The Hallicrafters Company of Chicago, Illinois was once one of the major "Big Three" manufacturers of shortwave and Amateur Radio equipment (the National Radio Company and Hammarlund being the others). From the early 1930s through the 1970s, the Hallicrafters name stood for some of the finest communications equipment available.
William J. “Bill” Halligan, the founder of Hallicrafters, was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 8 December 1898. He showed an early interest in radio; at the age of fourteen, he earned amateur license 1AEH. Halligan served as a radio operator in World War I and later enrolled in the Engineering School at Tufts College, Medford, Massachusetts, but was unable to complete his studies due to financial reasons. Instead, he entered the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Halligan left West Point after two years to marry Katherine Fletcher, and the couple settled in Boston.
A first professional taste of radio came in 1923, when Halligan became a sales manager for the Tobe Deutschmann Corporation, then a major manufacturer of radio parts. Deutschmann wanted a store in downtown Boston, so to accommodate him, Halligan opened a small outlet near Boston’s City Hall. He called the store “The Radio Shack”, and this simple operation was the precursor to today’s Radio Shack Corporation.
Halligan remained with the Deutschmann operation until late 1933. He decided to form his own radio company, though he was equipped with little more than a small office and meager capital. A name was needed for the nascent company, and an advertising manager proposed “The Hallicrafters”, modeled after the name of a printing firm in New York. Halligan liked the name; it seemed to suggest the sort of radio equipment he intended to produce, a quality handcrafted product.
One last obstacle was left to overcome. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) owned, at that time, all major radio patents. Those intending to manufacture radio equipment were required to obtain a license from RCA, a costly and difficult process. Undaunted, Halligan hit on the idea of designing the receivers; sell enough potential sets to radio stores, and then commission an established manufacturer holding an RCA license to produce the sets. He settled on the Silver-Marshall Company of Chicago.
Shortly after contracting with Silver-Marshall, Halligan located another RCA-licensed company, the Echophone Company, which was near bankruptcy. He bought the company and, now with Hallicrafters in possession of a license, began to manufacture radio sets in their own right. Echophone and Hallicrafters were combined in 1936, and the company moved to its permanent location in Chicago.
HALLICRAFTERS’ GOLDEN ERA
Almost immediately, Hallicrafters became known for their high quality receivers and amateur transmitters. The company first gained attention with their ‘Skyrider’ and ‘Super Skyrider’ models, moderately priced receivers that were well-designed and solid performers. Sales were helped by the fact that many of the receivers had a pleasing appearance (due to Hallicrafters’ staff industrial designers) as well.
Some of the more famous models from the pre-war period include:
- the Super Skyrider, model SX-9 (1936), equipped with a large German silver tuning dial, and one of the first receivers to use the new “all-metal” vacuum tubes.
- the Ultra Skyrider, model SX-10 (1936), able to tune what were then the “UHF” bands (frequency above 30 Megahertz).
- the Skyrider Diversity (1938), actually two complete multi-tube receivers side-by-side. This enabled the operator to connect two different antennas to the set and counteract the effects of fading. A huge set and today, one of the most sought-after models. No other company of the era marketed such a radio set.
- the HT-4 Transmitter (1938), an efficient high-performance transmitter for the Ham bands, later to become famous in World War II as the BC-610. It was available well into the late 1940s.
- the Skyrider 23, model SX-23 (1939), famous for its innovative “art-deco” cabinet design.
- the Super Skyrider SX-28 and later, SX–28A (1940-41), one of the most popular Hallicrafters receivers. Its design was state of the art for the time, and featured excellent external styling. The SX-28 was notable for audio that sounded better than many expensive home receivers. It is still easy to find today, and remains a favorite of collectors.
THE WARTIME YEARS
After the declaration of World War II in 1939, Hallicrafters, looking toward the immediate future, began to ease into production of radio and communications equipment for Allied use, mainly for Britain and France. When the United States entered the war in 1941, all commercial production of communications equipment ceased, and the industry turned to strictly war production.
Hallicrafters answered the call with increased production of the SX-28 receiver series, and introduced the SCR-299 and the SCR-281 communications units. The company continued to advertise in radio journals, promising “interesting new developments in Radio!!” after war’s end.
