||Photo from 1918 Compton Union High School yearbook
Photo thanks to Thomas Philo
|One day in 1915,
after reading a 10¢ booklet* about the wonders of a new invention called
"Wireless," a 16 year old boy named Elmer G. Osterhoudt
began the construction of a crystal radio. He was attempting to receive the signals that were said to be invisibly
traveling through space, undetectable by human senses.
He wound a beautiful coil made of 200 turns of 28 gauge
cotton covered wire on a
piece of broom handle. Then he painted it with white lead paint
which he had invented himself.
Connecting the coil to a galena crystal, headphones and antenna, he
listened in vain for the wireless signals. He soon came to
the realization that his radio didn't work. The lead in the
paint had ruined the coil. The radio was stone dead; he
couldn't get as much as a click out of the headphones.
Elmer had a neighbor who was also interested in Wireless and who was
also named Elmer. This Elmer also had made a radio that didn't
work. He came by with his radio because Elmer Osterhoudt
"knew all about radio." Elmer put the other Elmer's non-painted coil
into his set and in came a powerful rotary spark signal from
station 6JG! **
The magic of this single event influenced the entire
remainder of his life. A first-hand account can be found on
Page 2 of "How To Make Coils" by Elmer Osterhoudt, written
* In HB-5 "CRYSTAL SET
CONSTRUCTION" Elmer writes that the magazine was "The
Electrical Experimenter." In April of 1915 the price of this
magazine went from 5¢ to 10¢. The July issue, on page 109,
shows a simple wireless receiving set. There is no coil
data, but the illustration resembles what Elmer described
above. Page 109 also has an article on how to blow up a toy
boat using homemade wireless apparatus and a simple mine
filled with gun powder.
** There was indeed an amateur with
the call sign 6JG. The 1916 edition of "Radio Stations of
the United States," issued by the Department of Commerce,
lists him as James A. Homand of 1423 McKinley Street in Los Angeles, California.
This address is about three miles from where Elmer lived.
|MRL Mystery: In 1917 Elmer Osterhoudt and his family lived at this
address at 1936 East 77th Ave in Los Angeles, CA. The 100+
year old house, built in 1908, lies under the additions and
modern exterior of this building. Did Elmer
live here two years prior, in 1915? Is this the site where
he and the "other" Elmer made his first radio?
Elmer wrote that in
1917, while living at 77th and Crockett (the house in the
photo above), he had erected a 55
foot antenna mast made of all sorts of 2x4s, 2x3s
and pairs of 1x2s. It had a dozen guy wires made of
bailing wire. On top of the mast was a four wire
antenna, each wire separated by 30 inches. (He didn't say
what the other end was connected to.) It was up for about a year
when his father decided to move, so he had to take it down.
That's when he noticed the bailing wire had almost rusted
through. It would have fallen down by itself in another
month, and would have either hit the house or have fallen
into the street!
If that was the case, we're probably looking at the exact
spot where the mast was located.
It was just as well. On April 6, 1917, due to the war, it
became illegal for a private citizen to own a working
transmitter or receiver. In addition, the Department of
Commerce directed that "the antennae and all aerial wires be
lowered to the ground." It's almost hilarious that Elmer's
antenna would have complied of its own accord.
The Osterhoudt's moved a few blocks away, to 8011 Crockett
This might have been the end of the story of Elmer
Osterhoudt's interest in radio. Just another boyhood hobby
However, during his lifetime Elmer Osterhoudt would (in all
probability) hand-wind more coils and design and sell more crystal
radios than anyone who has ever lived. He outlasted all his
competitors in the mail order crystal
radio business. He, along with his wife Mabel, ran a mail order company
named "Modern Radio Laboratories" for 55 years.
sold thousands of kits, coils, crystals and all parts
related to crystal radios, many of
which he made himself. He published the MRL catalog and wrote many handbooks, "Detail
Prints" and a quarterly publication called "Radio Builder
and Hobbyist." He printed them himself, at first with a
mimeograph machine and later
on a lithograph
Everything needed for a radio could be found in his catalog;
coils, capacitors, headphones, switches, jacks, binding posts,
sockets, crystal stands, knobs, batteries, wire, all sorts of hardware and
even vacuum tubes and transistors. He manufactured over
types of coils, all made by hand!
