Unfortunately, many people have never heard of Powel Crosley Jr. He developed many inventions that have changed our lives today. He's responsible for...
bullet 1st car radio
bullet 1st push button radio
bullet Most powerful radio broadcast system in the world
bullet 1st Soap Opera
bullet 1st refrigerator with shelves in the door
bullet 1st portable freezer
bullet 1st lights on a major league baseball field
bullet 1st mass produced economy car
bullet 1st car to have disc brakes
bullet a scalp massager
bullet 1st fax machine
bullet 1st radio broadcast from an airplane

What do Powel Crosley and I have in common?

We were both born on September 18, though Powel was born in 1886 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up there, where his dad practiced law. When he was 16, he bet his father 10 dollars that he could build a vehicle that could travel from the church to the Post Office. Powel borrowed $8 from his brother to buy the parts, proved his father wrong, paid his brother back, and came out $2 ahead. He graduated from high school in 1901 and from the Ohio Military Institute in 1905. He studied engineering at the University of Cincinnati for one year before quitting and going to the University of Cincinnati Law School for two years. Throughout college, his obsession remained the mechanics of automobiles.

In 1907, he formed a company to produce the Marathon Six, an inexpensive 6 cylinder car that sold for $300 less than other 2 and 3 cylinder vehicles on the market. It failed for lack of money. Then he left for Indianapolis to race, until he broke his arm crank starting a car. For the next five years, he worked various jobs selling and advertising cars. In 1910, he married Gwendolyn Aiken. Then in 1912, he tried again to produce a 6 cylinder car, but it was interrupted by World War I. Also in this year his son, Powel the 3rd, was born. He went back to being a salesman until in 1916 when he grasped the opportunity to work in an automobile accessory mail order business. The next year he bought it out. He came up with his own gadgets and ideas to sell along with the previous items, and within two years, he and his brother had sold more than a million dollars in parts.

In 1921, Crosley's 9 year old son wanted a radio. When he went to the department stores to look at one, he was surprised at the cost. They were all over a hundred dollars, and he thought that was too expensive a toy for anyone. On his way out he picked up a pamphlet called "ABC of Radio". He got the parts and built one himself. It did not have very great range but he saw that it had potential. He began to produce them in his phonograph factory that same year. He hired several college kids to help him make a good radio that would sell for $20. By the spring of 1922, he was the world's largest radio manufacturer and had earned the title "the Henry Ford of Radio".

Next he decided to buy WLW radio station since he was already making radios. He kept upping the transmitting wattage to decrease static on cheap sets until the power eventually reached 500,000 watts. Soon after the FCC lowered the maximum to 50,000 watts. During the 500,000 watt period, electric fences were throwing sparks and gutters were blasting music. His station could be heard throughout most parts of the world during W.W. II and was used for the "Voice of America."

When his radio sales started to decline, he added refrigerators and other household appliances to his line. He came out with the Shelvador, the first refrigerator to have shelves in the door and sold it for fifty dollars cheaper than other name brands. He also bought the Cincinnati Reds during the thirties and built Crosley Field where they played until 1970. In 1939, his wife died from an unknown cause. They had two children; Powel the III and Martha Page. He remarried 3 times but was divorced twice and widowed again.

He came out with a small 2 cylinder car in 1939. It was not a very successful car but sold until World War II started. As soon as it began, Crosley built a 1/4 ton reconnaissance vehicle that looked like a mini Jeep for the Navy. One of his companies is also responsible for the proximity fuse. During the war, he sold all his other businesses. He studied and researched and came out with a revised version of the car in 1946. They sold for $850 and could get 50 miles per gallon. In them was a new 4 cylinder engine called the Cobra, which was made of sheet metal. They were light weight but some rusted out. In 1949 they introduced a conventional cast iron block. They also changed the body style in the same year. Crosley was the first company to come out with a postwar American sports car and also made the first of the ATV's and SUV's. They also were the first car to have disc brakes. Crosleys never caught on because gas was cheap so people didn't care about gas mileage.

Powel Crosley Jr. died on March 28, 1961. I think Crosley is an important inventor. He helped create the proximity fuse, which was one of the technological reasons, after the A bomb and radar that we won World War II. It was fired from a gun and had a small radio transmitter in it. When it sensed it was close to an object, it would explode. He also drastically changed the market on radios. Without him, radios would be much more expensive today. He changed refrigerators as well. His cars were thirty years ahead of their time. They might have taken a toll on Volkswagen if they had kept being produced.


Crosley Quiz. Road &Track. Feb 1994, Vol. 45, Issue 6, p. 120.

Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 7.

Gunnel, John A. Editor, Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975.
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Gunnel, John A. Editor, Standard Catalog of American Light Duty Trucks.
Krause Publications, Iola WI. 1987.

Kimes, Beverly Rae. Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942.
Krause Publications, Iola WI. 1985.

Kipling, Kay. The Ultimate Entrepreneur. Sarasota Magazine. Feb 2000, Vol. 22, Issue 5, p.57+.

Piel, G. Powel Crosley Jr. Life. Feb 17, 1947, Vol. 22, p. 47-8+. (Biographies Plus Illustrated)

(Cincinnati Post. 4-8-99)