Artifact: Atwater Kent Type 46 Radio – Broadcast (MW) Receiver, 1929

Description: Matthew R. Horton brought in a 1929 Atwater Kent Type 46 Radio – Broadcast (MW) Receiver, owned by Atwater Kent himself, purchased from Sonogee and eventually sold to Horton. Horton’s grandfather worked at Sonogee in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and Horton remembers visiting the place as a kid. Atwater Kent, a manufacturer of radios, purchased Sonogee in 1926.

Oral History:

Oral History Transcription:

Transcript of Matthew Horton Interview, September 11, 2018

This is Tim Garrity (TG) and I am conducting a History Harvest interview with Matthew Horton (MH). The date is September 11, 2018.

TG – Matt, thank you for bringing in this radio. What can you tell us about it?

MH – This is a Type 46 Atwater Kent radio that was manufactured in 1929. The interesting thing about this radio is that it was it was located at Sonogee, the Bar Harbor estate that Atwater Kent purchased on or about 1927. The radio was at Sonogee until the early 70s when it was acquired by a gentleman who later sold it to me. It’s an unusual connection to the area in that it was physically at Sonogee that was owned by Atwater Kent, who was the manufacturer of the radios. Its connection to our local history makes it kind of unique.

TG – So Atwater Kent was very famous and wealthy. Can you update a modern audience on his significance in American culture? Who was Atwater Kent?

MH — Well, he grew up in a time when America was becoming a leader in the latter-day Industrial Revolution. From what I’ve read about him, he started out as an engineering student, but that didn’t pan out too well. He was interested in technical things and apparently dabbled in a lot of different devices that were electrical and mechanical. One of his first successes was an ignition system for cars. I don’t know in which vehicles they were first installed. There is a lot of information about Atwater Kent on the Internet. Because radio was growing rapidly in popularity, he started to manufacture radios. From what I understand, he made $50 million doing this. That was a lot of money during the roaring 20s. You can tell by looking at this particular radio, how well they were made. This particular radio was made in 1929. It cost $83.

Think about how much money that was back in those days. That’s like an iPhone 10, that costs today roughly a thousand dollars. Think of that – the equivalent of a thousand dollar purchase for somebody in the 1920s. Probably only upper-middle-class and wealthy people could afford them. I know he built a lot of different models and some were more elaborate than others. However, they were all pretty basic in those days with minimal bells and whistles. However, it’s amazing how rugged they made them. The radio I brought in weighs 40 pounds. The speaker probably weighs half that. I am a ham operator so I’m familiar with electronics and radios. What amazes me is the variable capacitors inside that can essentially tune in different radio stations. The plates are incredibly thick. You could use them today for transmitting. That’s how well made they are. There’s a lot of attention to detail.

That’s pretty much the information I have on it. The local connection is what makes it unique.

TG — Tell me about the local connection. Tell me what you can about Sonogee. Did Atwater Kent come up with the name Sonogee?  .

MH – No, Sonogee was the name that a Mr. [Amos] Eno was the constructor and in the originator of Sonogee and the estate. The Vanderbilts then owned Sonogee. As I recall, Atwater Kent bought it from the Vanderbilts. After Mr. Kent, there were several other owners. Harold Tubby Collier bought it in the 70s. In fact, my grandfather worked there as a caretaker in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I remember going there as a kid – it was a beautiful place. That’s before it was renovated into a nursing home. And you know, probably that radio was at Sonogee when I walked in there as a kid. I may have noticed it – maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember, but I do remember coming by boat to Sonogee’s boathouse.

As I understand it, Atwater Kent bought Sonogee in 1927. He was known for throwing lavish parties and having yachts out front. I think there’s even a story on the Internet about some of his parties. They were pretty wild by the standards of the day.

TG – What sparked your interest in this object?

MH – Well, as I said, I’m a ham radio operator. I think ham is the term most people are familiar with, so I’ll use that. I’ve been a ham operator since I was 13 so radio has been a part of my daily living. I’ve communicated all over the world and built my own radios, operated my own radios, and built my own antenna systems. I’ve always had a fascination with electronics and anything mechanical or electrical. When I had the chance to get my hands on a vintage piece of equipment with an unusual history and a Bar Harbor connection, I just couldn’t pass it up.

TG — Why did you choose to share this object with us for the History Harvest?

MH – I’ve got a lot of artifacts, but not a lot that have this kind of connection to Bar Harbor’s golden age, even though the ‘20s really were the latter part of that golden age. With Atwater Kent being part of that age, I just thought that it would be something of interest to people.

TG – Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this?

MH — Not really. It’s still in pretty good shape for its age, but it doesn’t function. I wouldn’t dare plug it in without doing a few modifications to it, including using a variable power supply to bring up the voltage slowly. While I would be nervous turning it on, it is just a typical ham broadcast receiver that happens to weighs 40 pounds.

TG — I wonder what kind of programs must’ve been heard over this device

MH — I have a bunch of other older radios. A guy who gave me a late 1930s – 1940s style radio said that it belonged to his grandmother. It stands maybe 4 feet or 5 feet tall so you look at the speaker. I often think they probably heard Franklin Roosevelt’s voice booming across that speaker during some of our darker days – the Great Depression speeches, the bombing of Pearl Harbor being announced, fireside chats. I think it’s interesting to think about that. In that sense, it’s like when you hold an artifact. You wonder who must’ve held it at one time.

TG – Well, that’s great. Thanks, Matt.

MH — OK, glad to do it.

Resourceful Links:

Horton Oral History Transcription.pdf