Plastics - beginning to end

Author: Al Welch

Catalin and Plaskon opened a door that closed in 1965

In the later 30s, plastic cabinets started to appear, mostly as a cheap alternative to wood. Hardwood was still considered the mark of quality and was imitated with veneers and highly finished soft wood cabinets. But new chemistry and abundant sawdust waste made plastics an interesting new development. The early plaskon and catalin plastics were brittle and easily cracked, however. Shown below are a plaskon Clinton and a Monarch from the 1930s.

Catalin and Plaskon old radios

Plastic was first formulated in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. He named his product "bakelite". It began to appear in radios in the 1930s. Other varieties of bakelite plastic began to appear in radios including Beetle, Urea and Plaskon. Catalin or Plaskon were most often used in American Radios until the polystyrene that was available after World War II.

In 1948 America looked forward to benefits of peace and new technology after the war. Shown above is an early RCA AM/FM of the post-war period. It is a model 3RF91.

RCA AM/FM model 3RF91

Crosley had grown to a giant with wartime contracts and even entered the automobile manufacturing for a time. The company's post war radios began with this AM and short-wave receiver and later advanced to the artistic features of the bulls eye design at right.

In the film, "The Graduate", Mr. McGuire says to the the uncommitted young man: "The future in one word: Plastics!" There was considerable truth in the advice with post-war technology bringing America the polystyrene plastics - more flexible and durable than bakelite. Everybody got into the act including Setchell Carlson, Sears-Silvertone, Emerson, and Westinghouse.

The green radio below is a Hallicrafters Continental from 1952. Hallicrafters was a company in Chicago that grew with defense contracts during World War II. The company was well known for short wave receivers. It was chic, in the 50s, to be "continental". Marilyn sang that a kiss on the hand may be so continental~. Studebakers famous Lowey Coupe advertised "continental styling". You were supposed to own a Lincoln Continental or at least have a continental kit on your T-Bird.

The Continental was a 5 tube superheterodyne with AM and short wave bands

In the mid 1950s, Crosley became king of the plastics with painted bakelites and clock radios in a wide variety of colors. Nothing says fifties more than the classic styling of the Crosleys shown there.

Zenith Royal 50 Transistor

The transistor radio shown above is an old friend. I bought it at the PXat Fort Dix, New Jersey and carried it on guard duty those cold January nights. This was a late offering from Zenith in 1960. Thetransistor radios have also become popular collector items.

1965 - We had our pizza and beer listening to Tijuana Brass, Nancy Sinatra and Hermans Hermits. But the most of the US radio industry died that year. RCA was going broke and Philco was bought temporarily by Ford. Most of the pre-war manufacturers were gone. Competition at home and abroad together with recessions killed the industry. The notion that lower wages and cheaper products was the answer failed. These simple two knob AM radios from Crosley were some of their last offerings.

Al Welch

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