Hallicrafters products traveled the world during the war. Returning servicemen told many a tale about how a BC-610 transmitter or SCR-543 radiotelephone unit had made the difference. Radio publications of the time were filled with Hallicrafters advertisements telling thrilling stories of war communications aided, of course, by Hallicrafters equipment.
RETURN TO CIVILIAN PRODUCTION
When the war ended, Hallicrafters faced, as did most companies, the difficult task of returning to civilian production. Halligan wasted no time; in 1946 the company opened a new manufacturing plant in Chicago’s West Side industrial area. During this period, Hallicrafters’ only real competition was the Hammarlund Company, and the National Radio Company. These companies became known as the “Big Three” of communications equipment manufacture.
With a new slogan in hand, “The Radio Man’s Radio”, Hallicrafters introduced these models:
- Model S-38 (1947), a “beginner’s” receiver. Simple and inexpensive, yet it introduced many to shortwave listening and found its way into many a novice Amateur Radio operator’s shack.
- Model SX-42 (1948), a massive receiver featuring the new FM band. It, too, was popular for its appearance, styled by the famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy. The SX-42 was a dual-purpose receiver; it provided not only shortwave reception, but standard AM broadcast and FM reception.
- Model SX-62 (1949), an updated version of the SX-42, with improved circuitry and cabinet styling.
- Model SX-73 (1952), a professional receiver aimed mainly at the military market, but also available on the civilian market. It was Hallicrafters’ answer to the Hammarlund SP-600 Super-Pro.
- Model HT-20 (1952), an all-purpose shortwave transmitter, featuring multi-band switching.
- Model SX-88 (1954), at the time the finest commercial receiver available. The SX-88 was designed for the operator for whom cost was not a concern, and featured outstanding performance and appearance. One of the most collectible of receivers, then and now.
- Model HT-37 (1959), one of the first transmitters with single-sideband (SSB) capability. A well-designed transmitter, and many are still in service today.
- Model SX-115 (1961), yet another large receiver for the Amateur Radio market. It featured a huge central dial, and is another model prized by collectors today.
Hallicrafters also attempted to enter the television and home entertainment markets. The company produced a line of television sets, and home audio components, that met with modest success. Their main business, though, was amateur and communication equipment; by the early 1960s, the company had abandoned the home market.
CHANGE AND DECLINE
As Hallicrafters entered the 1960s, it soon became apparent that the communications industry was undergoing a change. Engineers were starting to move away from vacuum tubes in favor of solid-state devices
The company responded in 1962 with the introduction of the SR-150 transceiver. No longer was the operator bound to a separate receiver and transmitter; the SR-150 provided both in one box. This model was followed in 1966 by the model SR-2000 “Hurricane” transceiver. Both models, however, were still based on vacuum tube designs. Nonetheless, both models sold well and fetch a decent price today.
Bill Halligan, by this time, had begun to think of retirement. Accordingly, in late 1966, the Hallicrafters Company was sold to Northrop Corporation and Halligan’s involvement in the company ended. Production continued, though, with the release of the SR-400 “Cyclone” transceiver in 1967. Also, one more new receiver was released: the model SX-133, designed for the Amateur market.
The last major Hallicrafters model to appear was the FPM-300 transceiver in 1972. It was an almost completely transistorized model (tubes were used in the final amplifier). Though it was a sound design, sales of the transceiver failed to meet projections. The FPM-300 was available through 1975, by which time Hallicrafters had been purchased by the Breaker Corporation of Texas. Shortly after the FPM-300 ceased production, Hallicrafters ceased business operations, closing its doors on a long and distinguished history. There were rumors, in the late 1980s, of a new Hallicrafters Company; thus far, these have remained only rumors.
Bill Halligan remained active in the Amateur Radio community as W9AC. He was often heard on the amateur bands and gained an almost legendary status. He died, in Miami Beach, Florida, on 14 July 1992.
de Hensler, Max. The Hallicrafters Story. Charleston, West Virginia: ARCA Press, 1988
Moore, Raymond. Communications Receivers, Fourth Edition. La Belle, Florida: RSM Communications, 1997
Osterman, Fred. Shortwave Receivers Past and Present. Reynoldsburg, Ohio: Universal Radio Research, 1998
Dachis, Chuck. Radios by Hallicrafters. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Books for Collectors, 1999