De Forest Crosley Radio – A capsule history

 De Forest Crosley Radio Company “A Capsule History”

‘The Largest Radio Manufacturing Company in the British Empire”

Major James E. Hahn

James E. Hahn received his early education in Stratford ON. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1912 and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914. Twice wounded, he received the DSO and the Military Cross with bar for distinguished service in battle. In the later years of the War, he provided valuable services to the Canadian Intelligence Service. When the War ended he had attained the rank of Major. After his War service, James entered Osgoode Hall Law School. In the early 1920’s he foresaw the potential the radio industry could offer an enterprising entrepreneur. He organized the De Forst Radio Corporation and acquired several radio patents that provide the basis for his new radio manufacturing company.  Upon formation of the new enterprise, he enticed Donovan Pollitt, a rising salesman at Marconi in Montréal, to join him as head of sales and promotion.  Next he attracted A.L. Ainsworth, a recent McGill University graduate, to his venture as the head of manufacturing.

Donovan Huolt Pollitt

Donovan Huolt Pollitt was born in 1896, the first son of a grocery shopkeeper in Oldham, Lancashire.  The 1911 British Census lists him as working for his father training to follow his great grandfather, his grandfather, and his father as a grocery shopkeeper. In 1913 the young seventeen year old left home to make a drastic career change.  He began an apprenticeship with the Marconi Radio Company in London. When War broke out, he enlisted in her Majesties Navy.  Serving in the Dardanelles, an international significant waterway in northwest Turkey, his aptitude for radio influenced him to begin the research to use radio wave techniques to invent the radio direction finder for locating the position of enemy submarines. Basically Pollitt’s research developed the sonar system used by vessels to locate other ships in the area.  After the War, Marconi London encouraged Pollitt to pursue the possibility of selling his new radio direction finder to the world shipping industry. Today his invention is common apparatus on all ships.

In 1922 Marconi (London) transferred him to their Canadian Marconi branch in Montreal as Director of Broadcasting and Publicity with an emphasis on sales of the Marconi products. The following year 1923, Major Hahn enticed him to join his new company the De Forest Crosley Corporation.

At this time the possibilities for the radio industry appeared bright. Major Hahn had a vision. About 700 competitors competed for the radio consumer’s dollars.  With very little capital, groups could form a company to produce a marketable radio. Working in a very small space with two or three tables soldering irons and component parts a saleable radio could by manufactured for the eager consumer. These early producers were content to produce a few radios making a small profit on each. A second group of producers consisted of employees with the technical capability and knowledge of how to manufacture the components and assemble them into a functioning radio. But this group had no idea how to market their product.

A. E. Ainsworth

Major Hahn had a much broader vision for the industry. He foresaw the possibilities the radio provided to a worldwide market. In Donovan Pollitt he envisioned a man who could devise a marketing plan for all potential buyers. In A. Ainsworth, Hahn saw a manager who could develop an assembly line using the straight-line manufacturing process to mass-produce the radio. Ainsworth implemented the same production assembly line the automobile industry used. The three visionaries developed a strategy to mass-produce radios at the lowest cost available amongst their many competitors.

Hahn’s company, De Forest Crosley, produced in house the three hundred components needed for a standard radio. From the necessary raw materials, the company selected the finest woods from around the world to produce the highest quality cabinets for their product. As the company grew Hahn foresaw the necessity for a strong research and development division to produce the best quality components. At the height of their business De Forest produced 800 radios a day in many models and price ranges. In six years De Forest Crosley grew from humble beginnings in a three room manufacturing plant to the largest radio manufacturing company in the British Empire.

De Forest Crosley Advertisement from the Calgary Herald

Although relatively young to be head of sales and marketing for a major Canadian worldwide company, the thirty-five year old Donovan Pollitt’s visionary abilities made the company an extremely profitable enterprise. For example to allow moderate wage earners to afford a radio, he introduced a payment plan to the market – the first company to do this. Pollitt formed the Universal Acceptance Corporation to handle the finance plans for the consumer. As the De Forest introduced more advanced models, Pollitt allowed, previous owners of their product, to trade-in their older model for a newer version.

