Archive for the ‘Philco radios’ Category

Somewhat Wireless, But Not Brainless

In Alabama radio, Bell Radio-Television Corp, Discatron portable record player, Dominion Radio and Elecrical Corp Ltd, DRECO, La Gloria appliances, Majestic appliances, Mr. Safety Smart, Philco radios on September 7, 2013 at 10.46

Dominion Radio and Electrical Corp tag RECREATION copyMy recreation of the safety testing assurance tag from a DRECO appliance, likely dates from the late 1950s-early 1960s .


Here I go wandering off the food and drink path again – this time to appliances. Actually, this seems to be happening a lot lately – with a number of posts on children’s games and the like, and more on the way.
This was meant to very much be a “look, a nice label I made. That’s all, see you next month…” type of post – but then I start looking into things, and – you know. Anyway, as usual I wasn’t expecting to find anything on what I thought would be another obscure remnant item, from some small radio repair and sales business that never really lifted off – much more than being a ma and pa-type local business. Well, I was wrong.

3 Philco Model 401 Alabama Radio from New Zealand (circa 1956) copy

The Philco five-valve “Alabama” model 401 with plastic cabinet in cornflower blue, produced around 1956. These were issued in several other colours. Image courtesy of tuberadioland.com


DRECO ESCORT musicmaker portables and safety smart copy

Advert for the Escort transistor, definitely after 1956 but probably more likely to be very early 1960s. Image courtesy of Black Betty Vintage clothes and retro collectibles,  Point Chevalier. On the right, the DRECO mascot Mr. Safety Smart.


I love the graphics of this tag, which looks to date from the late 1950s-early 1960s – and although I missed the end of the auction, I just had to recreate it from scratch. Everything about it from all the fonts to the colours used, to the logos appeal to me.
Mister “Safety Smart” is a great little mascot. The U.S. had a plethora of these type of characters for products, they were in fact quite commonplace – but they were far and few in NZ which was still very much ruled by a more British way of thinking.

4 Dominion Radio and Electrical Corp tag with character EDIT copy

The original picture of the tag that I made my graphic recreation from.


Let me see – there was Frosty Boy, the Apex Penguin, Easy Boy from Easy Products, Cheeky Charlie (better known as Mr. Four Square), the Frosty Jack Eskimo, The ETA chicken, Handy Andy, Miss Mercer Metal, Goldie the Meadow Gold cow, Sergeant Dan, the Airborne Honey bee, Skippy the Champ petfoods dog, the Tiki Bacon pig, the rabbit from Bunny Bleach, and Moggy Man – and the short-lived Tip -Top boy whom I covered here. I’m talking about character product logos per se, rather than just characters. In that respect it’s a pretty short list for us, really.

5 Philco Alabama Dominion Radio & Electrical Corp Ltd (Dreco) Philco Auckland red maroon blue and green copy

Philco “Alabama” produced by the  Dominion Radio & Electrical Corp Ltd (Dreco) of Auckland between 1956-1961. This model was made in colours red, green, maroon, and blue. Image courtesy of Radio Museum, at radiomuseum.org 


I remember you used to see these colourful Deco-style radios of times gone by in many a Ponsonby vintage collectables store a quarter century ago. The good, brightly hued ones or in pastels (they were produced in several colours) were highly prized and not cheap even then, but there were plenty around if you wanted one. With the passage of time I’ve maybe seen just a couple of the classic Alabama models, that I can think of, since then.

7 Philco-1954

Advert for the Philco New Zealand range in 1954.


Dominion Radio and Electrical Corporation, Ltd., known as DRECO for short, were initially very successful via their association with Philco; a globally successful American brand.
Philco started life in America 1892 as as the Helios Electric Company, making carbon-arc lamps for a short-lived period, soon switching to battery manufacture and changing its name to Philadelphia Storage Battery Company. In 1926 they entered the radio business and quickly took the number one spot in the industry for a good twenty years. Everyone is familiar with the classic Baby Grand radio which has become iconic – a wooden, cathedral shaped unit which is now considered the standard image of the 1930s wireless. The Philco brand is still around in some capacity the U.S. today, under the Phillips umbrella.

