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This Day in History

Charles D. Tandy, the son of David L. Tandy and Carmen (McLain), was born in Brownsville, Texas, on May 15, 1918. 

In 1919, when Tandy was a year old, his father, Dave L. Tandy (1889-1966) and a friend, Norton Hinckley, both ambitious young fellows, decided to pool their resources and go into business together. Their venture, which the two gentlemen named the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company (now The Tandy Leather Factory), supplied leather to shoe repair shops and later to hospitals, therapists, army posts, schools, and prisons and sold leather shoe parts (soles, heels and shoelaces) to shoe repair shops in the Fort Worth, TX area.

While Charles was growing up, the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company grew only modestly. Although the company survived the Great Depression, it was nearly crippled when World War II began in 1941. Shoes were rationed – two pairs per adult per year – and leather for civilian use virtually disappeared.

Charles, while serving in the Navy during the war, observed how leathercraft was used as a therapeutic tool for patients in military hospitals and by servicemen in recreation and rehabilitation centers. He told his father that leathercraft was the way to steer the company during the war years – and to prepare for what he believed would be a healthy, new, post-war hobby market.

Tandy Leather Company Formed

Charles graduated from Texas Christian University in 1940 (where he received an LLD degree in 1971), attended Harvard Business School from 1940 to 1941, and served in the United States Navy from 1941 to 1947 as an officer in the Supply Corps.

In 1947, after World War II Tandy, a driven and demanding man with big dreams, returned to Forth Worth and joined his father's business. The Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company was a five-store and mail-order catalog operation with about $750,000 in annual sales. Pretty good for those times but not good enough for Charles. He began with a direct-mail campaign based on a small catalog of do-it-yourself leathercraft and kits that diversified and expanded the original firm.

Charles firmly believed in the high gross-profit margins of the leathercraft business and the growth possibilities of the leisure-time hobby market. His views clashed with those of the family's partner, Norton Hinckley. The disagreement ended in a split in 1950 when Charles bought out Hinkley. Charles and his father formed Tandy Leather Company, while Hinckley kept the shoe business.

By 1954, Charles' enthusiasm for providing the leather parts and tools to make wallets and other items had grown the Tandy Leather Company to 67 stores in 36 states and Hawaii, with sales of $8 million. Although successful, the company had reached a point where coping with estate and management problems inherent in a privately held family business dictated selling the enterprise to gain a listing on a major stock exchange to attract investors and finance expansion.

In 1955, Tandy Leather Company was sold to American Hide and Leather of Boston, a respected New England firm, which changed its name to General American Industries after the merger. Following a string of unsuccessful acquisitions, the firm soon found itself in financial trouble. Profits from the Tandy organization were used to cover losses of the parent company, instead of going toward expansion of the leathercraft business as Charles had originally planned.

After a period of prosperity, however, General American Industries faced losses and a declining leather industry. In response, by 1960 Tandy sold off three profitless divisions, moved his headquarters from Fort Worth to New York, consolidated his remaining enterprise, and incorporated as the Tandy Corporation.

Radio Shack Purchased by Tandy

In 1961, he opened the first in a chain of hobby supermarkets at Fort Worth and embarked on a new policy of broad diversification. Tandy subsequently acquired Pier I Imports, which capitalized on growing interest in the Far East in the 1970s, Dillard's Department Stores, Wolfe Nursery Stores, Color Tile, Leonard Brothers, Mitchell's stores, Alcon Labs, Robintech, the Stafford-Lowdon printing company, and in 1963 a chain of nine Boston-based retail stores known as Radio Shack.

Radio Shack flourished, and by 1963 annual sales of the growing enterprise reached $20 million. Tandy's company came to be known for a culture characterized by the slogan, "It takes two to Tandy," and succeeded in part by offering its managers a percentage of store profits. The company moved into manufacture through its Tex Tan division, which produced leather apparel, accessories, boots, moccasins, men's furnishings, and riding saddles sold through 6,000 department and men's wear stores, while the Tandy Leather Company sold handicraft supplies, kits, and related merchandise.

In the 1970s Tandy experienced several setbacks. In 1973, after acquiring a string of Allied Radio Stores to supplement its Radio Shack outlets, the United States Justice Department, believing it then enjoyed an unfair monopoly in the consumer electronics business, forced the company to divest itself. In 1975 Tandy spun off its Tandycrafts and Tandy Brands divisions, and in 1976 Tandy admitted having made improper payments to expedite business operations and assumed responsibility for back taxes.

By the time of Charles Tandy's death in 1978, Tandy Corporation was a billion-dollar multinational corporation with 20,000 employees and 7,000 Radio Shack outlets. Corporate headquarters for the multinational manufacturer and retailer of diversified handicraft supplies and electronics were located in downtown Fort Worth at the newly-constructed Tandy Center.

Tandy served as company vice president from 1947 to 1955, president from 1955 to 1964, and chairman of the board and chief executive officer from 1964 until his death. After his first wife, Gwen Purdy (Johnston), died in 1966, Tandy married Anne Burnett Windfohr, granddaughter of pioneer Wichita County rancher Samuel Burk Burnett, in 1969. Tandy served as a director of the Fort Worth National Bank and was a founder of the North Texas Commission, which promoted the eleven-county metroplex area. Described as "the personification of capitalism," he was noted for supporting a constitutional amendment limiting federal expenditures to 20 percent of the nation's gross national product. He died on November 4, 1978, and was buried in the family mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth. Tandy left an estate valued at over $28.4 million, mostly in common stock, to his wife and the Tandy Foundation, established by her for "the benefit of others, particularly those who live in Fort Worth." A statue of the business leader stood north of the Tarrant County courthouse in Fort Worth.  In 2009, the statue was moved to the Neeley School of Business, Texas State University, Forth Worth, TX.

See more photos of Charles Tandy and his life.

■ Diana J. Kleiner, "TANDY, CHARLES DAVID," Handbook of Texas Online accessed January 11, 2011.