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Turns Out, Philco Wasn’t ‘Here To Stay’ After All

New York —In an earlier column I wrote about my very first industry junket, a trip to the Bahamas for a Philco-Ford sales convention. Philco also hosted my strangest.

On Sunday evening, Oct. 1, 1973 I found myself in a hotel room in Valley Forge, Pa. about to embark on what I called the “Philco Is Here To Stay,” press tour of manufacturing facilities. It was hosted by Philco (and later Ford) president Thomas Page and other company executives and PR personnel. I represented the newsletter TV Digest. Others included James Cattani of HFD and editors from other competing publications.

Philco was the only electronics and appliance company Philadelphia-based Cattani covered, and he made himself at home at its headquarters. Sometimes too much so.

One afternoon Cattani met a Philco PR man there at noon, and in response to a question he was led to the office of the sales VP who, with almost everyone else on the floor, was away at lunch. He was left in there while the PR person went to track the executive down. Meanwhile Philco’s president came down the hall and saw Cattani standing unattended at the desk.

When asked what he was doing there Cattani, known as a joker, said he often came in at noon so he could look through the papers company execs left lying around. I’m told the president’s roar of disapproval could be heard throughout the building.

Well, back to the tour. The next morning we visited Philco’s Lansdale electronics assembly plant and were then taken to a local airport where a Ford-supplied company plane flew us to Watsontown, Pa. for lunch and a visit to Philco’s console and radio cabinet factory. Then it was back on the plane to Connersville, Ind. for the night.

In Connersville, following a morning meeting at our motel, we went through Philco’s appliance plant. That same afternoon we flew to Miami to catch a 9 p.m. flight to Brazil. We arrived in Rio early the next morning and hopped to Sao Paulo, landing there at 9 a.m. This schedule prompted Jack Luskin, head of the dealer council, to crack “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a four-day, two-night trip.”

We had the rest of the day off, and Thursday we toured Philco’s Brazilian electronics plant where car radios and plug-in modules for TV circuit boards were being produced for export. Module production had just started, and had been moved to Brazil to give Ford Brazilian import duty credits for parts it was shipping in from the U.S.

My report on my 10,000-mile two-continent tour of 4.1-million square feet of manufacturing facilities stressed how Ford was bankrolling Philco production expansion and restructuring to restore profitability. Or, as Luskin said, Ford would keep the company in business because “it couldn’t afford not to.”

But that comeback atmosphere lasted just a few months. Philco announced and unannounced product recalls, a softening market and ongoing losses saw Ford put the Lansdale, Watsontown and Connersville plants up for sale. TV production was halted, and in Oct. 1974 the electronics business, including the Philco brand, was acquired by Sylvania. And that was only one part of a watershed year that also saw Matsushita acquire Motorola’s Quasar TV business, Rockwell International buy Admiral, Philips purchase Magnavox and Packard Bell close up shop.