REMLER REMINISCENCES
Rick Ferranti, CHRS
June 1993

Background on Remler Company

This section on early Remler history includes material abstracted from an article appearing in the CHRS Journal, December 1981, written by Alan Douglas.

Remler Company, Limited, was founded in 1918 and was in business until 1988, a remarkable span of 70 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was founded by Elmer Cunningham of vacuum tube fame (the name Remler is supposed to be Elmer spelled backwards with an extra R for Radio!), but by 1922 it was owned solely by co-founders Thomas B. Gray and Ernest G. Danielson. In the early 20's the company made radio components such as tube sockets, variometers, and switches; a little later they came out with detector panels and amplifiers. By 1924 they were marketing components for the first of a long succession of Gerald Best's 45 kHz i-f superhets (one is in my collection.) In 1926 E.M. Sargent invented the first up-conversion superhet (i-f of about 3 MHz), and it was Remler who sold the kits for this "Infradyne" circuit.

In the spring of 1930, a fire destroyed the Remler factory at 260 First Street, but Gray and Danielson rebuilt the company headquarters at 2101 Bryant Street (pictured below, circa 1940), where it remained for four decades. Tom Gray died in December 1931, and his son Robert Gray took his place.

In the late 20's, Remler started building complete receivers, first TRF sets and later superhet midgets and mantel radios. Almost everyone has seen one of their famous "Scotty" receivers, which were marketed from this period up to the time Remler got out of the consumer radio market in the early 1950's. During the 30's, Remler also marketed a low-cost line of consumer sets under the "Norco" label. Remler built ship-board radio and public address systems, and had brought out a line of microphones, when my father started working there in 1937.

Background on Guido Ferranti

Guido Ferranti, father of CHRS member Rick Ferranti, is a native San Franciscan who grew up in what was known as the "Butchertown" district of The City. He graduated from Heald Engineering College (now Heald Institute of Technology) with a BS in mechanical engineering in 1933. He worked as a machinist for the Marchant Calculating Company in Emeryville (near Oakland) for a few years, then landed a job at Remler Company in 1937. His specialty was the set-up and operation of Brown and Sharpe automatic screw machines (a kind of automatic turret lathe, mechanically programmed to make precision production parts at high speed. Almost any small machined part in a early radio set like a binding post, phone plug, etc. was made on an "automatic.") During his nearly 20 years at Remler, Mr. Ferranti rose from his original position to become the firm's assistant general production foreman. He left the company in 1954 to found his own machine shop, and retired from a highly successful business some ten years ago. He can still set up a "Brownie" in his sleep.

Remler Reminisces, 1937 -- 1954

In the late thirties, Remler had about 70 employees. During WWII, the number grew to about 400, with many of the production workers being women. After the war, the company consolidated down to its pre-war size.

Remler did a good deal of outside contract work, jobshopping for punchpress, molding, tool and die, screw machine, sheet metal, and radio parts. Example: Remler made petroleum metering parts (out of Nitroloy, a fancy kind of stainless steel) for Brodie Meter of Oakland. Brodie insisted on a credit for every part not meeting their standards.

During WWII, Remler made tube caps and internal parts for Eimac transmitting tubes. There was a very tricky internal part requiring a highly polished finish produced by rolling. However, when Eimac built and tested these tubes they would literally explode! Apparently the rolling trapped solvents (required during the machining) in the part. After this, Remler supplied just the unrolled pieces, and Eimac finished them. No more blown tubes.

Remler once produced a bakelite gearshift knob as a sales promotion gimmick -- in its top was molded a Scotty dog just like the ones on their radios. (I have one in my collection).

During WWII the FCC heard reports of strange buzzing noises propagating worldwide on the shortwave bands. After an intensive search using their direction-finding equipment, the FCC found the source at Remler Company. Big Eimac tubes in Remler's unshielded induction heating equipment were pouring out the shortwave juice until the FCC forced them to shield their three machines!

Navy equipment made by Remler Company during WWII had a "CRLnnnn" identifier; for example, the prized telegraph key in my collection is a Navy model CRL26012. Longtime family friend Elmer Talbert, W6PFC (now a silent key), was the tool and die machinist who did the key tooling; my father remembers making the knurled adjustment nuts by the thousands on his Brown and Sharpes.

If you ever see the letter "g" on a Remler radio schematic, it's because the set was designed by Harry Greene II, Remler's chief electronics engineer from the 30's to the early 70's. One of his sons, Harry III, was my father's apprentice machinist, and went on to found his own successful machine business in Carson City. Harry's two other sons, Clay and Dick, also worked at Remler during WWII.

Among the military radio sets produced by Remler after WWII was the R-122A/ARN-12, an airborne navigation receiver, crystal controlled for the 75 MHz beacon band (one's in my collection). According to Alfred Price's History of US Electronic Warfare Vol. II, Remler also made 30 airborne radar/communications intercept receivers called the S-120. These 1952 vintage sets covered a frequency range of 500 to 4,000 MHz and used some of the earliest production traveling wave tubes. Remler also produced an elaborate electronic training aid (sort of the ultimate "200-in-1 Electronic Build-It Kit") for the military; fellow Remler employee and family friend Pete Sanfilippo is pictured in the instruction book assembling one of the dozens of electronics panels included with the training aid.

Above: Remler officials receiving Army/Navy "E" award for excellence during WWII. Founder Danielson second from left. Military man far right can't keep his finger out of the cake (or his mouth!)

President Bob Gray's son, Robert Gray II, was nicknamed "Scooter," though nobody remembers how or why. He used to practice the saxophone in his father's office, the tones resonating throughout the factory.

