Elmer G. Osterhoudt
The Modern Radio Laboratories® Catalog 

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In January of 1924 Elmer opened the "Nadeau Radio Electric Shop." We have an address for this shop from the Los Angeles Times as 1928 East Nadeau Street. This was just up the block and around the corner from Elmer's house at 8011 Crockett Boulevard! In Radio Builder & Hobbyist #38, Elmer related that he built many crystal sets while at this location, and sold them with a cabinet for $15.00 (equivalent to about $270.00 in 2023.)

Los Angeles Times June 18, 1922
This advertisement, from the Los Angeles Times, is dated June 18, 1922. It seems the Nadeau Radio Electric Shop already existed before Elmer took it over in 1924. According to the 1922-1923 Los Angeles directory, it was owned by Lou and Eva Kipp. Their residence was next door at 1930 East Nadeau Street. On the other side of the radio shop, at 1926 Nadeau, was a hardware store owned by William Kipp. The buildings no longer exists.

After selling the Nadeau Avenue store to Elmer, Louis Kipp opened a radio and electric supplies shop at 1749 E. Florence Ave, two blocks away from the Nadeau address.
The Practical Druggist 1923
  This correspondence to "The Practical Druggist" is dated December 27, 1923. Elmer opened the Nadeau Radio Electric Shop a month later. Modern Radio Laboratories may never have appeared in 1932 if Elmer had opened a drugstore instead of a radio store. The country was in the middle of what is known as the "radio craze" of the 1920s, which certainly would have influenced his decision.  

Later in 1924 Elmer moved the radio shop to Manchester Avenue in Los Angeles, and named it the "Manchester Radio Electric Shop." This shop was one mile from his house. 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 and MRL Data Sheets Vol 3, Page 11) he made hundreds of Harkness Reflex sets. Back then you could trade in your old radio when purchasing a new one. Elmer would disassemble the old sets and build a Harkness Reflex using his own coils. He then 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, Ungar & Watson, Edison, Grebe, and Majestic brand radios.

Call Heard
In 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 on 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 6NW was reassigned sometime around 1922 to James F. Upchurch of Vallejo, California. The March 1922 issue of Radio contains a report from station 7LR in Albany, Oregon, of stations he received. One of them was 6NW. It was likely James Upchurch who was heard.

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 heard!

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 1920s. 6NW became W6NW sometime between 1928 and 1929.

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 be 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 business."

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 around 1927, after the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co opened a factory on a 40 acre site about a mile away on the same street. The city directories for the Watts-Compton area of California show the store was there till 1928. Elmer moved to Oakland CA later in 1928.
Manchester Radio Electric Shop
From "Radio Doings" March 20, 1927
Manchester Radio Los Angeles
From "Radio Doings" November 25, 1928
1522 Firestone Blvd
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.
1522 Firestone Boulevard
1522 Firestone Boulevard in 2021. According to Paul Nelson, Elmer's father Wilbert built this building.
Manchester Radio Electric Shop
Manchester Radio Electric Shop
Watts-Compton City directory entries for 1927. The "r" next to the address number indicates this was Elmer's residence. The other Osterhoudt's all lived on Crockett Boulevard.
Victor Harvlie
Herman MacMillian
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. They occupied a large building at the corner of Manchester and Graham.) Victor was replaced by Herman MacMillian in 1927.
Earl Fricke
Al Barnette
Two electricians worked for Elmer in 1927/28. Barnette's address was three blocks from the store.

Osterhoudt Foothill Blvd
In 1928 Elmer moved to Brooklyn Township, in Alameda County, Oakland, California. He moved the radio shop to 5809 Foothill Boulevard. The Foothill Boulevard address is now a Walgreens. Whatever building was there in 1928 is long gone.

Notice Cyril's address is 510 28th Street. Cyril and Leona rented this property and lived there with two of Leona's brothers, Virgil and Frank Peer, as well as their own children, Everet and Raymond. So what is the Kingsley Circle address? It's a one bedroom apartment in a building that was built in 1924.
It is only two blocks away from Elmer's radio store. Cyril was a radio repairman. Did he live in the apartment and work in the store, while the rest of the family lived on 28th Street? Elmer never mentioned Foothill Boulevard in any of his literature, or whether Cyril ever worked with him. 
Manchester Radio Electric Shop
An advertisement in the Oakland Tribune (September 25,1929) for Spartan radio dealers gives us the name of the store. A similar ad for Grebe radio states the shop is open in the evenings and a telephone call will "bring a set tonight."
Notice the address is now 5805. That Sparton Model 301 that went for $294 would cost $5,290 today.
Manchester Radio Shoppe
An advertisement in Broadcast Weekly magazine (May 17, 1929) for Spartan radio dealers gives us the same address of 5805. Was the store at 5805 Foothill Blvd, or 5809 Foothill Blvd, or both?