6 Philco Model 401 Alabama Radio from New Zealand (circa 1956) ARSENIC copy

The Philco five-valve “Alabama” model with plastic cabinet in arsenic green, issued 1958. These sold in America for US$7.00 at the time, but significantly more expensive here. Image courtesy of tuberadioland.com


Philco product was imported into Aotearoa from 1929 through 1937 – until restrictions were imposed, forcing them to rethink their business. To begin with, they got around this problem by bringing in the chassis component and having both the cabinets made as well as the assembly done domestically, thus Dominion Radio and Electrical Corporation, Ltd was established. However eventually DRECO started manufacturing them completely from 1941, until around 1956. Initially the business was set up in a house with a staff of just eight people, in Wellesley Street, Auckland central. Within a couple of years, demand had increased so dramatically that they moved to bigger professional premises in the Newmarket Area.
In 1955 the factory moved to Huia Road, Otahuhu. They eventually also manufactured radiograms and television sets – At this time, the brand La Gloria was introduced, along with Picturama. Around then a Philco set would put you back about sixteen pounds, ten shillings or so. However this move coincided with the Philco brand starting to fall out of favour and production of the radios greatly decreased from this time and ended in 1961, to be replaced by the Majestic brand. Later they produced other items like the Discatron, a portable player that looked like a transistor radio but spun 7″ singles.

DISCATRON  Dominion Radio and Electrical corporation Ltd Auckland EDIT

The Discatron, circa 1967, was portable and played actual 45 singles. This seems kind of nuts now – but it would have been a cutting edge revolution at the forefront of what we consider practically a birth right these days; the ability to choose and shuffle your own tracks on the go – of course what is now it is usually prefaced by an “i”. It was an extremely pricey piece of modern technology that set you back well over a whole week’s salary at the time. In comparison, today’s technology would cost you around a third of what you would earn for the week. Image courtesy of Black Betty Vintage clothes and retro collectibles,  Point Chevalier.


8 Dominion Radio & Electrical Corp Otahuhu Auckland NZ 1955-1957 lemon copy

The “La Gloria” model, in a lemon yellow plastic cabinet, was produced 1955-1957 and one of the brands introduced successfully to prop up the fizzling popularity of Philco.


Former employees describe the pay as “not very good” but the management fair. One interesting set of records from the early to mid 1960s in the archives is of a dispute between various immigrants and DRECO‘s Wellington branch. Whatever the contretemps was regarding, it was serious enough to be before both the Department of Labour, and the New Zealand Immigration Service. Without seeing the records I don’t really understand what the nature of it was – but I imagine something to do with skilled employees “imported” from overseas, and something contractual reneged on DRECO’s behalf; perhaps a sponsorship guarantee or some such. One of these individuals was Johan De Groot. Records show he was an electrical engineer by profession and came from Ashfield, Australia where he was residing with his wife Rachael Mary, a lab assistant, in 1958. By the end of the decade, after whatever ruckus there was with DRECO had been resolved – he was back living in North Croydon, Parkes, New South Wales and presumably never set foot in Aotearoa again. Apparently he had nothing to do with another De Groot family that immigrated to New Zealand at the same time.

9 Philco-1941

A Philco radio ad of 1941, distributed through the very successful Begg’s music chain.


DRECO stayed at the Otahuhu location until 1974 when they merged with Bell Radio-Television Corp; production of radios ceased immediately and the company was eventually disassembled. So to describe it as a merge, as it has been, is somewhat misleading; it was just a market share purchased and subsumed, and subsequently faded out as quickly as possible. Closed company files were lodged by 1981.
I don’t know how many of their cheerful plastic radios are still around but working or not – I bet they sell for hundreds now!



Addendum mid-Jan 2014:  It’s come to my attention that I have it all wrong and that the mascot was named Mr. Safety WATT, not Safety Smart. I do my best squinting at really low res images in order to recreate items, but sometimes I just get it a bit wrong. So I have updated all images and references to that. This came to light when fellow collector and packaging enthusiast Mike Davidson acquired a board game that DRECO issued in conjunction with The Safety Association of New Zealand, below.  This would have been issued in the late 1950s and shows the character in some different poses.

DRECO - Electrical Safety Game - Cover sml
aDRECO - Electrical Safety Game - Boarda


Addendum late Oct 2015:  Another image of  a Philco value model radio, in peppermint green bakelite. Image courtesy of Tony Smith. 

philco value radio in pepermint green Bakelite casting edit



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