BY KEN LITTLE
The Magnavox Company-related exhibit that opened Saturday in the lobby of the General Morgan Inn brought back a flood of memories for former employees who stopped by to look it over.
The display, which continues through Nov. 22, is called "Magnavox Showcase," and features many of the products manufactured at the company's massive former plant on Kiser Boulevard.
The craftsmanship that went into cabinets, televisions, hi-fi stereos and other Magnavox products manufactured between the 1940s and the 1970s in Greeneville and elsewhere is readily evident in the exhibit.
The story behind the extremely prominent role Magnavox played in the life of everyday Greene Countians is recalled by all who had a connection to the plant.
That includes thousands of present-day county residents.
GREENE COUNTY MAINSTAY
"Everybody had kin that worked there. Tobacco and Magnavox -- that's what Greeneville was built on," said Eddie Jennings, who was looking over the exhibit with his wife Pat.
Their daughter, Tonya White, and her husband, Alan, joined them.
All are former Magnavox employees. Pat and Eddie Jennings' parents worked there, too.
Magnavox and its successor, Phillips Consumer Electronics Co., maintained a major presence in Greeneville from 1947 to 1997.
Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, LLC, operated at the Kiser Boulevard site until 2005, when the highly competitive consumer electronics market compelled Five Rivers to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
A key part of that bankruptcy was the flooding of the American television set market with low-cost Chinese-made TVs in the 1990s and early 2000s, sometimes in violation of U.S. customs regulations.
'IT'S JUST AMAZING'
In its heyday in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Magnavox was one of the pre-eminent makers of televisions, stereos and other electronic products.
The company's success was due in no small part to the TVs and other products made at the Greeneville plant. Many of the most successful are featured at the General Morgan Inn exhibit.
"It's just amazing. It just makes me sick that they went out of business and left Greeneville," Pat Jennings said.
Including her parents and daughter, Jennings said three generations of her family were employed at Magnavox.
She herself worked there 21 years. Eddie Jennings said he was a Magnavox truck driver for three years and worked seven years in the plant before that.
Pat Jennings' parents, Dennis and Eunice Nelson, were both longtime Magnavox employees.
"My mother was on the first softball team they ever had. My mother started there when they built radios," she said.
Eddie Jennings' father, Stanley, was a Magnavox truck driver for 25 years. His mother, Clennis, also worked for the company.
'HEARTBEAT' OF GREENEVILLE
"That [the Magnavox plant] was Greeneville. That was the heartbeat of Greeneville," Jennings said.
The Jennings' daughter, Tonya White, worked at Magnavox for seven years. Her husband Alan was an engineer there for 15 years. The couple now lives in Columbia, S.C.
Alan White pointed at a television in an expertly-crafted cherry cabinet.
"I remember my mom had one just like the one over there," he said.
Collector Michael Southerland never worked at the plant, but he became fascinated with Magnavox cabinets and other products as a boy in Greeneville.
"I probably liked Magnavox furniture as much as I liked toys," he said.
Southerland, who donated and sold some of the items on display, was looking over the exhibit on Saturday.
"At one time I had about 80 pieces; now I have about 30," he said.
He's particularly partial to Magnavox cabinetry and stereos manufactured by the company in the early 1970s.
"I'm a solid-state person," he said. "I like them from 1970 to 1972. I like the way they sound."
He motioned to an Imperial record player. The Imperial was the top-of-the-line Magnavox sound system.
"They are the most impressive-sounding stereos [the company] ever had. I have four from 1971 to 1973," Southerland said.
The exhibit includes examples of the "Spirit of '76" collection made by Magnavox to coincide with the nation's bicentennial in 1976.
Southerland has traveled up to 1,000 miles from Greeneville to obtain some hard-to-find Magnavox pieces for his collection.
A 100-watt "Magnavox Concert Grand" stereo he was admiring at the exhibit cost $1,250 when it was new in 1959 -- a substantial sum in those days.
"If it has been brought up to factory specs, it will blow anything else away," Southerland said.
FREE TO THE PUBLIC
The exhibit, which is free to the public, continues through Nov. 22.
The General Morgan Inn display is separate from the Magnavox exhibit that opened in 2011 at the Nathanael Greene Museum, and remains on public display there.
Financial backing for both exhibits is provided by Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, an Ohio native who first came to the community in the late 1960s as a young pilot with Magnavox.
Exhibit curator George Collins, the retired chairman of the Museum Studies program at Tusculum College, oversaw the development of both displays.
Collins said in a news release that the Magnavox Showcase highlights "the styles, design, and craftsmanship that made Magnavox one of the premier manufacturers in the country."