Another New Castle First – Penn Radio

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By Betty Hoover DiRisio, LCHS Board Member & Volunteer

In 1909 and 1910, Rex Patch was in the telegraph business and became interested in wireless telegraphy. After building numerous wireless radios for friends, he established the Pennsylvania Wireless Manufacturing Company (later the Penna. Radio Mfg. Co.). At the time, the sets were only used to send and receive wireless CODED messages. In 1912, while listening for random radio signals, Patch was one of the first to learn of the sinking Titanic in real time.

WWI School of Instruction

When WWI broke out, the War Department needed wireless communication operators. Rex, a Spanish-American War vet, established a school of instruction at the East St. School, churning out radio operators many of whom enlisted for service.
On July 25, 1919 the first wireless VOICE messages to be transmitted and received in this part of the country, were received in Patch’s home from a transmitting station in Grove City College operated by another radio pioneer, Dr. Hebert W. Harmon. It was the first time it had been attempted here and a number of enthusiasts were present to witness the test. “Singing, talking and whistling were heard plainly through the receiver in this city”. Months later on April 26, 1920, the College’s president would use the transmitter to address the New Castle Rotary Club. This was over six months before KDKA, the first COMMERCIAL radio station, was in operation.

In 1920 Patch obtained one of the first 17 licenses issued for manufacturing regenerative receivers under an Edwin Armstrong Patent. This license would later become a priceless commodity and Powell Crosley the “Ford” of radio, came to New Castle in a futile attempt to secure Patch’s license.

Manufacturing Nation-Wide

By July 1922, demand for amateur radio sets was ten times higher than the supply. Patch erected a new manufacturing facility at 511 Florence Ave, New Castle, Pennsylvania in July of that year and formed, with outside interests, an organized sales company to handle the entire output of the factory with exclusive rights to sell the sets nation-wide.

During WWII, Rex continued teaching radio as part of the VFW’s aviation class. He died February 18, 1946.

PHOTO: 511 Florence Street, New Castle, PA (today).

(first published on our Facebook page April 25, 2014)

Photos courtesy of our Facebook subscribers.

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