The MRL logo was hand drawn and almost every one is
|A Modern Radio Labs catalog from
April, 1986, one of the last ones ever printed. It
contains 46 pages of closely spaced text and diagrams. This
is the front cover showing the index.
|In the 1970s the index was five columns wide
(compare to picture above it). The catalog began to shrink
as more and more products became unobtainable. Click on the catalog page
for a full sized one you can read. (Will open in a new tab.)
|There is very little information about
Elmer available but we
can glean some details from his literature - and there was a
lot of it. He also included a hand written note with each
order, some of which have survived.
His company, Modern Radio Laboratories,
was established in 1932. It says so, right at the top of the
"EXPERIMENTER'S CATALOG." Oddly enough, Elmer rarely used
the entire name in his handbooks and other literature.
Even on the catalog it is shortened to "MODERN RADIO LABS"
and elsewhere simply to "MRL." Some of his
magazine advertisements listed the company as "Modern Radiolabs" but later
it was shortened to
"Laboratories," since these ads were charged by the
number of words.
Every one of his handbooks has this list of accomplishments
printed inside the front cover:
|"WITH RADIO SINCE 1915."
RADIO Operator, R.C.A. Marine Service.
Radio Mechanic, Maximum, USN.
Technician, Electrical Products Corporation.
Southern California Edison Company.
Majestic Electrical Products.
U.S. Motor Company
Manchester Radio Electric Shop
Modern Radio Laboratories
Amateur and Radio Service
Scotts Mills, Oregon, birthplace Of Elmer
Osterhoudt. Photo taken in 1912 by James Eaton.
(Click for full size - will open in
born in Scotts Mills, Oregon on October 6, 1899, the
son of Wilbert and Minnie Osterhoudt. Wilbert (also
known as William) was a carpenter, cabinet and
furniture maker. Elmer had a brother named Cyril,
who was born on April 17, 1901.
Note: To be precise, Elmer and Cyril were born in Butte Creek, Oregon.
Butte Creek was incorporated into Scotts Mills in
1916. They were apparently born on their
grandfather's farm and not in
the town of Scotts Mills itself. The population of
Scotts Mills at the time was about 100.
Minnie Osterhoudt died in 1903 at the age of 27.
Cyril was sent to live with Wilbert's sister Nellie
in Clackamas, Oregon. Elmer stayed with his father,
who moved to Eugene, Oregon, where Wilbert's brother
John lived with his wife, Lillie Shields.
On August 30, 1914, eleven years after the death of
Minnie, Elmer's father married Alice Elsie Shields,
Lillie's sister. Six months later, Wilda Frances
Osterhoudt was born. Cyril was reunited with the
family, they left Eugene and moved to Los
Angeles, California. Elmer and Cyril eventually had
and sisters, though two sisters died young; one
lived to be two years old and the other, four. (See
The Osterhoudt family moved to Los Angeles sometime
in 1915. The Los Angeles 1916 Long Beach City
directory lists W A Osterhoudt as a woodworker
at Jones Sash and Door
Company. The "W A" would be William
Arthur. Unfortunately it doesn't list his address.
1916 Los Angeles City Directory listing.
The "r" means his residence is in Los Angeles.
With the exception of two brief moves
to Reno, Nevada in 1950 and 1971, Elmer spent the
rest of his life in California. He and all of his
siblings are buried in the Los Angeles area. Other
story of making the crystal radio in 1915, we know
little else of his youth. Handbook 8, "Radio Kinks
and Quips," contains the following three sentences:
"At home, my brother and I used to drive our
nuts. We had an Edison Cylinder record phonograph.
We used to reverse the belt and run it backwards."
That's about all we know, but it gives some insight
into Elmer's personality. Elmer and his brother
Cyril were both destined to spend their careers in
Elmer graduated from Compton Union High School in
June of 1918. At the time, he and his family lived
at 1936 E. 77th Street in Los Angeles. The school was
six miles from their house.
He worked as a laborer at Southern Board and
Paper Mills, now known as PABCO, located at Vernon
and Santa Fe Avenues in LA. (He wrote this himself
on his draft card.) The building in the photo above was
built in 1912 and would have been quite new when
Elmer was employed there. The actual address is 4460 Pacific
Blvd. The area was known as Vernon at
the time, but is now Los Angeles. 100 years later
the building is still there making paper products.
building is one corner of a huge complex of buildings, some
of them very dilapidated.