Dad still remembers finding gravel(!) inside some of the older screw machines he would service. The gravel was from the roof of the old First Street Remler factory; it fell into the machines salvaged from 1930 fire.

The powered raw stock advance mechanism for an automatic screw machine is a formidable device. Once, a piece of stock got sheared off by a misaligned feed and shot up into the factory ceiling, where it probably still remains.

The Remler ceiling also held other surprises. As in many older factories, much of the equipment was run by a large central motor driving pulleys and belts to the individual machines. This arrangement shook the ceiling so much that the vibration was clearly felt on the upper floors. After a few years it became obvious that individual motors in each machine would work a lot better, so my father slowly began converting each one. When he finished the last conversion and took down the overhead power driveshaft, he apparently missed removing one of the spacers. Not to worry -- it fell on his head several weeks later!


Above: Belt driven machinery at the Remler factory with employees Buzz Sinclair (l) and Guido Oppici (r).

After WWII, Remler actually marketed a television receiver. It was not very successful, only about 1,000 being built. Even my father opted for another brand, a Hoffman manufactured in Los Angeles.

The post-war Scotties were rather handsome sets; one of the nicest is the Model 51000, with an ivory plastic cabinet and retractable handle. Despite this, the competition was fierce. Some 25,000 sets were sold on consignment by a fast-talking salesman Back East, but it turned out that less than 3,000 were actually paid for. Thousands of receivers were returned to the factory, most with broken cabinets, and that was the end of Remler's manufacture of consumer radio products. A little while later, Remler had an internal sale to let employees buy the consumer radio parts inventory at surplus prices.

Remler Personalities

Several persons famous in engineering and ham radio circles worked at Remler Company; these included:

Gerald M. Best, designer of the 50 kHz i-f Remler-Best Superhet kit in 1926. It's not clear whether this same person (with identical name, of about the right age, and living in the SF Bay Area) later became a famous Western railroad photographer.

E.M. Sargent, who designed the first commercial upconverting superheterodyne broadcast receiver. As mentioned above, the Remler "Infradyne" had an intermediate frequency of 3 MHz and several versions were marketed as kits from about 1927 to 1929. Sargent also designed and marketed regenerative and superhet ham communications receivers in the mid to late 30's out of Oakland, California.

Frank Jones, W6AJF, who wrote innumerable articles for the SF-based magazine RADIO, and later authored several editions of the RADIO Handbook (the "West Coast Handbook"). Frank was a consulting engineer to Remler in the 1930's, and continued to be active through the 1980's, building UHF ham gear.

Byron Goodman, W1DX, longtime staffer at the American Radio Relay League and author of such early publications as the ARRL Antenna Handbook in 1939. Frank Jones recommended Byron as chief engineer Harry Greene's lab assistant. Byron recalls his work at Remler during the 1934 -1935 period:

One thing I do recall was a huge "exponential" loud speaker that was being developed...This speaker was on the ground alongside the building. The opening was square, and maybe six or eight feet high/wide. I have no recollection of the power involved or the length of the horn or the size of the neck, but I think it could be heard at quite a distance! It was for some park (Yosemite?). There might be an interesting story there.

Another thing I recall was that occasionally some competitive table model set would be brought into the lab and Harry trusted me with tracing out the circuit, to make sure that no company was beating us by devising a circuit with one less resistor or condenser.

Finally, Byron recalled to me how Remler president Danielson insisted that the engineering staff develop and demonstrate a high fidelity shortwave set. The demo room was full of acoustic resonances, so that the sound quality depended on where the set was placed. Remler never marketed a hi-fi shortwave set!

Dave Atkins, W6VX, who worked at Remler in 1930 and later marketed a line of his own variable capacitors in QST. Dave writes that he was in quality control and final alignment of superhet receivers, particularly the early Scotty.

John Kaar, founder of KAAR Radio, in Palo Alto, California.

CHRS member Ed Merrick, who worked at Remler from 1964-65 as an electronics technician. Ed remembers several Remler products, including an intercom system for Cape Canaveral, and a pair of handsets for Air Force One, the presidential aircraft. He also remembers Remler president Robert Gray's fancy cars!

Remler Company's Final Years

After my father left Remler in 1954, the company stayed at its Bryant Street location for another 20 years. In 1975 the majority of the fabricating equipment was sold, and Remler moved to Brisbane, just south of San Francisco. Most fabrication work was subcontracted, though engineering, testing, and light assembly were still done in their new location. Robert Gray Sr. died in April 1983, and left the company to his son, Robert Gray Jr. (Scooter).

Remler branched out beyond the older line of marine communications and public address gear that was their mainstay for decades. In the mid-seventies they designed, patented, and marketed an ambulatory blood pressure recorder, originally built for the Cardiology Department of the UCSF Hospital.

Quoting from a 1987 letter from Paul Karp, Remler VP and a Remler employee since 1941:

The major portion of our work is still in the communication field. We designed and manufactured the ground communication system for the NASA Apollo Program and various types of systems for the Lockheed Satellite Program, Boeing's hydrofoil ships, U.S. Navy vessels, etc. The Remler Transluctance Handset is also still supplied to the major airlines.

Sadly, President Robert Gray Jr., the grandson of Remler's founder and a man still in his 40's, died suddenly in late 1987. VP Paul Karp, who then took over for Scooter, only lived a few more months. Without a President or Vice-President, Remler's telephone was disconnected and the building vacated in mid-1988, after 70 years of business. One of the oldest and longest-surviving pioneer companies in Bay Area electronics had closed its doors forever.


Copyright 1993 California Historical Radio Society, all rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, without prior written permission from CHRS, except that you may make "fair use" of quotations of text fully attributed by you to the source (CHRS Journal) and author.

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