Powell Crosley and His Life Story

Self-identified as the Nation’s Station, and affirmed thus by public acclaim, mediumwave WLW in Cincinnati Ohio celebrated its one hundredth anniversary on Tuesday March 22 (2022).  It was back one hundred years ago on March 22, 1922, that Powell Crosley received the formal license from the Department of Commerce in the federal government in Washington DC, and amateur broadcast station 8CR became the now more familiar WLW.

Here in Wavescan today, we honor station WLW for its remarkable century of growth, and in our first topic in this mini-series on the WLW story, we begin with the adventurous commercial life story of Powell Crosley 3rd himself.

Powell Crosley was born in Cincinnati Ohio on September 18, 1886, as the first of four children.  His father, known as Powell Crosley 2nd, was a prominent lawyer, and his mother Charlotte (Utz) who was an accomplished pianist as well as a capable mother.

Powel Crosley, Jr President and founder of The Crosley Radio Corporation WLW Cincinnati OH 500kW 700 AM © WLW 500,000 Watts publicity brochure, Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

During the year 1899 at the age of 12, young Powell Crosley designed and built his own primitive motor car.  He later studied law at the University of Cincinnati, though he gave that up and began the commercial manufacture of motor cars in Connersville Indiana at the age of 21 in the year 1907.  Three years later (1910) the 24 year old Powell Crosley married the 21 year old Gwendolyn Aiken in a church ceremony in Muncie, also in Indiana.

During the year 1921, Powell Crosley began his first venture into the newly developing field of commercial radio, designing and building the Harko Radio Receiver that sold for $7.   Four years later (1925), Crosley was operating a highly successful radio factory that was acknowledged as the largest  manufacturer of radio products in the world at that time.

In subsequent years, the Crosley factories also made refrigerators (the famous Shelvador),  small motor cars in various economy models, and even airplanes (the Moonbeam).  His car factories were located in the Indiana cities of Richmond and Marion.

The first Crosley radio factory, if you could call it such, was in the family home at College Hill in Cincinnati.  That was back in the year 1921.  During the following year (1922), Crosley transferred his manufacturing of radio parts into a commercial location at 1625 Blue Rock Street, still in Cincinnati.

After a few other moves and expansions, and the purchase of other related companies, the Crosley radio factory was operating in a new building at the corner of Colerain & Sassafras Streets in Cincinnati.  It is ascertained, that during the year 1926 for example, the Crosley radio factories employed 3,000 staff, and they were were manufacturing 5,000 radio receivers daily.  Three years later, he took over a new 8 storey factory building at Gilbert and Arlington Streets.

The new Crosley factory building at 1321 Arlington Street, showing the WLW towers, after 1928. Photo: The Radio Historian website.

During the year 1934, Crosley purchased the professional baseball team Cincinnati Reds, in order to maintain the continuation of their sporting events in Cincinnati.  Sadly in 1939, his beloved wife Gwendolyn died at the young age of 48 at their winter home in Sarasota Florida.  She had suffered from ill health for some time.  Also in 1939, Powell Crosley was introduced to the multitude of spectators at the Indy 500 Car Race, at the Speedway in Indianapolis Indiana.

The Buenos Aires importer of Crosley brand radio receivers used this beautiful ad in 1930. © www.enjoyart.com [from whom you can buy a replica of this vintage poster art.]

By the end of 1941 when the United States entered World War 2, the Crosley car factories had already turned out 5,757 small model motor vehicles.  In 1942 and for the duration of the war, production of both the car and radio factories was turned towards wartime needs.  After the end of the war, the Crosley factories returned to producing radio receivers and motor cars for the civilian population.

After 14 wifeless years, the 66 year old Powell Crosley married again in 1952, this time to the 40 year old Eva, though three years later, she also died.  It was around this time that Crosley himself exited from all of his business enterprises, and then just six years later (March 28, 1961), Powell Crosley also died, of a heart attack in Cincinnati. 

The 74 year old Powell Crosley was a remarkable character, a man who ranks just as highly as other American entrepreneurs, such as Henry Ford of motor car fame, Andrew Carnegie with his steel factories, Thomas Edison with his electricity ventures, Bill Gates with his computers, and for that matter, any other major entrepreneur in the history of the United States.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of May 29, 2022

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