On September 12, 1918 there was a U.S. Military
draft registration (the 3rd one of the war) for men
aged 18 through 45. Prior to this third draft, the
minimum age was 21. Elmer would have fallen into the new category.
Apparently, working at PABCO didn't suit him, because he registered on the very day the new draft went
into effect, Sept 12, 1918. (He and his brother
Cyril registered at the same time.) It seems he was
immediately accepted, as the US military was in
desperate need of radio technicians, but had no time
to train them. He was stationed at
the Alameda U.S. Naval Base. The war was over "at the 11th hour on the 11th day of
the 11th month of 1918."
According to Elmer, he attained the
title "Radio Mechanic, Maximum" while in the Navy.
Escaping both the war and the 1918 Spanish Flu
pandemic with his life, he was 20 years old when he
got his Amateur Radio license in 1919, with a call
sign of 6NW. (It wasn't
until November of 1919 that it became legal once
again for an amateur to own a
He never mentioned whether he had (or needed) a
license while in the Navy, but all radio licenses
for Amateurs had to be reissued in 1919. Since he
was at Alameda in 1919 he probably went to San Francisco to take the test, which is a short
distance away. If he had been back in Los
Angeles he would have had to travel 382 miles back
to San Francisco. Millions of men were
sent home after the war but Elmer wrote that being a
radio mechanic, he had been at the Naval base for
the whole two years of his enlistment.
1919 was during the age of the spark gap transmitter.
Elmer's first transmitter was a spark plug coil from
a Ford automobile that was fed with an AC doorbell
transformer. The tone changed during transmission as
the points got hot! His second transmitter, which he
called his "handsome homemade rotary spark," was fed
with a 1/2 kilowatt transformer from Sears and
Roebuck. At the first press of the key the spark
jumped to the shaft of the motor, burning it out. One can imagine
the look on his face as the rapidly spinning motor
slowly came to a
stop - permanently. Later he "got a new rotary
spark gap" and "proceeded to jam up the air."
There were only a handful of operators on the air
back then, and the best distance one could get was
about 30 miles. His self-designated call letters
were "EO" till the government made amateurs get a
license because they were having "too much fun."
NOTE: A spark gap transmitter basically transmitted
bursts of static. These bursts were created by
rapidly opening and closing the connection to the
low voltage side of an induction coil. Elmer used
the spark plug coil from a Ford, possibly a Model T.
(The coils were so plentiful that you can
still buy one today.) The tone was determined by how
quickly the circuit was interrupted, and this is
probably what Elmer's AC doorbell was used for. The
rotary spark transmitted a higher pitched tone, but
it was still just a controlled form of static.
Elmer wrote that he "proceeded to jam up the air" he
wasn't kidding. These signals were so broad that two
transmitters operating within a short distance of
each other would drown each other out, blanketing
the airwaves with noise.
A Ford Model T spark plug coil and an
|Not all Model
T coils look exactly
like this one, but they are similar. The
Ford Model T
had four coils, each one in a wooden box. Millions
of Model Ts had been produced by 1919 so
there were plenty of coils to be had. There is a vibrator mounted on the top to create a
high voltage spark, but Elmer used a doorbell
(hopefully, minus the bell).
The "Pacific Radio News" issue of May 10, 1920 lists
Elmer as holding the radio call letters 6NW. They
spelled his name wrong. The "Citizen's Radio Call
Book" of November 1922 spelled it worse - "Ousterbouat."
Listing in "Pacific Radio
to "Amateur Stations of the United States," in
1920 and 1921 Elmer
had a 1000 watt station at 8011 Crockett Street in
Los Angeles. (The actual address is Crockett
Boulevard, not Crockett Street.) How did
he fund his radio hobby, research and experiments?
In the preface in his handbooks, Elmer wrote that he was
a technician at Electrical Products Company.
This was a company in Los Angeles, founded in 1912,
that made electric and neon signs. Elmer wrote that
he worked there "during the war," so this would have
been sometime after 1914 but before he began his
stint with the Navy in 1918.
Osterhoudt entry in the
1920 Los Angeles City Directory.
An entry in the Los Angeles 1920 City
Directory shows an E. G. Osterhoudt working as a
laborer at Hammond Lumber Company. Both his father and his Uncle John (who
lived in the same house with Elmer) were carpenters,
and would probably know if a job became available at
a lumber yard. Though Hammond Lumber was about four
miles from his house on Crockett Blvd, Alameda
Street was only a few blocks away. A trolley car
could have transported him up Alameda Street in less
than a half an hour.