On October 7, 1929, Elmer and Mabel Elizabeth Smith were married by Rev. C. O. Lundquist in the Ebenezer Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and they moved into the new house on 28th Street, in Oakland. The church at the time had a Swedish congregation. Mabel's mother (maiden name Alma Anderson) was born in Sweden.
Ebenezer Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco.
This church survived the earthquake of 1906 but burnt down in 1993.

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, and even a personal Kodak motion picture camera. The most exciting news was that Television had evolved from a system of motors and spinning disks to an electronic version invented by Philo T. Farnsworth. Soon, everyone would be able to "see by wireless" in their own homes, and The Manchester Radio Electric Shop could add the word "Television" to its name. The future must have appeared very promising.

Two weeks after they were married the stock market crashed, followed by the Great Depression. Sales of clothing, cars and radios collapsed. Industrial production fell by 47% and nearly 25% of American households did not have a single employed wage earner. Business became so bad Elmer 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.

The US Census shows that by April, 1930, Cyril and Leona had two children, Everett and Raymond. They lived at 510 28th Street in Oakland with two of Leona's brothers, Virgil and Frank Peer. (The address is now a parking lot.) Cyril is listed as Head of household, employed as a Radio Mechanic in a radio shop, but he was not working at the time of the census.
Later in 1930 Cyril and Leona moved back to Los Angeles, to 8019½ Crockett Boulevard, where Elmer and Cyril's father, stepmother, uncle John, and four brothers and sisters lived. On June 18, 1930, John Osterhoudt passed away. Cyril and Leona were officially married on August 23, 1930. On December 3, 1930, Elmer's father Wilbert passed away.

Mabel's mother passed away on April 1, 1930. She was 52.
  Alma Anderson Smith - Mabel's mother.  

Elmer kept the radio shop open but moved it from Foothill Boulevard to 1508 23rd Avenue, much closer to where they lived. No longer named Manchester Radio Electric Shop, the new store was named Modern Radio Laboratories. In 1932 he "invented" the celluloid plug-in coil and the No.1 and No.2 crystal sets. The trademarks for MRL and Modern Radio Laboratories were granted on December 15, 1932.

1932 Yellow Pages
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 residence. The 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.

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 City, California.
Year 1933 Oakland, California City Directory entry. Notice h2125 E 28th is their home address.
Here's the home phone number.
The Osterhoudt's residence at 2125 East 28th Street, Oakland, CA,  about 1 mile from the 23rd Ave store location.
The house was built in 1928, the year Elmer moved into it.
The 1930 census shows the Osterhoudt's owned the house and it was valued at $4000.
From RADIO magazine, June 1933. The address is Elmer's radio store.
$1.00 in 1933 is the equivalent of $20.00 in 2020.

151 Liberty
1934 San Francisco phone book entry
151 Liberty
1938 San Francisco directory entry
In 1933 Elmer and Mabel closed the radio shop and moved to 151 Liberty Street in San Francisco, owned by Mabel's father, George Smith. (Mabel's childhood home.) This was a duplex apartment, but whether Elmer and Mabel lived with George Smith or they had their own apartment isn't known. Modern Radio Laboratories was now a mail order business. In 1938 Elmer and Mabel moved back to Oakland and opened another store, once again named Modern Radio Laboratories.

The 1934 Los Angeles directory lists Cyril Osterhoudt in the section for "Radio Sets and Supplies - Retail." The address was 7705 S. Central Ave, about one mile from the Osterhoudt residence on Crockett Blvd. The location is now a parking lot. It lists Cyril's home address as 8610½ Compton Avenue. That address no longer exists, but it seems it was within 100 feet of 1522 Manchester Avenue, the site of Elmer's Manchester Radio Electric Shop ten years earlier. More mysteriously, in 1932 8610 Compton Ave was the home of "Western States Radio Repairs," owned by William Mack.

Mabel Elizabeth Smith, age 23.
Photo from her passport, March, 1923. Brown hair, brown eyes, 5' 1" tall.
MRL Mystery: From 1924 to 1928 Elmer's radio store was in Los Angeles, California. In 1928 he moved to Oakland, California. On October 6, 1929 he married Mabel Smith of San Francisco, in a 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?

The 1930 US census says they were first married when Elmer was 20 and Mabel was 19. This would have been in 1921. Were they secretly married or is there a mistake on the census? Also, column 9 is designated "Radio set." If there was a radio on the premises there should be an "R" in this column, yet the column is blank. See it here.

According to the Osterhoudt's 1929 marriage license, 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? It turns out there was nobody with that name present at the wedding!

There is a mistake on the Osterhoudt's marriage license. Robert Sala was actually Roberta Sala. She was 24 years old at the time, and worked as a nurse in a hospital. Her maiden name was Chapman, daughter of Robert Chapman. She was divorced, living with her parents, and had an infant baby. Logically, she was a friend of Mabel's, since Elmer wasn't from San Francisco.

