Communications innovatorRobert W. Galvin

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Galvin’s father, Paul, founded the Galvin Manufacturing Co. in 1928, to make battery eliminators for radios, which at the time were almost exclusively battery operated. The senior Galvin then bought a patent for automotive radios and changed the company’s name, combining “motor” and “Victrola” to make a new brand, “Motorola”, which made car radios. Robert Galvin joined the family-run company in 1940 at age 18, as the company came out with a new product just in time for the U.S. involvement in World War II: the “Walkie-Talkie”. The U.S. military bought $10 million worth, launching Motorola into two-way radio communications. Robert Galvin took over as CEO in 1959, and under his watch, the company went from $290 million in sales to $10.8 billion, with a number of “firsts” and inventions:

  • the first “car phone” (1946)
  • the communications system for America’s first artificial satellite (Explorer 1, 1958), as well as the radio systems for the Apollo moon missions
  • the first “large-screen” (19-inch), transistorized, cordless portable television (1960)
  • the first portable telephone for public use (1973)
  • the first cellular phone (the DynaTAC 8000X, 1983)

The company was also known for its 6800 and 68000 microprocessor, and in 1986 invented the “Six Sigma” quality improvement process, which led the company to receive the first-ever Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (1988). There were misses, too, such as coming out with a color TV set in 1957 — before color transmission protocols were standardized in 1960. But all in all, Galvin “had this amazing ability to see what was coming down the pike,” says Harry Mark Petrakis, who has written histories of the company and its founders. Galvin retired in 1990, and died October 11 at 89.

From This is True for 16 October 2011