Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Powel Crosley Jr.
Powel Crosley Jr. (September 18, 1886-March 28, 1961) was an American inventor, industrialist, and marketer. He was responsible for many firsts in consumer products and broadcasting. He was the builder of the Crosley automobile and played a major role in support of the U.S. military effort in World War II. He was the owner of the Cincinatti Reds major league baseball team for many years. Crosley Field, a stadium in Cincinatti, Ohio, was named for him.
Powel Crosley Jr. was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a lawyer. He graduated from high school in 1901 and from the Ohio Military Institute in 1905. He attended the University of Cincinnati, but was obsessed with the mechanics of automobiles. The mass production techniques employed by Henry Ford also caught his attention.
Early career with automobiles and parts
In 1907, Crosley formed a company to build an inexpensive automobile, but it failed as did another attempt a few years later. A short career in auto racing in Indianapolis working for Carl G. Fisher ended when he broke his arm starting a car. However, as an automobile enthusiast, he was a consummate salesman and marketer.
In 1916, he began working for an automobile accessory mail order business, American Automobile Accessory Company. The next year he purchased the business, and added his own gadgets and ideas to the products. His best seller was a flag holder that held five American flags and clamped to auto radiator caps. World War I generated patriotism and thousands were sold. By 1919, he and his brother Lewis M. Crosley had sold more than a million dollars in parts and were diversifying into other consumer products such as phonographs.
In 1920, Crosley first selected independent local dealers as the best way to take his products to market. He insisted that all sellers of his products must give the consumer the best in parts, service, and satisfaction. Always sensitive to consumers, his products were often less expensive than other name brands, but were guaranteed. Crosley's "money back guarantee" paved the way for some of today's most outstanding sales policies.
Pup radios and Bonzo
In the early 1920s, his young son asked for a radio, then a new item, and Crosley was shocked at the prices for such a "toy" at a local department store, all in excess of $100. Instead, he purchased a publication called "ABC of Radio" on how to build one yourself, got the parts and did so. Soon, he was mass-assembling the devices which sold for $20 each. By the mid-1920s, Crosley Radio Corporation had become the largest radio manufacturer in the world. The slogan "You’re There With A Crosley" was used in all its advertisements.
In 1925, Crosley introduced a small 1-tube regenerative radio called the "Crosley Pup" that sold for $9.75. While RCA Victor had Nipper (its mascot from the famous logo showing the dog listening to "his master's voice" from a phonograph), Crosley also adopted a mascot in the form of a dog with headphones listening to one of his "Pup" radios. In the 1920s, a cute, pudgy little dog named Bonzo, a creation of British artist George Studdy, was the inspiration for much commercial merchandise, such as cuddly and mechanical toys, ashtrays, pincushions, trinket boxes, car mascots, jigsaw puzzles, books, calendars, candies, and a profusion of postcards. Soon, Bonzo, wearing a set of headphones, became associated with the Crosley Pup radios.
WLW and Crosley Broadcasting
As major manufacturer of radios, it was logical that Powel Crosley Jr. next turned to broadcasting. He purchased a fledging AM radio station in Cincinatti with the callsign WLW. The power was increased to 50,000 watts, eventually experimenting with a capacity as high was 500,000 watts. An impressive list of entertainers performed on WLW, including Red Skelton, Doris Day, Jane Froman Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney and the Mills Brothers. In 1934, Crosley convinced the washing detergent company Proctor and Gamble to sponsor drama programs, and the soap operas were born.
Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricted its normal use to 50,000 watts due to interference with other stations, during World War II, the higher power of WLW was utilized again, and the station could be heard throughout most parts of the world. It was also used for the "Voice of America." Crosley's broadcasting company eventually expanded into additional markets and television broadcasting.
During the 1920s, Crosley had added refrigerators and other household appliances to his products. During the Great Depression, because he had invested in his own businesses instead of the stock market, he was better able than many industrialists to keep his employees working and his products available to the public.
Icyball was an early non-electrical refrigeration device. The unit used a single pressure ammonia gas/solution cycle, with no moving parts and allowing any small heater to "charge" the unit. Crosley Radio Corporation sold more than 100,000 Icyball units before discontinuing manufacture in the late 1930s. In 1932, another product, his "Shelvador" was the first refrigerator to have shelves in the door.
