A. Atwater Kent, Sr.
Painting by Frederick Roscher

A. Atwater Kent (1873-1949), a leader in radio invention, manufacturing, promotion, and distribution, founded the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company based in Philadelphia. The company’s state-of-the art factory covering 35 acres at 4700 Wissahickon led the world in radio production in1928, producing over one-million sets during one season.

Atwater Kent radios had the reputation of being powerful, precision-made, high quality instruments. Kent prided himself on producing radios that reflected the latest radio technology using the best available manufacturing and testing processes. The company continued to produce radios until 1936 when Kent decided to cease production and close the factory.

Atwater Kent started his career in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1895 when he began manufacturing electrical equipment in his father’s machine shop. In 1902, Kent, attracted by Philadelphia’s industrial prowess, moved to Philadelphia and established the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Works at 6th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia. Here, he produced batteries, battery testers and telephone systems. His 1905 invention, the Unisparker, revolutionized automobile ignition systems by making it easy to start a car.

In 1914, the Franklin Institute of Science awarded him the John Scott Legacy medal and Premium for this invention. The success of this product enabled him to build another factory in 1912 on Stenton Avenue and to diversify his product line, adding head phones in 1919 and radio components in 1921. Kent built his first complete radio in 1922. The following year the company began selling fully wired sets that rapidly set a high standard for the emerging radio industry.

In 1937, A. Atwater Kent played a significant role in the preservation of Philadelphia’s historical legacy. He agreed to purchase the old Franklin Institute Building at 15 South 7th Street (in Center City Philadelphia) and reopen it as a museum and library of city history in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. The Atwater Kent Museum opened to the public in 1939.

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo & bio courtesy of The Atwater Kent Museum
© 2007, All Rights Reserved

The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is pioneers@broadcastpioneers.com