Magnificent examples of Art Deco style radio

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Milica Sterjova
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The decorative art style known as Art Deco originated in France before World War I but gained its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. It has influenced designs in architecture, trains, cars, vacuum cleaners and radios among others. The Art Deco period saw new designs and new materials in radio manufacturing. The 1920s and 1930s, when Art Deco designs were popular, were also the golden age of the radio.

Art Deco radios gained popularity after the ones made of plastic appeared on the market. Prior to this, there were some great models made of wood. Most of the major manufacturers had wood Art Deco designs. Some of the major manufacturers of this era included Emerson, Philco, Zenith, Fada, General Electric and more.

Philco 90 “cathedral” style radio from 1931 Photo credit

There were two main designs of wooden radios, the tombstone, and the cathedral. During the Depression, one of the first cathedral radios was produced by Philco. These were small table radios with arched tops and they looked like cathedrals, hence their name. The style didn’t last long though, and they were only produced from the mid-1920s to early 1930s. Eventually, plastic was used not only for manufacturing radios but also for other mass-produced household items.

Vintage General Wood Table Radio, Art Deco Design, 5 Tubes, Made In USA Photo credit

In the early 1930s, the first plastic radios entered the stage. The new plastic versions were smaller compared to the wooden ones. Radios made from materials like bakelite, plaskon, catalin and beetle hit the market.

The oldest of the most common industrial plastics is bakelite. The only disadvantage of the material was the color. Bakelite radios were invariably black or brown. The introduction of plaskon as a material allowed a major change in radio design allowing radios to be white and beige.

Radio, Model 66, Skyscraper, designed by Harold L. Van Doren, Air King Products Company, New York City, 1935, Bakelite case


John Gordon Rideout (American, 1898-1951). Radio, 1930-1933. Plaskon (plastic), metal, glass

The true revolution in terms of color came with the introduction of catalin. Catalin radios were casted, not molded, meaning that the finishing touches of the product had to be made by hand. By 1937, catalin was used by manufacturers such as Fada and Emerson for their colorful radio cabinets. However, catalin had its flaws. The originally vivid colors faded as time passed and the material cracked easily. Beetle was used to produce radios similar to the catalin ones but was more stable. It first appeared in the radio industry with the Kadette model.

Kadette Art Deco Beetle radio, white Photo credit


Radio, Nocturne, Model 1186, c. 1935, Sparton Corporation, Jackson, Michigan, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, glass, chrome plated metal and wood, Wolfsonian-FIU Museum Photo Credit

Most of the materials mentioned above stopped being used after World War II. A new process called injection molding marked the beginning of a new era in manufacturing. The main reason was the cost – injection molded plastics were cheaper. The interest in Art Deco design has increased in the last few years as indicated by radio collecting. Collectors are primarily concerned with aesthetics and condition. But because the color of the radios usually faded over time, unaltered examples are very difficult to find.