DEC Assembly Line

“So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes…progress is not real and cannot be permanent.” – Henry George

I just finished modifying and upgrading an old Yeasu FRG 7 shortwave receiver that was produced in the late 1970s. Yes Japanese but not manufactured by Yeasu. Yeasu got some other company to produce it for them. Sears sold the same receiver but with the Sears name on the front.  This was a very unique receiver at the time and the best one could get without having to take out a second mortgage on you house.  It used the Wadley Loop circuit and was very sensitive and selective for it’s time. The only other receiver available to use it was the Barlow Wadley XCR 30. A portable that was manufactured in South Africa. The circuit was the invention of Dr. Wadley of South Africa and was used also in the Racal receivers. Very expensive British receivers for commercial and military use.

By the time these receivers came out most of the American companies – Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, National, Gonset – had gone out of business or were about to. If like me you liked to listen to short wave, you had only their old line of equipment or some of the new transistor receivers that came out and these were very poor.

Most of the American companies lost business and went out of business when the original owners either retired or passed away and the company either got sold or passed on to a family member.  Most people seem to think we lost out in the 1970s but it actually began in the 1950s after WWII.  As one who worked as a repair technician for a number of years and had an interest, I can tell you I noticed this degrading of American products fairly early on.

That by the mid 1950s products went from being as well made as possible to bells and whistles and “just enough” to get by. Hammarlund for example use to make very good products. Components that they themselves designed  specifically for their receivers. To off the self, just good enough. This was pretty much the story for the others as well.

And not just those who made shortwave receivers, the nearly every company that was founded during the 1920 through the 1940s suffered this fate. How many people know that Studebaker made for a while a really cool car. or that all the speakers make by Acoustic Research and KLH and Advent and Cambridge Soudworks were designed and “voiced” by Henry Kloss ?

Or that the invention of the Combine Harvester and Threshing Machine pushed the price of grain so low that the English Landed Gentry nearly all lost their shirts ?  Or the Southwest Technical Products – known for their M6800 computer and TV terminal – also had a line of audio amplifiers in kit form ? I built a few and they were quite good. Or the MITS Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080 which ran the CP/M operating system that Bi Gates stole lock stock and barrel for DOS were the original PCs.

The thread here is that none of these people wanted to become billionaires when they had these companies, they just wanted to build stuff that was cool at the time. And in most of the cases to do it really well.  People like Avery Fisher of Fisher Radio and Art Collins. and Ernest Humphrey Scott.

But our capitalist economy these days makes it very difficult to do this. If you are not in it to make some rich bastard even richer, you are almost out of luck. Oh we have some smaller companies that actually manufacture products here for consumers, but not many. Elecraft., TenTec and Flexradio. Yes and home appliances by Whirlpool Corporation. You can even get T-Shirts made here from Lands End. But fewer and fewer people are interested in doing this. The innovators and experimenters are just not all that interested any more.

But having an idea and a product sometimes is not enough to fend off the Wall Street greed heads, as Bob Carver found out. He lost Carver Corp. when the board of directors voted him out so they could pursue more profitable products. The irony here is that Carver Corp. went out of business shortly there after. His current endeavor  – Sunfire – is doing just fine.

As OhioBarbarian  is so fond of pointing out, Capitalists just want to make money and don’t give a wet slap about anything else. And this my friends is what is killing this country and killing their precious capitalism.

Too bad we no longer make much except trouble for everyone else.