As Donovan traveled across Canada and around the world to service De Forest’s three thousand representatives, he constantly imagined new markets and new advertising methods for the radio. He illustrated to the farmers how important the radio could be for predicting the future weather patterns. By knowing future weather patterns for their area, farmers could increase crop production through informed planning.  He showed housewives how a radio could provide valuable information for operating a household, for entertainment, and education. The radio allowed remote areas of Canada to connect to the news from London, New York, Ottawa, and other world capitals. He encouraged governments to issue radio licenses throughout their country to provide information and news to citizens living remote areas of the country. In short Donovan Pollitt foresaw the future possibilities radio could offer to the general public, to governments, to radio broadcasters and to entertainers.

Even though the Depression commenced in 1929, Donovan foresaw the radio market would still grow. “Of the 2.1 million households in Canada only about 600,000 possess a radio. Of these about 58 per cent of the radios are now obsolete.” Ainsworth believed the superior De Forest Crosley production methods could further reduce the price for a radio; hence making the purchase attractive to the consumer in troubling times. With an expanding automobile market, Pollitt introduced a new market for the radio. De Forest began manufacturing radios for vehicles – a totally new untapped market. Finding these new markets proved to be Pollitt’s strongest characteristic. In 1930 the research and development division of De Forest Crosley began exploring the possibilities of producing a television for their radio market.

CIL advertisement from the Windsor Star

Because Donovan knew the potential needs the average household required, he recommended to Major Hahn their company should investigate supplying refrigerators, electric clocks, and washing machines to every household that had purchased their radios. To oversee the new product lines, Hahn formed the Consolidated Industries Limited (CIL). CIL purchased the Canadian rights and patents for the Norge Refrigerator, formed the Hammond Company to produce electric clocks, purchased the Canadian rights and patents to the Conlon Corp washing machines. Other products CIL began producing included electric irons, sun lamps, and radio components for the consumers. In short Donovan envisioned CIL would manufacture products every household would require to make the operation of the home easier.

Unfortunately De Forest Crosley totally collapsed in 1932. The Company through CIL expanded too quickly with their new products. Because of the expanding Depression consumers stopped purchasing radios – the lifeline for De Forest. The rising capital costs for the new plants required for the new products could not be financed by radio sales. The shareholders lost their money. In short if Major Hahn and Donovan Pollitt made a grave error. The two miscalculated the life of the radio market. They chose the worst time to expand into the other products. If De Forest Crosley had remained solely a radio manufacturer the company could have cut back during the troubled times to allow the market to recover.  Major Hahn and Donovan Pollitt left CIL and De Forest Crosley. A. Ainsworth remained with Rogers – Majestic Corp., the purchaser of the De Forest Crosley assets from the bankruptcy sale. Major Hahn resurfaced in 1938 when he headed a group of investors to purchase the assets of the John Inglis bankrupt company. The new venture signed an agreement with the Federal Government to produce the Bren Machine Gun.  In 1939, A. Ainsworth joined his old partner Major Hahn, as the head of manufacturing.  Donovan Pollitt, the marketing guru, made a significant career change in 1933. He envisioned a new company to implement his new idea “how to make a better shuttlecock for the badminton market”

Advertisement from the Ottawa Citizen

The reader may wonder why a golf historian for the BC Golf Museum would post an article outlining the history of one of Canada’s success stories in the 1920’s. Donovan Pollitt helped to create De Forest Crosley. One could argue he was the driving force behind the company. In 1933 Donovan created Campbell Manufacturing Co. During his thirty year tenure, he created the largest sporting goods manufacturing company in Canada. his success originated from the training he received at De Forest Crosley.

The History of Campbell Manafacturing follows this article.

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