Wednesday 3rd December 1873
Born on this day, Arthur Atwater Kent, best known as a Philadelphia-based radio manufacturer. Before he started manufacturing radios, Kent started his Kent Electric Manufacturing Company in the back room of his father’s machine shop. He sold small electric motors, generators, fans, and later automobile ignition systems. The Unisparker Ignition systems became the automobile industry standard for almost 50 years, until the advent of the HEI systems. In 1921, Kent produced his first radio components, selling the do-it-yourself kits consisting of “breadboards” that could be assembled by early radio enthusiasts. In 1924, the company moved to a new $2 million plant at 4745 Wissahickon Avenue in North Philadelphia. This plant, constructed in sections, would eventually cover 32 acres. In 1925, the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company became the largest maker of radios in the United States. Atwater Kent radios were of high quality and many examples of working models exist today. They are highly prized by collectors and restorers. The Depression had a negative effect on the market for high quality radios such as those manufactured by Kent, and he shut down his radio factory in 1936. A major local competitor, Philco, which had branched out into air conditioners and refrigerators, acquired the closed plant and built refrigerators there. In 1937, Kent helped to organize and pay for the restoration of the Betsy Ross House in Center City Philadelphia. In 1938, Kent helped found the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s city history museum by purchasing the original home of the Franklin Institute on South 7th Street and donating it to the City of Philadelphia.