As for his roles at Majestic Electrical Products and
U. S. Motor Company, Elmer never mentioned these in
his writings, nor did he ever mention working in a
lumber or paper mill, nor did he mention how hard it
was for a veteran to find a job after the war.
Likewise, he never mentioned that in 1920 he was a
member of the California Academy of Sciences.
In June of 1920, he traveled to San Francisco hoping
to land a job as a radio operator aboard a ship. He
arrived on a Saturday. By Sunday he was down to his
last $20. By Monday he was employed at Southern California Edison Company
as a wireless operator, a fact the 1920 US Census
verifies. That job didn't seem to suit
him, and later in 1920 went to Standard Oil, where he finally obtained a job aboard
This crop from the 1920
Compton Union High School Alumni page shows
Elmer as a 1918 graduate.
He's working for Standard Oil. (Watts, CA is where he lived when he
attended the school.)
From 1920 to 1923
he was at sea as a radio operator. According to
Elmer, in 1920 he was the radio operator on
"Standard Oil Barge 93." On November 2,
1920, during the Harding-Cox
presidential election, the ship was docked at
Vancouver, British Columbia. At the request of the
captain, Elmer remained at the
radio in contact with station NPG in San Francisco.
When the election was over he gave the Captain the
results, then left the ship and "ran up and down
In 1921 he worked aboard the "El Segundo" (an
oil tanker built in 1912 and owned by Standard Oil).
Entry from Radio Service Bulletin, US Department of
Commerce, January, 1915. Page 12.
(NOTE: Marconi Wireless was incorporated into the
Radio Corporation of America in October, 1919)
1921 there was some sort of strike, which backfired.
The radio operators lost $20 a month, and Elmer
ended up on a lumber scow named the "Willamette."
Apparently, life aboard the Willamette wasn't very
pleasant due to the light ship lurching in the waves. Elmer wrote that he got six meals a day;
"three down and three up." A good part of
his time was spent "hanging over the rail."
(A Radio Service Bulletin dated October 1, 1921
lists a "Willamette" with a transmitter range of 200
miles. It had a Gray and Danielson radio. Gray and
Danielson, also known as Remler Company, was founded
in 1918 in San Francisco, so this seems to be the
correct ship. Searching on the Internet for
"Willamette" will lead you down many
Elmer also worked in the radio room of the SS Atlas
in 1921 and 1922,
owned by Standard Oil Co. of California. He then served
aboard a steam ship named the J. A. Moffett, also owned
by Standard Oil of California. The J. A. Moffett,
named after the former president of Standard Oil of
California, was launched in 1914 and was the largest
oil tanker in the Pacific at the time. Elmer made
$225 a month, which he said was "good money."
Though the SS Atlas and J. A. Moffett were owned by Standard Oil ,
Elmer actually worked for RCA. Elmer wrote that in the
1920s he reported to a Chief Radio Operator named
Dick Johnson, who worked for RCA. On the next page
is a letter Elmer wrote while aboard the ship,
of Radio Corporation of America."
According to Radio Builder and hobbyist No. 43,
Elmer worked on a total of 8 different ships from
1920 to 1923. He listed the Atlas, the Rose City,
Standard Oil Barge 93 and the Willamette. We know
about the El Segundo and the J.A. Moffett, but what
were the other two? Another MRL mystery!
Elmer wrote that he "quit" in 1923. By then, almost
every other ship on the Pacific coast was a Japanese
Apparently, he was enrolled in a correspondence
course in Pharmacy during
his time at sea. In Elmer's own vague words, "Read
up on Pharmacy for 2 yrs. with phones on."
He attended one semester of USC College of Pharmacy
in Los Angeles. Afterwards he became "official janitor"
(his own words) in a drug
store, and contemplated the idea of owning his own
drug store. His ham shack sat on a property he
owned. In Elmer's own words, "I had a lot with my
6NW on the back." He sold the lot for $1000. With
that and the money he saved while at sea (he called
it Ship money), he opened a store. Thankfully, it wasn't a drug store.
