BY JOHN M. JONES JR.
"Magnavox Showcase," a new exhibit coinciding with the 65th anniversary of The Magnavox Company's decision to come to Greeneville in 1947, will open Saturday, Sept. 1, in the lobby of the General Morgan Inn.
The exhibit, which is free to the public, will continue through Nov. 22.
The new exhibit follows up -- but is entirely separate from -- the Magnavox exhibit which opened in early 2011 at the Nathanael Greene Museum and continues to be on public display there in its own gallery.
Financial support for both exhibits has come from Greeneville business leader and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, a native of Ohio who first came to the community in the late 1960s as a young pilot with The Magnavox Company.
A central role in developing both exhibits has been played by exhibit curator George Collins, the retired chairman of the Museum Studies program at Tusculum College.
'DIFFERENT FROM MUSEUM'
Collins, who designed both exhibits, said that "Magnavox Showcase" will highlight "the styles, design, and craftsmanship that made Magnavox one of the premier manufacturers in the country."
"This exhibit is different from the Magnavox Gallery located in the Nathanael Greene Museum," Collins said in a news release. "That exhibit opened in 2011 and tells the overall story of Magnavox.
"This new temporary exhibit encourages us to see the styles and designs and remember our lives over the past 65 years through the advertising.
"The location in the lobby of The General Morgan Inn will only enhance the beauty of the units."
The items in the exhibit, none of which has been publicly displayed here before, reflect, Collins said, "the changing lifestyles and consumer taste from the 1940s through the 1970s."
He said that the exhibit will also show the corporate roots of Magnavox, which developed the first loudspeaker or "sound reproducer."
The decision by The Magnavox Company to open a small manufacturing plant in Greeneville in late May 1947 would have a profound impact on the economic history of Greene County and two generations of its citizens.
At the time -- and for many years both before and after -- Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Magnavox was one of the premier electronics manufacturers in the nation.
In 1947 the company was looking for a place in the Southeast to locate a new plant to produce radio cabinets, and, through a remarkable series of circumstances, top company officials decided to give Greeneville/Greene County a try.
At first, the company did not even attach the Magnavox name to the small radio cabinet-manufacturing facility that was opened on a trial basis as "Greeneville Cabinet Company," in a warehouse on North Irish Street.
But the Greene County workforce quickly won the confidence and admiration of Magnavox leaders both here and in Fort Wayne.
The company's local operations soon began to grow, and, in the succeeding 25 years, the small factory on Irish Street was superseded by two much, much larger plants in eastern Greeneville employing thousands of local men and women to produce not radio cabinets but television sets.
From the 1950s until well into the 1990s, under the ownership of Magnavox itself and two successive owners, the local television-manufacturing operations were by far the county's largest employer.
Eventually, tens of millions of color TV sets were produced here by a highly-skilled workforce consisting mostly of Greene Countians, frequently including several members of the same family.
In addition, during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, Magnavox employed many other East Tennesseeans, North Carolinians, and Mississippians in related facilities the company established in Johnson City, Morristown, Jefferson City, Andrews, N.C., Arden, N.C., Bryson City, N.C., and Flora, Miss.
All were under the umbrella of The Magnavox Company of Tennessee, with headquarters here.
In 1974, following the death in 1968 of charismatic company president Frank Freimann at the age of 63, The Magnavox Company was bought by the North American subsidiary of multinational electronics giant N.V. Philips, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Under Philips ownership, the former Magnavox plants continued to prosper and even grow, but intense off-shore competition in the television field in the 1970s, 1980s, and early-to-mid-1990s forced changes that gradually undermined the local plants.
In May 1997, five decades to the month after the first Magnavox plant opened here, the Greeneville manufacturing operations of what had become Philips Consumer Electronics Company, located at the mammoth Plant #3 on Kiser Boulevard, were sold to private owners, doing business under the new company name Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, LLC.
After several difficult years, Five Rivers was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005, a victim of the U.S. consumer electronics market's being flooded by low-cost television sets from China -- in some cases, in violation of U.S. customs regulations against "dumping."
ITEMS ON DISPLAY
Among items on display in the new exhibit that opens Saturday will be a recently-donated first-ever single-dial radio, made by Magnavox in 1924 in Oakland, Calif.
"Today we don't think of electronics reflecting our individuality -- as seen by the rows of nondescript black televisions in stores," Collins noted.
"However," he continued, "in the '50s and '60s we did want our individuality reflected, and Magnavox knew it, producing them in French, Mediterranean, Early American, Classic, contemporary, and Asian styles."
Also featured in the exhibit is the complete "Spirit of '76" Collection produced during the American Bicentennial in the mid-1970s.
Other units featured will represent the Imperial line of record-players, 1950s televisions, and a Windsor Imperial library bookcase unit from ca. 1949 based on furniture styling of the 1760s.
"The units and the related advertising reflect a different time in America, as well as the craftsmanship of the people of Greene County and Northeast Tennessee who produced many of the pieces," Collins stated in the news release.