In 1934, Crosley purchased the Cincinnati Reds from owner Sidney Weil who had lost much of his wealth after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Crosley secured permission from the baseball commissioner to hold seven night games at the renamed Crosley Field. On May 24, 1934, the first nighttime game in baseball history was held there between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies under newly-installed electric lighting. With attendance up more than 400% from daytime events, the team's financial position was greatly improved.
Seagate in Florida
In 1929, Powel Crosley Jr. built a Florida winter home for his family and named it "Seagate." The two and one-half story Mediterranean mansion, designed by New York architect George Albree Freeman, Jr. , was built in the southwest corner of Bradenton on a 60 acre parcel of land on Sarasota Bay. Originally the mansion contained 10 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. It was reported to be the first residence built in Florida using fireproof steel frame construction. Features included a swimming pool, a seaplane dock and yacht basin.
After only 10 years, the family discontinued spending winters at Seagate after Crosley's wife Gwendolyn died there of a lung ailment in 1939. During World War II, Crosley allowed the Army Air Corps use of the mansion to house men learning to fly fighter planes.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, Seagate was saved from commercial development and purchased for renovation by Manatee County. Today, Seagate houses the The Powel Crosley Museum and is used as a meeting, conference, and event venue.
Automobiles, World War II
Of all Crosley's dreams, success at building an affordable automobile for Americans was possibly the only major one to eventually elude him. In the years leading up to World War II, he developed new products, reviving one of his earliest endeavors. In 1939, when Crosley introduced to the world the first small car, he broke with tradition and sold his car through many of his independent appliance dealers and department stores. The 1939 Crosley automobile had an 80-inch wheelbase, a diminutive 39-cubic-inch engine, and a price tag between $325 and $350. The car with its chubby profile was offered in gray, yellow or blue color, and all had red wheels and a black top. Weight was only 925 pounds. The company had plants in Camp Washington, Ohio, Richmond, Indiana, and Marion, Indiana. During the pre-war period, Crosley produced 5,757 cars. However, the onset of war ended all automobile production in the United States in 1942.
Crosley's efforts shifted to war-related products. The company made a wide variety of products. The most significant was its proximity fuses for the U.S. Navy, which are widely considered the third most important product development of the war years, ranking behind only the atomic bomb and radar.
After the war, a new model of the Crosley automobile was patterned after the small, lightweight cars of Europe. It sold for $850 and got between 30 and 50 miles per gallon. Unfortunately for Crosley, his small, affordable car was 30 years ahead of its time. The market had changed from the post-Depression era. In the years after the victory in World War II, Americans wanted ever bigger cars. Crosley sold about 75,000 cars before closing down the operation in 1952.
Despite his ultimate failure as an automobile manufacturer, Crosley was not out of touch with consumer trends. He soon began manufacturing some of the first portable television sets, which proved to be a Crosley product Americans were ready to embrace in the 1950s.
In the 21st century, Crosley Corporation remains a major corporate supplier to a network of independent dealers for a wide range of consumer appliances and products, and still uses its now-famous registered slogan:
- "Crosley On A Product Is Like Sterling On Silver®".
Powel Crosley Jr. died March 28, 1961, of a heart attack.
Crosley had labeled himself "the man with 50 jobs in 50 years." He had used his fortune and his enterprise to assist many others up the ladder of success. His work provided employment and products for millions of people. Among his accomplishments were:
- first car radio
- first push button radio
- Most powerful radio broadcast system in the world
- first Soap Opera
- first refrigerator with shelves in the door
- first portable freezer
- first lights on a major league baseball field
- first mass-produced economy car
- first car to have disc brakes
"He was an idea man, ... always thinking, and he was sharp as a tack. He knew how to take other people’s ideas and make them work. And he always felt he could produce a unique product less expensively than other people."
- :Lewis "Lew" Crosley, grandson, in article in Sarasota Magazine January, 2000
- The Powel Crosley Museum, Bradenton, Florida
- Crosley Radio History
- Antique Automobile Club of America, Powel Crosley webpage
- Crosley Appliances and Distribution official website
- Foundation for Economic Education, America's Forgotten Entrepreneur, Powel Crosley Jr.
- Cincinatti Post Powel Crosley Jr.: Innovator, sportsman dreamed big
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