The Invention of the Car Radio
As William Lear and Elmer Wavering took their girlfriends to a lookout point about the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset, one of the women suggested that it would have been even nicer if they could listen to music in the car. The idea took root in the men’s minds and since they had tinkered with radios (Lear served as a radio operator in the U.S. Navy during WWI) it wasn’t long until they were taking apart a house radio and figuring how to make it work in a car. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago. There they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation.
Galvin needed a new product to manufacture and when he met Lear and Wavering he found it. He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge business. Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin’s factory, and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker. The next step was to get a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker’s Packard. Nice try, but half an hour after the installation the banker’s Packard caught on fire. (They didn’t get the loan.) Galvin didn’t give up. He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Too broke to afford a booth, he parked the car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it. That idea worked — He got enough orders to put the radio into production. That first production model was called the 5T71.
It was clearly decided it needed something a little catchier. Back in the day, many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix “ola” for their names — Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola. A lot of the communications technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II. In 1947 they came out with the first television to sell under $200. In 1956 the company introduced the world’s first pager; in 1969 it supplied the radio and television equipment that was used to televise Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. In 1973 it invented the world’s first handheld cellular phone. Today Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world. And it all started with the car radio.