A Short History of Truetone Radio and Western Auto


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Thanks for this input. I have printed it out and will read it more closely and put it with my radio info.
Gary
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I enjoyed gaining the knowledge about the Truetone/Western Auto.
Hey, maybe we could have a historical or company history thread?
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Nice article Mo, The Truetones you have pictured look like Detrola built models. I have only one Truetone and it was built by Detrola. Like Sears Silvertone and Wards Airline, they sold some high end stuff along with the economy sets.

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Informative reading! We need more essays like this.

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I love this kind of stuff. Thanks!
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Detrola had one assembly line dedicated to the production of the Truetone brand for Western Auto from around 1936 to the early 40's. When orders exceeded the capability of that assembly line, another would be temporarily switched over. One former manager told me that in some of those years, Truetone production was well over 25% of Detrola's total output of radios. Detrola also built some other entry-level sets which Western Auto sold under the Pla-Mor brand. Some have turned up with Western Auto information rubber stamped on the bottom of the wood cabinet.
The main differences in the radio chassis between the many brands which Detrola built were usually minor. Typically the dial scale, brand of tubes installed, and addition of a rubber stamped identifying text on the rear of the chassis would have been the changes on a Truetone they built. There are of course cabinet differences, which didn't affect anything on the chassis assembly lines.
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Unless my memory is seriously flawed (a good possibility), Western Auto was owned by Sears during part of the 80s and possibly was sold to Advance Auto parts by Sears in 1998? After joining Sears, they were strictly an auto parts and tire store, having dropped appliances, hardware, electronics, etc. The asscciate stores still sold many of the items dropped by the corporate arm and I am not sure of the relationship, if they only used the name for convenience or if any goods were furnished them by the corporation. Got convoluted during the later years!
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Hi thanks love reading stuff like this..Its what this sites all about well done.Doug very nice set you got looks like new..Angelo
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Also from me, a top notch article. There was a Western Auto store somewhere in my neighborhood in Detroit, as as a kid, I loved to look at the radios.
Some of the big Truetone sets were made by Wells- Gardner, as has already been told. W-G made some of the most superlative sets for private brands, like Western Auto. Today, a re-capped Wells-Gardner set can out-perform a lot of high end radios. Thus, a lot of Truetone sets are dynamite performers.
In 1935 or 1936, Wells-Gardner made a 16 tube chromium plated chassis set for Ward's Airline. It featured two speakers, and parallel push-pull 2A3 power amplifiers. I wonder if Western Auto used this set, too?
The factory sets for Cadillac were made by Wells-Gardner from 1932 through 1939. You could see similar sets with the Truetone name.
And finally; was there evre a FALSE tone radio?
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A new illustrated book, "The Last Western Flyer--the Western Auto Century," chronicles the almost century long story of one of the most successful small town franchise operations in Twentieth
Century USA. From its humble beginnings as a penny mailer sent from the kitchen of a Kansas City home, through a quarter century of mail order, and on to over 5,000 retail outlets under its famous "Circle Arrow" signs, Western Auto brought everything from tires and spark plugs to socks and ties and, of course, its well known Western Flyer bikes, to small towns all over America.
Packed with illustrations from Western Auto catalogs, sales brochures, and company literature from as early as 1911 on, "The Last Western Flyer" tracks the company's growth and relates it to the country's progress during the century of the automobile, the airplane, radio and television, and the Barbie doll.
In the beginning, Western Auto sold tires, oil and spark plugs, and everything else imaginable for the Ford Model T. By the 1930s, Truetone radios and Western Flyer bikes were leading the company's expansion into non-automotive products.
Western Auto's growth exploded with the introduction in 1936 of its small town "Associate Store" concept and the company's "Circle Arrow"
logo came to villages and towns across the country.
Despite delays in expansion during World War II, Western Auto continued to grow, calling itself "the Family Store" to reflect its thousands of product offerings of everything from washing machines to outboard motors to puppy dogs by mid-century. It expanded even further with a return to catalog selling in the 1960s and 1970s.
The book's author, Jim Marchman, traces Western Auto's growth through the work of his father who joined the company as a manual laborer in 1935 and quickly advanced through company management until he bought his own Associate Store in 1953. The changes in Western Auto's product lines that are shown from company literature provide an interesting history of the changes that modern technology brought to both the American home and the automobile during the last century.
The book's final chapters examine what went wrong as Western Auto's growth reversed in the face of "super store" retailers, corporate takeovers, and policies that drove away small town dealers. Taken over by Sears and later by Advance Auto, the company ceased supplying its dealer stores on December 31, 2003.
The book honors the contributions of the thousands of Americans who worked for this great company, its stores, and associate stores over the last century. It brings back many wonderful memories for those of us who grew up in small towns all over the country, riding those wonderful Western Flyer bicycles, listening to our Truetone radios, watching our Truetone televisions, and washing our clothes in a Wizard washing machine.
"The Last Western Flyer--the Western Auto Century" is currently available only from the author in a paperback bound 8 1/2 x 11 inch, 295 page edition. The price of $25 includes shipping. Interested purchasers should contact the author, Jim Marchman, at:

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As a side note, the Western Auto building in Kansas City, Missouri still operates the huge circle-arrow neon sign (maybe 50' by 50' ?) atop the building. This landmark is close to Union Station. The building was erected adjacent to a railroad freight spur, so that it has 2 flat sides and one long curved side that hugs the spur.
If I am not mistaken, this building was converted to condominium "lofts" as were many other empty plants and warehouses between downtown and (Halls' Hallmark) Crown Center.
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Ah, I found a picture!

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If you ever bought a Wizard outboard motor, chances are you had a Mercury in disguise. Here in my neck of the woods in the early days of TV, '49 to about '57, WA sold Truetone TV sets by Wells-Gardner and Belmont, later Raytheon, by the truckload.
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Our small town had one years ago. These were great stores and most were locally owned. The one here was not large but had a huge amount of merchandise. This was THE place for bikes, toy trains and auto parts in the 50s. Too bad they are gone.
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