Guide to the Collins Radio Company Records

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1924-1980
Creator: Collins Radio Company (-1909)
Extent: 34.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0814
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Corporate and product records of a Cedar Rapids-based communications and aerospace company. Records include correspondence, administrative records, product files, advertising, research materials, photographs, and blueprints.

Administrative Information

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.


Preferred Citation: Collins Radio Company Records, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Biographical Note

Arthur Andrews Collins was born on September 9, 1909 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, the only child of businessman Merle H. Collins and his wife Faith. In 1916 Merle moved his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he became involved in the ever-expanding world of agribusiness. He founded the Collins Mortgage Company in the year of his arrival in Iowa, a firm specializing in providing farm loans. In 1928 he formed the Collins Farms Company, a new venture involving the purchase and combination of farm lands as sites for new agricultural techniques. Both companies went under in 1934.

Young Arthur Collins developed an early interest in radio and associated technologies. He built his own transmitters and crystal sets, was an enthusiastic ham operator, and attained a radio license from the Federal Radio Commission in 1923 at the age of 14. Collins first achieved a measure of fame in the summer of 1925, when, using a ham radio that he built himself, he achieved continued communication with the U.S. Navy scientific expedition to Greenland, led by Captain Donald MacMillan. Because of atmospheric problems, the U.S. Naval radio station in Washington, D.C. had been unable to consistently receive messages from the expedition. However, Collins utilized shorter wavelengths to maintain constant contact with the expedition's radio operator and fellow amateur radio enthusiast John Reinartz. For a period of 22 days Collins was the only person in the world to be in regular communication with the expedition and for that period Cedar Rapids became therefore the exclusive center of information from the explorers. Each day Collins would take down the messages emitting from the Arctic, and then ride his bicycle down to the local Western Union office and send those messages on to Washington.

In 1926 Collins enrolled at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, and the next year he transferred to Amherst College in Massachusetts. After a year there he returned to Iowa, more interested in pursuing his own scientific studies than in continuing with formal education. (Nonetheless, he did take several courses in electrical engineering at the University of Iowa.) Although Collins did do some work for his father's companies, he preferred for the most part to work and develop his talents independently, and in 1931 he formed his own company devoted to radio production, Arthur Collins, Radio Laboratories, Inc. (Collins Radio Company, by December 1932).

Originally the small company, which produced 4 basic models of radio transmitters, was headquartered and run out of the basement of Collins' family home. In 1933 the company moved to more official quarters on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids, and on September 22, 1933 CRC was officially charted as a corporation under the laws of the state of Delaware (re-incorporated as an Iowa company on May 13, 1937).

The company first achieved nationwide fame and recognition due to another scientific expedition, this time that of Admiral Richard Byrd's 1933-1934 trip to the Antarctic. Byrd, a member of the 1925 MacMillan expedition, was impressed with Collins' technological wizardry and employed him to produce and supply the entirety of the Antarctic expedition's radio equipment. The equipment enjoyed great success; it was using CRC radios that Byrd made the first formal radio broadcast from Antarctica on February 3, 1934. Word of Collins' success spread rapidly and the young company quickly increased the sales of its transmitters and receivers.

The company grew through the 1930s, and gradually broadened its product line. One of CRC's more significant products included the Autotune, a device allowing for quick and easy switching between radio frequencies by airplane pilots. The Autotune not only introduced a easy method of cockpit radio control but also launched CRC into the world of avonics equipment production. Although CRC continued to produce new generations of radio equipment (including, starting in 1958, the S Line of equipment that was designed to function as an integrated system rather than as individual products), it became a major leader in aerospace technology. Collins communications technology was used for civilian and defense operations, as well as the American Gemini, Mercury, Apollo and Skylab space programs.

CRC quickly outgrew its original headquarters in Cedar Rapids, and expanded operations. By 1943 defense contracts obliged the company to lease space in over 20 buildings across the city. (After the war CRC consolidated its operations into a smaller number of Cedar Rapids locations.) In 1946 CRC opened a sales office in Los Angeles - this office was moved to Burbank in 1949 and became the center of the company's growing Western Division. In 1951 CRC established a new plant near Dallas, Texas, and an Information Science Center designed for research into new data communcations equipment was built in Newport Beach, CA in 1961. (CRC West Coast operations ere moved here from Burbank that same year.) International subsidiaries were founded in Mexico, England and Canada.

