"The fine things are always hand made."
That was the motto of E. H. Scott, who for many years manufactured some of the highest quality radios it was possible to own. Scott radios were known as "the Stradivarius of Radio", and this boast was not without reason. Large, expensive, and always hand-made, they contained many innovations rarely seen in other radios.
Earnest Humphrey Scott was a native of New Zealand, born in Dunedin in 1887. His family emigrated to Australia not long after his birth, and there his father was killed in a railway accident. Scott's mother died a few years later, when he was fourteen. He lived by his wits from then on, eventually becoming a salesman.
Scott served in World War I with the Australian Army Corps and was stationed in France. While there, he invented a small device to locate trouble in automobile engines. This device, called the Telecator, worked well enough that the United States government purchased the rights to its manufacture.
After the war, Scott decided to relocate again, this time to America. He settled in Chicago and, drawing on his wartime experience, started writing a newspaper column, "The Care of an Automobile." The popular column was soon syndicated in newspapers all across the country. Around this time, Scott became interested in a new invention called radio, and set about making himself an expert. It wasn't long before he was writing about radio as well, and supplying typical hook-up diagrams to enthusiastic readers.
Scott's radio work ultimately demanded all his attention. In order to assist radio constructors, he invented the "pictorial wiring diagram," with which a builder could easily lay out a radio’s parts prior to construction. Then, the builder could wire the radio up with equal ease. To ensure the utmost accuracy, Scott built and maintained a complete radio laboratory and thoroughly tested each circuit before its release.
IN BUSINESS OUT OF NECESSITY
Around 1924, Scott decided to return to New Zealand for a thirteen-week visit. Wishing to stay in touch with the American radio scene, he constructed a radio set he believed would be capable of receiving broadcasts from Chicago. Arrangements were made with some powerful Chicago broadcasters to beam special programs to Scott during his stay in New Zealand. He was able to receive the broadcasts and sent, via cable, his logs to confirm reception. With his powerful receiver, Scott set long-distance records for consistent reception of programs from Chicago and Los Angeles.
News of his accomplishments reached America and, when Scott returned, he was besieged with requests for construction information about his marvelous receiver, now called the "World’s Record Super 9." However, Scott received nearly as many requests for his custom-built parts, and for help tuning up the receivers to achieve maximum performance. To meet this need, Scott decided to enter the radio business and established the Scott Transformer Company in late 1924.
A REPUTATION FOR THE FINEST
Scott and his company quickly became known for building only high-quality receivers. "Right from the start," he wrote in an issue of his company's publication, the Scott News, "my only ambition has been to design and build the very finest radio receiver possible." Each successive model that the company released was held to this standard. Never was there any consideration given to mass production; every receiver that left the Scott factory was custom built, often to the customer’s specifications. Those specifications were often the result of personal correspondence between customers and Scott himself.
Nothing was left to chance with a Scott receiver. The parts were tested under all conditions, and receivers were tested in all possible configurations. Just before a receiver was to be delivered, it would be allowed to play, using the vacuum tubes with which it would ship, for at least two weeks. Any defect or problem, no matter how small, resulted in a complete analysis of the set – and another testing period. With such rigorous quality control, both in design and production, Scott maintained that his receivers could equal or outperform any mass-produced receiver.
SCOTT’S ULTIMATE RECEIVERS
By 1935, the company (now called the E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories) had grown to occupy a three-story building in Chicago, and employed 97 people. That year, Scott introduced the first of his more famous receivers, the All-Wave Imperial. It contained twenty-three vacuum tubes (roughly triple the amount found in most receivers of the day) and was available in various luxury cabinets. This was followed by a version for select customers, the forty-tube Quaranta. This receiver featured three separate audio sections, and was capable of recording radio programs to disk. One could purchase a Quaranta made to order, for what was then a considerable price of US$2500.00. Only one or possibly two of these receivers have survived to the present day.
Scott’s customers came from all walks of life, especially the entertainment industry. Issues of the Scott News were filled with glowing testimonials from Hollywood stars about the superiority of their Scott receiver. They’d be pictured in their comfortable homes, with the receiver naturally the focal point of their 'gracious living room' or 'well-appointed music room.' Yet, the company maintained that a Scott receiver was within the reach of anyone, with the company’s 'generous payment plans.'
The Scott company reached what was perhaps its peak in 1938 with the introduction of the Scott Philharmonic receiver. This thirty-tube receiver was a marvel of engineering skill and esthetic design. The chassis of the receiver itself was completely chrome plated, and could be housed in the customer's choice of fine cabinets – or displayed openly for guests to admire. The receiver featured an impressive large circular dial and two tuning-eye tubes for ease of operation. The audio section of the receiver was advanced in its design; it would be over twenty years before other manufacturers could equal or surpass it.
SCOTT LABS DURING WARTIME
As with many radio manufacturers, Scott’s company played a role in World War II communications. The company designed and built a receiver known as the Scott Special High-Fidelity Communications Receiver. Though it was produced in very limited quantities, all branches of the service used this receiver, whose lineage could be traced to the Philharmonic.
Also, Scott developed a special low-radiation receiver extensively used in direction-finding operations and for entertainment purposes. The German Navy had developed a technique for locating ships by tuning in on the minute signals naturally emitted by shipboard radios, and Scott correctly reasoned that heavy shielding of receivers would put an end to that. For his efforts, his company received awards from both the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marine.
A SUDDEN CHANGE
Though the Scott Radio Laboratories enjoyed considerable success, relations between Scott and his company began to decline. An audit of the company during the late wartime years revealed that even though sales were at an all-time high, around US$2.8 million, profits after taxes and overhead totaled only some US$90,000. Scott grew discouraged about the future of radio and of his company, and sold his interest in it for US$260,000. He remained president of the company and in charge of all daily operations.
Things grew worse when he returned from a trip to New Zealand in 1945 and discovered he had been demoted to advertising and sales manager. He turned the job down, and announced his resignation via large ads in two prominent Chicago newspapers. Scott then retired and purchased a home near Victoria, British Columbia. There he spent his time with his two hobbies, photography and flying, until his death in 1951. Scott Radio Laboratories struggled on for a few years, but without its founder, faded away in the 1960s. The "Scott" name seen on audio equipment today is a descendant of the H. H. Scott company, which was not originally related, though they bought some parts of Scott's company when it was dissolved.
Many of Scott’s receivers have survived to the present day, and rightly command high prices on eBay and other venues. When properly restored, it is still possible to see, and hear, what made them so outstanding. E. H. Scott set high standards for himself and his products; as Scott historian J. W. F. Puett put it, "The instruments he manufactured were truly 'The Stradivarius of Radio Receivers', and in spite of his eccentricities, Mr. Scott will be remembered as the old master who made them play."
Scott, E. H. The Scott News
, various issues, 1933-39. Chicago
: E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories.
Scott, E. H. Introducing the Scott Philharmonic
, brochure, 1936. Chicago: E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories.
Puett, J. W. F. Antique Radio's Touch of Perfection
. Article privately published in 1974.
Downing, M. "The Scott Antique Radio and Picture Gallery
". <www.lvcm.com/radio/scott/index.html> (April 2003)
King, Kent. "Scott Radio Labs.com". <www.schroder-dieball.com/scottradiolabs/> (April 2003)