Friday, September 14, 2007

Whatever Happened to Crosley's First Engineers?

You've probably read about the many singers and other stars who got their starts at Crosley's WLW. Names like Jane Froman, Doris Day, and Rosemary Clooney are part of the WLW legend. They also went on to bigger and better things after they got away from WLW.

What about technical people? In researching CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, I noticed that the Crosley Corporation and Crosley Broadcasting's engineering department were as notorious as WLW for low pay and high turnover among engineers as well as talent, management, and other staff.

Consider two of Crosley's earliest engineering employees: Elmer Hentz and Dorman Israel, the University of Cincinnati coop students who were responsible for building the first Crosley Harko set. Dorman Israel also built WLW's first transmitter.

As it turned out, Hentz soon left for a career as an engineer with an elevator manufacturer. Dorman Israel styaed not much longer, and went on became the Chief Engineer and Executive Vice-President of the Emerson Electric (later radio and television) Company.

I believe that both engineers pursued careers beyond Crosley because they knew they wouldn't be making a lot of money for a long time--if ever--with Crosley. Crosley was never the highest-paying outfit in its field, nor even in its city (though it was Cincinnati's largest employer for a time). The company had a tendency to hire people to gain access to their knowledge, then let them go or drive them away by not promoting them. This also happened with famous designer Walter Dorman Teague and, it appears, David Forbes Keith, designer of the Icyball.

With rare exception, it seems that most Crosley employees were like the interchangable parts that went into Crosley products. Only Powel and, to a lesser extent, Lewis Crosley were irreplacable.
Copyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

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