In 1924 he opened the "Manchester Radio Electric
Shop" on Manchester Avenue in Los Angeles, California. He worked in
the store from 9AM till 9PM six days a week, and a
half day on Sunday. According to Elmer, (Radio Notes
No.1, page 16) he made hundreds of Harkness Reflex
sets. The Harkness sets came in kit form. Elmer
added a power supply, batteries, a cabinet and a
speaker, and sold them for $65. He was also a dealer
of Stewart-Warner, Federal, Sparton, and Majestic brand radios.
various issues of "Radio News" and QST
magazine, it was reported that the call sign
6NW was heard all over the country
from 1925 to
1928. 6NW was also heard in Venezuela, Japan, Alaska, and even a submarine docked at a port in
Honolulu, Hawaii. 6NW made the "Brass
Pounders League" in the March 1926 issue of
QST with 117 contacts.
However, these contacts weren't made by
Elmer Osterhoudt. Elmer had been issued the
call letters 6NW in 1919. The call
sometime around 1922 to James F. Upchurch of
Vallejo, California. In 1924, 6NW was
assigned to Emry C. Stuedle of
Vermont Street in Los Angeles, California.
Emry Stuedle seems to be the person who made
the contacts heard all over the world.
Elmer apparently let his license lapse. At
the time, he was a radio operator working
aboard various ships at sea and would have
been unable to renew it. Coincidently (or not)
when he opened the Manchester Radio and
Electric Shop in 1924 it was also the end of
the era of the spark-gap transmitter.
In December 1915,
the year Elmer made his first crystal set,
the Bureau of Navigation had issued 6NW to
Morrison R. Webb, of 541 18th Street in
Oakland, CA. Imagine if Elmer had heard 6NW
instead of 6JG on that fateful day, then
ended up with the first call letters he ever
Early call letters were frequently
reassigned. Since the first digit
represented the area of the country, there
were only two letters available for the call
sign in each of nine districts. California
was "6." There are 676 combinations of
the 26 letters in the alphabet (26 x 26).
However, the letters X, Y and Z were not
used as the first letter, limiting the
number to 598. The number of stations quickly exceeded that
amount and a third letter was added in the
Three letter combinations beginning with the
letters K. N. W, X, Y and Z were not used,
as well as "SOS" and "PRB." Also not used
were calls beginning with "QR" or "QS," as
well as anything determined to
vulgar or objectionable. This still left
over 10,000 call signs per district.
Elmer wrote that the Amateur Radio guys wanted him
to set up a station in his shop, but he refused
because the shop would always be full of loiterers
and no work would get done. He said that calling
"CQ" far into the night would be a waste of time
that could be put to other uses. "Running a radio
shop took all your time if you wanted to stay in
|In 1924 Elmer's radio store, the
Manchester Radio Electric Shop, was located at 1522
Manchester Avenue in Los Angeles.
Manchester Avenue was renamed East Firestone Boulevard
1927. The city directories for the Watts-Compton area of
California show the store was there till 1928. As stated above, Elmer moved to Oakland in 1928.
From "Radio Doings" March 20, 1927
From "Radio Doings" November 25, 1928
1522 Firestone Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA. Site of
the Manchester Radio Electric Shop in 1924. Photo from 2011.
Firestone Boulevard was named Manchester Avenue prior to 1927.
|Watts-Compton City directory entries for
1927. The "r" next to the address number indicates this was
also Elmer's residence. Elmer had at least two salesmen working for him. In
1925 Victor E. Harvlie, who was an electrician, worked in
the store. In 1927 Victor left to work at Graham Electric Shop,
two blocks away at 1704 Manchester Ave. (Notice the name
doesn't have the word "Radio" in it.) Victor was replaced by
In 1928 Elmer moved to
Brooklyn Township, in Alameda County, Oakland, California.
He lived at 2125 E 28th Street, in a brand new house that
had just been built. He
moved the radio shop to 5809 Foothill Boulevard,
two blocks away from where his brother Cyril
lived with his wife Leona Peer on Kingsley Circle.
Cyril was a radio repairman.
Elmer never mentioned Foothill
Boulevard in any of his
literature, or whether
Cyril ever worked with him.
The address is now a Walgreens. Whatever building was there
in 1928 is long gone.
An advertisement in Broadcast Weekly magazine (May
1929) for Spartan radio dealers gives us the name of the store.
Notice the address. Did the shop span three storefronts?
On October 7, 1929, Elmer
Elizabeth Smith at a church in San Francisco, and they moved into
the new house on 28th Street, in Oakland.
