Rusty McClure with David Stern and Michael A. Banks
Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation is a comprehensive look at the lives of brothers Powel and Lewis Crosley. Powel was the innovator who believed that there are new and better ways of doing things. Lewis provided the problem-solving skills for understanding how things work and organizing ways of achieving corporate goals. Together their ventures included automobiles, radios and appliances. This review is from an Indiana-built auto perspective and may overlook other ventures.
At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, the automobile industry was in its infancy with hundreds of companies attempting to gain a foothold in the market. By mid-decade, Indianapolis was one of the centers of the automotive industry. Powel joined the mix under the tutelage of Carl G. Fisher in summer 1908. While working for the Fisher Automobile Company, Crosley met many of the movers and shakers of the local auto industry. By the summer of 1909, he moved on to assume the assistant sales manager position at Parry Automobile Company across town. Later that year, he moved again to a similar position at National Motor Vehicle Company. His next venture was as a distributor and publicist at the Inter-State Automobile Company in Muncie in 1910 and 1911.
Between 1907 and 1913, Powel was involved with three auto ventures, which quickly expired due to lack of funds: Marathon Six, Hermes, and De Cross Cycle Car. In December 1917, he incorporated the American Automobile Accessories Company (Americo) to manufacture the inside tire and other items for Sears, Roebuck and other retailers.
Powel moved into a new market when the patent for Victrolas expired. He took this opportunity to leverage his skills into this area. Americo introduced affordable phonographs at about half the price of similar machines in 1920. In 1921, Americo retooled its production to produce the first Crosley radio, and later changed the company’s name to Crosley Radio Corporation. In 1933, Powel did for refrigeration what he had done for radio: he introduced the Shelvador refrigerator that retailed for less than $100. Crosley Radio renovated the former Haynes Auto body plant in Kokomo to produce car radios for General Motors in 1934.
With all of these successes behind him, Powel was again ready to launch a small, inexpensive Crosley car, which debuted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 28, 1939. The car achieved 50 mpg, and came in two models: a coupe and sedan retailing for $325 and $350 respectively. The cars were offered through the same dealers that sold other Crosley appliances. The mile-long Crosley plant in Richmond, Indiana, produced the cars.
In June 1945, Crosley sold all of his business interests with the exception of Crosley Motors, Inc. Powel and Lewis used the former home of the Indiana Motor Truck Company, in Marion, Indiana, for assembly. The first post-war Crosley, a two-door, four-passenger sedan, rolled off the line on May 9, 1946.
The 1948 Crosley line consisted of six models: sedan, convertible, pickup truck, panel delivery truck, a sports-utility vehicle, and an all-steel station wagon. Once Detroit’s post-war offerings were available and gas rationing ended, the market for Crosley cars evaporated. The last Crosley car left the Marion assembly plant in July 1952.
As it turned out, Powel’s ideas for an economy car may have been ten years too early for the marketplace. By 1958, the small and inexpensive car combination of imports and the Nash Rambler accounted for 12 percent of car sales. Studebaker introduced its Lark compact in 1959, with General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler offerings in hot pursuit.
The authors did an admirable job of weaving the tale of Powel and Lewis Crosley’s entrepreneurial career. The book is thoroughly researched, including the brothers personal lives and ventures into commercial broadcasting, and ownership of the Cincinnati Reds. The book provides a reference for the innovative Crosley legacy.
Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, Rusty McClure with David Stern and Michael A. Banks, Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, © 2006, ISBN: 978-1-57860-291-9
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