Despite the company's success throughout the World War II and postwar decades, it faced major problems starting in the 1960s. The de-escalation of the Vietnam War meant the end of many defense contracts for the company, and the gradual slowdown of the American space program created a reduced market for many types of space and avionics technologies. Furthermore, Collins had invested a significant portion of his company's time and resources in the C-System, a completely integrated communication, computation and control system that would combine all major functions of an enterprise into a single workable system. However, despite the massive investment in the C-System, sales of components and equipment were tepid, and by the end of the 1960s CRC was rapidly losing money.

In 1971 North American Rockwell began investing heavily in CRC, enough to achieve a controlling interest. Increased financial losses in fiscal years 1971-1972 convinced Rockwell to shake up existing CRC management. In November 1971, the Rockwell-controlled board of directors removed Collins as president and board chairman of his own company. On December 7, Collins officially resigned from the company he had founded 40 years before, and created a new firm, Arthur A. Collins, Inc. The new company was designed to develop systems, concepts, design strategies, basic design plans, and innovative ideas in the field of large scale systems, including telecommunications, navigation, and control. However, though the new company patented a few products, sales were virtually nonexistent and the company rapidly lost money. A.A. Collins, Inc. had shrunk to almost nothing when Collins died on February 25, 1987 following hospitalization for a stroke.

Collins married Margaret (Peg) Van Dyke, also of Cedar Rapids, on January 4, 1930. They had two children, Susan and Michael. Peg died of a cerebral hemorrhage in December 1955. On June 10, 1957 Collins married again, to Mary Margaret Meis. The couple produced two sons, Alan and David.

Following Collins' ouster from CRC, the company made a major recovery effort, turning away from its immense committment to the C-System, introducing strict fiscal controls, restructuring the company's management and divisional organization, and continuing the development of overseas markets. By the first half of 1973 the company was making noticeable financial improvements (from a $17 million loss in 1972 to a $3 million profit in 1973). In the midst of this newfound success, North American Rockwell (renamed Rockwell International in Feburary 1973) moved to formally merge itself with CRC. The merger was approved on November 2, 1973, which meant the effective end of Collins Radio Company as an independent enterprise. However, Collins' name on the company he founded still survives with the existence of Rockwell Collins, Inc., the former Rockwell avionics division which was spun off its parent company in 2001. Rockwell Collins continues to be headquarted in Cedar Rapids, and is a leading producer of avionics technologies.

Content Description

This collection consists of corporate records from Collins Radio Company, a communications and aerospace company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Records include correspondence, company memoranda, publications, research files, product information and advertising, customer information, subject files, photographs and blueprints.

The collection is divided into several series. Some topics and activities may be documented across multiple series (for example, both Administrative Files and Subject Files may have records relating to the same topic).

Series 1. Administrative Files: Files relating to the administration and operations of the Collins Radio Company. Includes correspondence, memoranda, administrative documentation, and other organizational materials.

Series 2. C-System Files: Files relating to the development of the Collins C-System. The C-System was a major concept developed by CRC starting in the mid-1960s, designed to integrate computers and communications techniques into a single system capable of accomplishing all the major activities of a particular organization or enterprise. Includes background research documentation, component and system manuals and descriptions, and working papers.

Series 3. Customer Files: Files relating to specific customers of CRC. Includes correspondence.

Series 4. Product Files: Files relating to various products created by CRC during its corporate existence. Includes advertisements, instruction manuals, and product descriptions.

Series 5. Publications: Various publications of CRC.

Series 6. Research Files: Files relating to various research endeavors carried out by CRC on a number of different subjects relating to communications and aerospace technology. Includes data, notes and research papers.

Series 7. Subject Files: Files relating to various subjects involving CRC. Includes correspondence, corporate documentation, and documentation from Arthur A. Collins and his father Merle H. Collins.

Series 8. Visual Materials: Includes photographs of various subjects, and blueprints and schematics of some CRC products and components.

Related Materials

COLLINS MORTGAGE AND FARMS COMPANIES. Records of the Collins Mortgage and Farms Companies, 1901-1945. 11.9 ft.

Records of a Cedar Rapids-based mortgage company and company devoted to innovative utilization of farmland. Records include correspondence, financial records, legal files, property descriptions, and tax files. MsC0317.

Detailed Description of the Collection

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This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.