29 April 2012

The People's Set

The Philadelphia Storage Battery Company, of Pennsylvania, started making batteries in the early 1900s. The Philco brand appeared in 1919. The development of the rectifier valve, which enabled radios to be powered from the 'mains', persuaded Philco to expand beyond batteries, and in 1928 they started making radios. A UK operation was set up in Perivale, Middlesex. American sets generally used more valves than British ones, which, given that the UK valve manufacturers operated a strict cartel, would have made a British Philco expensive. Philco thus set about developing a radio with fewer valves.

Introduced in 1936, the 444 was the first British Philco, its tombstone-shaped Bakelite cabinet pressed by Ekco. It sold for six guineas (£6.30), and was dubbed the People's Set. Some claim that the cabinet design was influenced by the bonnet of the Volkswagen 'Beetle', the People's Car, but only prototypes of the latter existed by 1936.

In fact, it was Philco that gave the set its name, trading on widespread adoption of the word "people" in the context of the Spanish Civil War. The set had initially sold poorly, but Philco's bit of cynicism turned that around spectacularly.

The set photographed is the 333, employing the same cabinet as the 444, but in this case powered by batteries.

Historical note: Philco was acquired by Ford in 1961, and ultimately by Philips in 1981, who until then had been prevented from using their similar-sounding trademark in the States. Philips still use the Philco brand.

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