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The Story of Heath

When Edward Bayard Heath founded the Heath Aeroplane Company during the early 1900's, little did he realize what would eventually evolve from his small "airplane trading post" as it was commonly called. Before he died, Mr. Heath was able to see the fruition of his early dreams. In 1926, he produced an airplane in kit form—the famous Heath "Parasol." For years this light aircraft was a favorite in the flying fraternity. Mr. Heath was killed during a test flight in 1931, marking a tragic end to a brilliant career. From that point through World War II, the Heath Company remained in the aircraft and replacement part business.

But it wasn't until shortly after World War II, that the character of the Heath Company changed. It was then that an ambitious engineer named Howard Anthony, who had purchased the Heath Company in 1935, took a calculated gamble. The ingenious Mr. Anthony bought a large stock of surplus wartime electronic parts, designed and "mail order marketed" an oscilloscope for $39.50.

Mr. Anthony based the success of his idea on the premise that anyone, regardless of technical knowledge or skills, could assemble a kit himself, and save up to 50% over comparable factory-built models. All that would be required were a few simple hand tools and some spare time.

Orders poured in for the oscilloscope kit and the foundation for the Heath Company as it exists today was established. Mr. Anthony expanded his test instrument line and soon added amateur radio and hi-fi component kits.

The key to the kit-builder's, and consequently Mr. Anthony's, success, was the instruction manual. Its contents still guide the Heath Company today. It contains simple, non-technical instructions and large "exploded" diagrams that take the builder through each and every him exactly what to do and how to do it. Proof that every Heathkit is designed to be "beginner-built" can be found in the cards and letters Heath receives daily from people of all ages and from all walks of life expressing their delight and satisfaction.

Tragedy struck again in 1954 when Howard Anthony was also killed in an airplane crash. Daystrom, Inc. then acquired the Heath Company. In 1962 Daystrom, Inc. was purchased by Schlumberger Limited, a leader in the development of electronic techniques for oil exploration.

Since 1954, more kit products have been added until at present Heath boasts 11 different product lines, consisting of over 300 kits...the world's largest selection. Whatever your interest, you'll find a kit to match it...

In order to produce the vast array of Heathkit equipment, a modern 205,000 sq. ft. plant was constructed in 1958 on the shores of Lake Michigan in St. Joseph, Mich. And recently another 156,000 sq. ft. of engineering and manufacturing facilities were added, bringing the total space to 361,000 sq. ft. If you are planning a visit to Michigan, we invite you to stop in and pay us a visit. We're located on Hilltop Rd. just off Business I-94, south of St. Joseph.

(The preceding was excerpted from the Heathkit Catalog)

What became of the Heathkit Company? Today, the Heathkit Company, Inc. is still located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The Heathkit Company is completely out of the electronic kit business and now concentrates on Heathkit Educational Systems electronic learning materials for classrooms, schools and training centers.

About the Masthead The graphic used in the masthead is an artist's rendering of the Heath plant that was constructed in 1958.

Additional photos show the Service Department, a Kit Packaging Line, the Consultation Department, the Mail Order Department, and Heath Hams.

Heathkit is over 50 years old!
Chuck Penson, WA7ZZE, has given his permission to use his article, "Heathkit's 50th: The Green Turns to Gold," which commemorated Heathkit's anniversary when they turned 50. This article, which originally appeared in the January, 1997, issue of Electric Radio and was chronicled in a slightly different version in the April, 1997, issue of QST, relives the origin and history of the Heathkit in sparkling detail. Don't miss this chance to learn all about Ed Heath and his unique business!

Note: Heathkits are no longer manufactured or widely available. Heathkit manufacturing ceased in the mid-1980's when Heath closed down their kit business. However, unassembled kits are sometimes offered in eBay auctions or in the classified section of electronics magazines such as QST.

A Bit of History

During the Heathkit era which lasted from the late 1940's through the mid 1980's, building Heathkits was a favorite activity for many electronics enthusiasts whose interests ranged from hi-fi/stereo and ham radio to computers, radio control, and home electronics. Heathkits were first marketed by mail-order, with advertisements appearing in popular electronics and amateur radio publications such as Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, CQ and QST. This was a time where enthusiasts eagerly awaited the next issue of their favorite electronics magazine to see if Heath had introduced any new kits. Hobbyists maintained an annual mailbox vigil, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new Heathkit catalog.

In the mid 1960's, Heath branched out to retail outlets and added authorized service centers in several metropolitan cities, while changing ownership several times (Daystrom Incorporated, Schlumberger Limited, Veritechnology Electronics Corporation.) Heath later expanded its products to include a Thomas organ kit, computers, satellite television earth stations, even furniture and woodcraft, in an attempt to attract a wider range of customers. Declining interest in build-it-yourself electronics resulted in Heathkit closing its doors in the mid-1980's.

There were literally thousands of kits manufactured. Development of this virtual museum is being attempted in a chronological order, beginning with vacuum tube kits. If you don't see a kit listed, it hasn't yet been added to the museum. Information represented here has been derived from Heathkit marketing materials as well as contributions from individual Heathkit enthusiasts and former Heath employees.

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