This was a time of unprecedented prosperity and
innovation in the United States. What a great time to get
married! In addition to the booming
radio business, the Osterhoudt's could look forward to a
life of new inventions; everything from an electric washing
machine, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner to sliced bread and Penicillin.
must have appeared very promising.
Two weeks after they were married the stock market crashed, followed
by the Great Depression.
Business became so
decided to go back to sea. He spent a month at
Pacific Radio School brushing up on his code. but when he tried to get a job
at RCA on a ship, the Chief Radio Operator laughed. There
were 150 guys on a list waiting for the same job.
1930 Cyril and Leona moved back to Los
Angeles, to 8019½ Crockett Boulevard, where Elmer and Cyril's
uncle John, and four brothers and sisters lived. They were
officially married on August 23, 1930. On June 18, 1930,
John Osterhoudt passed away. On December 3, 1930,
Elmer's father Wilbert passed away.
Elmer kept the radio shop
open but moved it from Foothill
Boulevard to 1508 23rd Avenue, much closer to where
they lived. In 1932 he "invented" the celluloid
plug-in coil and the No.1 and No.2 crystal sets. He and Mabel
then began Modern Radio Laboratories.
The trademarks for MRL and Modern Radio
Laboratories were registered on December 15, 1932.
In 1933 Elmer and Mabel closed the radio shop and moved to
151 Liberty Street in San Francisco, to a house owned by Mabel's parents.
The store phone number, from the 1932 Yellow Pages.
|1508 23rd Avenue, Oakland, CA (second
door from the left) This was the site of the "Modern Radio Laboratories" radio
store in 1932.
Modern Radio Laboratories was born the same year, so the
name of the radio store preceded the name of the company. Photo
is from 2016.
This building was less than a mile from Elmer and Mabel's
building was built in 1891 and renovated in 1911, so we can
imagine it looked very much like this in 1932. It currently
contains 10 one bedroom apartments.
The "market" on the right sold beer and liquor. As of 2021, it is boarded up, chained and padlocked.
The grates on the doors of 1504 and 1508 are now rusted on
the bottoms from urine. A sign above 1504 says "no loitering,
drinking or illegal drugs." Apparently the "market" was a hangout
for "loiterers," who can't read signs. They were pissing through the security grates
on the doors, right into the doorway of what was once Modern Radio Laboratories!
The area is now "ethnically diverse." In addition to
people pissing in doorways, the number of violent crimes and murders
is high. If MRL was there today, any "loiterers" in the
radio shop would be more
interested in what was in the cash register than a radio.
|1508 is the downstairs
apartment/storefront. Of course, there wouldn't have been
bars on the windows in 1932. The store was only here for a
short time. By 1934 The Osterhoudt's were in San Francisco.
20 years later Elmer and Mabel would own an entire 9 unit
apartment complex of their own in Redwood, California.
Year 1933 Oakland, California City Directory entry.
Notice h2125 E 28th is their home address.
Here's the home phone number.
Elmer and Mabel Osterhoudt's residence at 2125 East 28th Street, Oakland, CA.
The house was built in 1928, the year Elmer moved into it.
This address is about 1 mile from the 23rd Ave store location.
From RADIO magazine, June 1933. The address is
Elmer's radio store.
$1.00 in 1933 is the equivalent of $20.00 in 2020.
|MRL Mystery: From
1924 to 1928 Elmer's radio store was in Los Angeles,
California. In 1928 he moved to Oakland, California.
On October 8, 1929 he married Mabel Smith of San
Francisco, in a Lutheran church in San Francisco. San Francisco isn't far from Oakland,
but it's 380 miles from Los Angeles. How and when did they meet?
Witnesses to the wedding were Elmer's brother Cyril,
and Robert Lee Sala of 106 10th Avenue in San
Francisco. Who was Robert Lee Sala?
Trivia: The San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge and
the Golden Gate Bridge did not exist in 1929. Trips
to San Francisco from Oakland were made by boat.
||Elmer Osterhoudt is born
to Wilbert and Minnie Osterhoudt in Butte
Creek, Scotts Mills, Oregon.
||Elmer's brother Cyril
||Elmer's mother, Minnie
Osterhoudt, dies age 27.
||Elmer's father marries
Alice Shields in Eugene, Oregon.
||The Osterhoudt family
moves to Los Angeles.
