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Sound in Motion

1930: The First Motorola Brand Car Radio

Even the Great Depression couldn't stop Motorola founder Paul V. Galvin. When he learned about technicians fitting home radios into automobiles, he recognized the potential of the new technology. Galvin engaged a team of talented engineers to build and install one of the first commercially successful car radios in the world. Motorola created a new market and ultimately became a global leader in communications technologies.

Difficult times

Paul V. Galvin and his brother Joseph started the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation in Chicago in 1928 to manufacture battery eliminators. These electronic devices enabled battery-powered home radios to operate on household electric current. But in 1929, a stock market crash devastated the U.S. economy and the battery eliminator was becoming obsolete. The Galvins needed a new product for their small business to survive.


A radio parts company founded by William P. Lear was located in the same factory building as Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. Lear technicians, including chief production engineer Don H. Mitchell, were experimenting with radio technologies. Despite the worsening economy, the markets for automobile and radio technologies were growing rapidly. Paul Galvin realized that consumer demand would continue. He decided Galvin Manufacturing could develop an affordable radio that could be installed in most popular automobile models.

Design challenges
Galvin engaged a team that combined the talents of Lear and Galvin Manufacturing radio engineers. In addition, young Elmer Wavering, who later was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, joined the effort. The team faced difficult technical problems: overcoming electrical interference, finding space in the car for large radio components, and building it sturdy enough to endure rough roads. Galvin encouraged them to keep working to find a solution.

In May 1930, Galvin announced plans to drive his Studebaker automobile from Chicago, Illinois, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.A., a distance of about 850 miles (1368 kilometers). He intended to demonstrate the new radio at the Radio Manufacturers Association Convention in June. With only one month left to complete a working model, the team worked day and night.

A few days before Galvin departed, the crew successfully built a radio that received a clear signal with the car motor running. By squeezing some radio parts inside and others under the floor, the radio fit into the car. Although rough roads from Chicago to New Jersey tested the radio to its limits, it withstood the journey.

Public showing
Galvin Manufacturing Corporation wasn't registered for the June 1930 Radio Manufacturers' show, and Paul Galvin had no display booth or appointments with prospective customers. There was no money in the company's budget for marketing. Instead, Galvin parked his car at the entrance to the Atlantic City pier and boosted the radio's volume with loudspeakers to attract attention. With his wife, Lillian, helping to demonstrate the radio, he encouraged show attendees to take a look. When visitor traffic was slow, he went inside the hall to convince people to come outside for a demonstration.

Galvin returned to Chicago with enough sales orders to ensure that the company would survive to face the next challenges: sales, manufacturing and installation on a large scale.

Birth of the Motorola brand
Paul Galvin wanted a brand name for Galvin Manufacturing Corporation's new car radio-something memorable. He created the name "Motorola" to suggest sound in motion (from "motor" and the then-popular suffix "ola"). The Motorola brand name became so well-known that Galvin Manufacturing Corporation later changed its name to Motorola, Inc.

A commercial success
The car radio installation continued to challenge the engineers. Elmer Wavering remembered, "If somebody bought a new car and decided to put in a car radio, they'd get a real shock. They saw us go in and rip out the brand new headlining in the car, drill holes into the floor for our batteries, and rig up a whole complicated electrical system with a network of wires." With every installation, the team gained experience.

Paul Galvin and Elmer Wavering traveled around the United States selling radios and teaching new dealers how to install them correctly. With business growing, a fleet of Motorola sales and service trucks with factory-trained sales engineers soon supported radio dealers with sales, service and installation.

Due to determination and innovative engineering, the Motorola model 5T71 radio became one of the world's first commercially successful car radios. With sales that first year reaching internationally to Mexico, the Motorola car radio connected thousands of people with news and entertainment in their "second home"-- the automobile.