Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whatever Happened to Powel Crosley?

I frequently hear from people who have read CROSLEY that they don't understand why they never heard Crosley. "I can't believe that, with everything he accomplished, he's not in all the history books!" is a frequent comment.

Certainly, in his time Powel Crosley, Jr. was a business celebrity at least equal in stature to Bill Gates. He was in newspapers nationwide several times a month, and publications such as Time, Business Week, and Newsweek followed his activities closely. The Crosley Corporation sold merchandise in Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, and was responsible for innovations like the Shelvador that made "Crosley" a literal household name. He may have saved the Cincinnati Reds from leaving that city, and the Reds stadium was renamed Crosley Field in his honor. Whenever he bought a yacht or an airplane or built a mansion, it was news. But today ... who's Crosley?

If you've read the Crosley book, you know some of the story. How Crosley sold out his high-visibility businesses, the Crosley Corporation and WLW/Crosley Broadcasting, after World War II to focus on his car. Crosley Motors kept him in the news until 1952--when the company went out of business and was sold to Aerojet-General.

Suddenly, Crosley wasn't in the news anymore. And by this time both his namesake son (Powel Crosley, III) and grandson (Powel, IV) were dead. There was literally no one to carry on his name, though it has reappeared in the family.

Crosley appliances? AVCO killed the line in 1956 because they were getting killed in the marketplace. Crosley Broadcasting stayed in business, operated by AVCO, but in the early 1960s, after Powel's death, the company name was changed to AVCO Broadcsating. Eventually the TV and radio stations were sold off. Finally, the Reds moved out of Crosley Field in 1970. And then there was David Sarnoff ... but that's a subject for a post of its own.

There are few Crosley legacies ... a small charity that seeks donations ... the forgotten Crosley Lake at the Cincinnati Nature Center ... and the Powel Crosley Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana ... a building at the University of Cincinnati that will probably be demolished in a few years ... a YMCA ... and little else (the once-mighty Crosley building stands empty and decaying) but for all intents and purposes Powel Crosley, Jr. was long-forgotten when I began research for CROSLEY in 2000, after considering writing the book for 30 years. Today, fewer people misspell "Powel," and a lot more people know his story. It's good to have him back in the collective memory.
--Mike
http://www.michaelabanks.com/

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