Elmer builds his first
working crystal radio.
||Elmer graduates high
school. He works at Southern Board and Paper
September he joins the US Navy as a radio
WWI ends in November.
||Elmer obtains an amateur
radio license with call letters 6NW.
||Elmer is employed as a
laborer at Hammond Lumber Company in Los
Elmer is employed as a radio operator at
Southern California Edison Co. in San
||1923 - Elmer is employed
by RCA as a
radio operator aboard 8 different
||Elmer opens the
Manchester Radio and Electric Shop on
Manchester Avenue in Los
||Elmer moves to 28th
Street in Oakland
and opens a radio store on Foothill
Boulevard. His brother Cyril lives two
blocks away from the store with his wife,
||Elmer marries Mabel Smith. They live
at the 28th Street address in Oakland.
The stock market crashes and the Great
||Elmer's father dies.
Cyril and Leona move back to the Osterhoudt
residence in Los Angeles.
||Elmer moves the radio
store to 23rd Avenue in Oakland. It is named
Modern Radio Laboratories.
He "invents" the celluloid coil form in
1932, which becomes the basis of a mail
order business. See page 7.
"Modern Radio Laboratories" is trademarked in
||Elmer and Mabel move into an apartment in
San Francisco owned by Mabel's parents.
(Note: The radio store seems to have closed
at this time. They will remain in San
Francisco till nearly the end of the Great
Depression. In 1938 they move back to Oakland and open a radio store
on 14th Street. During WWII this
store also closes, and Elmer works once
again for the US Navy. The store never
reopens, and they move to Hayward, CA in
1944. More details on the following pages.)
Radio Laboratories was a mail-order company. You
mailed your order to MRL and Elmer sent the order
through the US mail back to you. Most of the MRL
advertising consisted of sometimes vague three or four line
advertisements in radio magazines. His "business plan" was
brilliant and will be explored on Page 6.
Long after the crystal radio was
made obsolete by the regen radio, the Superheterodyne
and FM, Elmer Osterhoudt
via MRL continued to sell radio parts, kits and plans to
crystal set "fans" who made their own radios.
According to Elmer, the "golden age" of the crystal
radio ended in 1924. As time marched on and
many parts became commercially unavailable, he made them
Of paramount importance to him was keeping the cost
down for the experimenters who bought from MRL.
Elmer spent 54 years making radio parts by hand. He may
have been an artisan, but he wasn't
was an artist in the ink on paper sense of the word.
He admitted his handwriting was awful. There are hundreds of drawings in his
catalogs and handbooks but unless you know what the
parts look like, the drawings are hard to fathom. On
the rest of this site we'll compare some actual MRL parts with the drawings.
This is not to criticize Elmer's drawing skills. If
he had taken a drawing class perhaps his catalog and
handbooks wouldn't possess the uniqueness they do.
Instead, the goal is
to show what a fine product you got compared to the
drawing of the same product in the catalog. Those of us still
alive who purchased from MRL will see what they were
actually looking at in the catalog. Unfortunately,
most of the 10,000 MRL customers have already passed away,
along with Elmer and Mabel.
appreciate the MRL products shown here, you
may want to look at an actual catalog
published by Elmer Osterhoudt.
||See you back
in an hour.
|Welcome back! Did you
see that guy on Page A-5? For years I wondered if
that was Elmer. Why would EO have a picture of some
random guy in the catalog? It's NOT him. It's a
radio operator at a police station. Elmer took the
picture from a National Radio Institute publication.
was Donald H. Peters of Findlay, Ohio.
Here's another MRL mystery: Did
Elmer take a course in radio repair?
Only NRI graduates
received National Radio-TV News. Where did he get his copy?
The entry in the catalog advertises HB-11, "Radio
Operating as a Career," which was copyrighted in 1961,
but this photo is from 1951. The photo appears on
page 5 of the handbook.
the only picture of a human being in all of Elmer's
surviving library of literature. Why did Elmer
choose this picture? Did Donald Peters resemble
Elmer? According to his 1942 draft card, Elmer was 5' 10" tall, weighed 195 pounds, and
had a light complexion with blonde hair and blue
eyes. (His 1918 draft card stated he had light brown
hair.) The ship manifest from the J. A. Moffett,
dated January 28, 1922 states he weighed 175 pounds,
so he gained 20 pounds in 20 years!
In one of his publications Elmer stated that
he might include a photo of Mabel and himself in a
future edition. Whether he did or not is one more