Have you been to Wal-Mart Target recently? Well if you have been, as you stroll through the electronics “zone” you may have come across some fantastically over-retro turntables. They come in all shapes and sizes. In the early to mid 2000s you could still buy a combo that included a cassette tape. Note: for all you youngsters our there a cassette tape is what we had before CDs, it was plastic and had spools of magnetic tape that would bind up out of love. Oh, and CDs are what we had before MP3s… which is what we had before the iPod.
Joking aside these wonderfully fantastic retro boxes are made by Crosley. You might say, “Matt, this is a car page. Why are you talking about record players?” Well, if you shut it I’ll tell you.
Crosley, it turns out, has been around for a very very long time. Since 1916ish to be exact. If you haven’t guessed where this is going yet then, well, I don’t know… but they used to build cars. Small machines to be exact. Micromachines if you will.
The man behind all of this was Powel Crosley, an avid automotive enthusiast and runner up for the 1920 National Best Last Name as a First Name Award. There as an entire back story about Powel that you can brush up on via the Crosley Automobile Club’s website where the majority of this information is gleaned from and I thank them. Suffice to say Powel endured quite a number of failures – four to be exact – in his automotive endeavors before switching over to accessories and radios. It turns out radios were his ticket and soon he was rolling.
You can thank Powel and his company for many innovations in radio and appliance history. My personal favorite is the shelves in the door of the refrigerator. Since everything in the early 20th century had to have a catchy name, think Hydromantic and the like, this fridge was called the “Shelvadore.” All of Powel’s early efforts in the automotive industry were relatively expensive. His years in the radio business taught him that people will always want high quality, affordable products.
The American micro-car was a non-existent segment in 1937 when Crosley began its experimentation. Early micro companies folded in the mid 1920’s amid pressure from better products like the Model T. The last surviving micro car company was Bantam, known for the Jeep, which died once the US Government awarded the contract for the Jeep to Willys and Ford. Sick burn.
Production was in full swing in 1939 but as with most automotive upstarts production was plagued with issues and the onset of World War II only exacerbated the fact. Pre-war production is recorded at a respectable 5,757 vehicles.
During the war years a micro-Jeep had undergone testing and was ordered for production but lost its appeal during field testing due to the underpowered 13 hp engine. Known as the Pup and weighing less than 1200 lbs the idea was it would be easier to handle in mud. The original military Jeep as we know it wasn’t exactly huge. Can you imagine how awesome whipping around a field in a micro-Jeep would have been? Consequently, the small, lightweight car was a big hit during the war years due to rationing.
Crosley, post war, is where the car really came into its own. From 1946 till its end in 1952 the Crosley enjoyed innovation and success. Overlooked for technological firsts including discs brakes and overhead cams they were true innovators in their day. Things we missed in an American auto industry dominated by the “Big 3” which produced more of the same and backhandedly crushed innovators like Tucker. Crosley simply failed to grow, literally, with the public’s demand for bigger cars. The “Great America” as we entered the fifties demanded bigger cars with big engines. A Crosley this was not. Navigate to the Crosley Automobile Clubs website above for a more in-depth look at the postwar cars and innovations.
Crosley peaked in 1948 with production numbering 27,707… 23,000 of which were wagons. For the record, I love both wagons and little cars. Did I mention they made wood paneled cars too? In total from 1939-1952 Crosley produced a recorded 93,436 vehicles that included roadsters, trucks, wagons and sport utility vehicles.
I urge everyone to research Crosley more! Chances are this isn’t the last time I write about them but there is a plethora of sites online that have fascinating information on this forgotten technological marvel. Many thanks to the Crosley Automotive club for much of this information.