Powel Crosley Jr. was quite an interesting person. A renowned industrialist who originated from modest beginnings, he was just old enough to drink (legally) around the turn of the last century. Crosley was obsessed with manufacturing processes and always looking at ways to build things cheaper and more efficiently.
Don’t worry, we are getting to the car part.
Crosley made a pretty comfortable living selling automotive accessories in the early 1900’s. Picture it, an “accessory” on a car with no doors or roof? Maybe he invented the fuzzy dice you hang from your mirror… Anyways, this parlayed into him developing radios.
Rumor (Wikipedia) has it that he took his son to a store to buy a radio and couldn’t believe they cost over $100. He did what all of our resourceful grandfathers would have done and bought a book on how radios work. Fast forward a couple of years, and he was manufacturing them at $7 a pop. Take that, price gouging!
Not enough people bought his radios, so he started his own broadcasting company as a way to promote his radios. That would be like Ford making its own brand of motor oil to promote its cars. Wild, but it worked…well enough to make him very wealthy.
Fast forward to the Great Depression and this guy figures out a way to keep food cold in a fridge that doesn’t use an engine. Crosley also has the dubious distinction of being the first person to put shelves in a fridge (again, thanks Wikipedia). Think about it, while other companies were dropping like flies during the Depression, Crosley’s business was flourishing. Crosley made refrigerators and other household appliances, along with radios well into the 1960’s, thanks to their popularity in the 30’s.
Now, Crosley always had a thing for cars ever since he sold the first hula girl through his automotive accessories company. Then He convinced his younger brother to help him build a car. In classic Crosley fashion, his cars achieved 50 miles per gallon at a time when people literally didn’t turn off cars during the winter because they were too hard to start back up. Even cars today don’t get fuel economy like that. Oh, and that single overhead cam engine you’re driving? Thank him. He pioneered it.
Like Crosley, his cars went against the grain. They were not popular by any stretch of imagination. They were not bad cars, just cars that were small and good on fuel when everyone was buying chrome by the ton and cubic inches like they were lottery tickets. A classic case of great product, but wrong time.
I completely forgot about Crosley until a buddy called me a couple of weeks ago. His friend was renovating his basement and said I could have the cool vintage fridge in the basement if I dragged it out. Not one to turn down someone else’s trash, I jumped at the chance to inherit a musty fridge that probably didn’t work. I went over with payment (beer) in hand only to be overjoyed that a) the fridge move didn’t involve stairs, and b) said fridge is actually a Crosley from the late 1950’s!
What a piece of automotive history! It was way too good to keep for myself, but I knew my wife would kill me if I showed up with a dank fridge that did not work. So, I donated it to the office where it happily is enjoying a new chapter in our boardroom. It keeps our office supplies…luke warm.