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 ferry or by driving all the way around the bay.
In summary...
1899 - Elmer Osterhoudt is born to Wilbert and Minnie Osterhoudt in Butte Creek, Scotts Mills, Oregon.
The Osterhoudt family, consisting of Charles Higby Osterhoudt, his sons Henry, Wilbert, and John, Minnie and Elmer, all live in the same farmhouse.
1901 - Elmer's brother Cyril is born.
1902 - The entire family moves to Spokane, Washington.
1903 - Charles, Wilbert, Minnie, Elmer and Cyril (and possibly Henry and John) move to Yakima City, Washington.
Elmer's grandfather, Charles Osterhoudt, dies in April, age 73.
Elmer's mother, Minnie Osterhoudt, dies in September, age 27, of typhoid fever.
Clarence Osterhoudt, 3 months old, dies two weeks after Minnie.
Cyril is sent to live with Wilbert's sister, Nellie McConnell, in Clackamas, Oregon.
1904 - Wilbert, Elmer, Henry and John move to Vancouver, Washington.  John marries Lillie Shields and moves to Enterprise, OR.
190 - ? Wilbert, Elmer, and Henry move to Eugene, Oregon. John, Lillie, and their three children eventually move there as well.
1908 - Wilbert is part owner of a planing mill in Eugene, Oregon. Elmer is enrolled in Eugene High School.
Wilbert's brothers Henry and John work at the mill.
1911 - Wilbert marries Lela May Smith. Cyril is reunited with his father and Elmer.
1914 - Wilbert and Lela May are divorced.
1915 - Wilbert moves to Los Angeles with Elmer, Cyril, Alice Shields, and their new daughter, Wilda. Wilbert and Alice get married there. Elmer builds his first working crystal radio.
1917 - The US enters WWI. Because of the war, it is illegal to own a radio or erect an antenna. The Osterhoudt's move to Fullerton, CA. Elmer attends Fullerton Union High School and pursues biology and entomology.
1918 - Elmer graduates Compton Union High School. He works at Southern Board and Paper mills.
In September Elmer and Cyril join the US Navy. Elmer is a radio technician (Cyril may be one as well).
WWI ends in November.
1919 - Elmer obtains an amateur radio license with call letters 6NW.
1920 - Elmer is employed as a laborer at Hammond Lumber Company in Los Angeles.
Elmer is employed as a wireless operator at a power company in Fresno, CA.
Elmer is employed as a radio operator at Southern California Edison Co. in San Francisco.
1920 to 1923 - Elmer is employed by RCA as a radio operator aboard 8 different ships.
1924 - Elmer is employed in a drug store, where he gets the idea to open a store of his own.
Elmer opens the
Nadeau Radio Electric Shop in Los Angeles, around the corner from the Osterhoudt residence..
Elmer moves the store to 1522 East Manchester Ave and renames it Manchester Radio Electric Shop.
1928 - Elmer moves to 28th Street in Oakland and opens a radio store on Foothill Boulevard. It is still named Manchester Radio Electric Shop. His brother Cyril (a radio repairman) lives two blocks away from the store with his wife, Leona.
1929 - October 6 - Elmer marries Mabel Smith. They live at the 28th Street address in Oakland.
October 28 - The stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins.
1930 - Wilbert and John Osterhoudt both pass away, as does Mabel's mother. Cyril and Leona move back to the Osterhoudt
residence in Los Angeles.
1932 - 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 December.
1933 - Elmer and Mabel move to Mabel's old home, an apartment owned by Mabel's father at 151 Liberty Street in San Francisco.
Note: The radio store has 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.)
After the store closed in 1933, Modern Radio Laboratories was basically a mail-order company. (The first item sold was a plan for a crystal radio. See page 5.) 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 somewhat vague three or four line advertisements in radio magazines, Popular Electronics and Popular Science.

Long after the crystal radio was made obsolete by the regen radio, the Superheterodyne and FM, Elmer Osterhoudt and 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 himself.

Of paramount importance to him was keeping the cost down for the experimenters who bought from MRL. Elmer wrote that nobody can make money by cutting a small piece of plywood and reeling off 15¢ of magnet wire, but he knew what the "Dabbler" was up against when he had to buy a 4x8 sheet of plywood or "buy out the company" because he needed a few feet of wire.

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. 


To fully appreciate the MRL products shown here, you may want to look at an actual catalog published by Elmer Osterhoudt.
CLICK HERE. See you back in an hour.


Radio operator

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.

His name was Donald H. Peters of Findlay, Ohio.  LINK
Only NRI graduates received National Radio-TV News. Where did Elmer 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. On page 1 of HB-11, Elmer thanks National Radio Institute, among others, "...for their help in adding to our notes." Apparently he got it right from the source. This makes sense, NRI prepared students for a career in radio.

This is 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 MRL mystery.