machines were also used by research labs at Westinghouse Electric and General Electric.
In 1960, NASA contracted with Philco to build the worldwide tracking station network for Project Mercury, and all subsequent man-in-space projects until the ground station network was replaced by the TDRS communication satellites in the 1990s. Philco's Western Development Labs ultimately became Space Systems/Loral, which continues to manufacture spacecraft. In later years, the company produced automotive electronic controls, aerospace tracking systems, and artificial satellites.
In 1963, Philco was also responsible for the design, manufacturing, installation, and service of all the consoles used in both Mission Operations Control Rooms (a.k.a. Mission Control) at Building 30 of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
The company branded Philco products as "Philco-Ford" in 1966, and console stereo systems reached their zenith during 1966 and 1967, with high quality cabinet construction and powerful stereo chassis systems of 100- and 300-watt consoles. Philco at one time was one of the largest furniture producers in the world, but the end was near for "high quality" furniture cabinets along with stereo equipment. Solid wood cabinets with veneers were replaced with cheaper wood composites covered in vinyl paper and plastic wood pieces. The quality electronic systems that had been built in the United States were replaced with new designs and systems, engineered and built at a plant owned by Philco-Taiwan. Eventually, all consumer electronic goods would be made by Philco-Taiwan, to lower costs of production and be more competitive in the market. The prevailing industry trend was to move consumer electronic manufacturing to Asia in order to lower the cost of labor and production, and Philco-Ford was no exception to this movement. Heavy consumer goods (major appliances) such as refrigerators, air conditioners and washer-dryers continued to be built in the United States, along with television receivers.
In 1973, a complete line of breakthrough refrigerators was introduced, consisting of eight side-by-side "Cold Guard" models, which used about one-third less electricity than comparable competitive makes.Ford Motor Company 1973 Annual Report, page 15 In 1974, Ford sold Philco to GTE, which owned their chief competitor in consumer electronics, Sylvania Electric Products. In 1977, Philco International was sold to White Consolidated Industries (WCI). (In 1986, WCI was bought by AB Electrolux.)
The company (as well as the Sylvania brand name) was acquired from GTE by Philips in 1981 so that Phillips could gain the rights to use its trademark in the United States. Philco had been able to keep Philips from using its trademark because of the similar-sounding names, so Philips had sold its products in the United States under the name "Norelco". Philips later used the Philco name for promotional consumer electronics and licensed the name for private brands and retro-style consumer electronics. Philips also licensed the Philco brand name to Funai for digital converter boxes for analog TVs in the USA. As of September 2019, the US website is no longer functioning.
In 2003, the Merloni Group acquired rights to the Philco brand (from Philco International) for use in Italy. AntonioMerloni.it The Italian Philco produces household appliances in affiliation with ex-Bendix Corporation and Thorn EMI Moyor Electronics (e.g. Bendix 71258 1000 automatic washing machine 1986). As of 2006, the company is mainly recognised in Australia.
In Argentina, in March 2004, Philco was acquired by a group of Argentine investors. The presence of Philco in Argentina dates since 1930 and remains a traditional mark of appliances in this country. It currently manufactures refrigerators by Helametal Catamarca S.A. (Philco Argentina). All the line electronics, LCD TV, Car Stereos, Air Conditioning, MWO, Audio & DVD, is represented by Newsan SA SANYO and DatandHome SA, with the line of washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioning, water heaters, also the same group.