History of RadioShack
on a Shoestring Budget
The story of Radio Shack begins in 1919 in Fort Worth, Texas, with a chance
meeting of two friends, Norton Hinckley and Dave L. Tandy (1889-1966).
During their visit, these 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, sold leather shoe parts
(soles, heels and shoelaces) to shoe repair shops in the Fort Worth
Although the partners had no way of knowing it at the time, their humble
beginning would evolve into Radio Shack Corporation – a multifaceted,
multibillion dollar company, and one of the nation's largest retailers of
The First Radio Shack Store
Two years later (1921) and half a continent away, two London-born Bostonian
brothers, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, opened a one-store retail and
mail-order operation in the heart of downtown Boston. These young immigrant
brothers wanted to provide amateur and ham radio equipment to the public;
much of it was leftover Army gear. At the time, this radio technology was
cutting-edge and the field was wide open. To pursue their interests, the
brothers opened a retail store (a block from the site of the Boston
Massacre). William Halligan, one of Deutschmann's first employees and later
the founder of Hallicrafters, suggested the name, “Radio Shack”. They chose
the name, "Radio Shack," which was a term for the room that housed a ship's
brothers thought the name was fitting since their store would supply the
equipment for ship’s radio officers, as well as ham radio operators.
Beginning in 1921, Radio Shack would grow to a handful of stores clustered in
the Northeast, and become a leading electronics mail-order distributor to
hobbyists. This is how it would remain until the company and a young Texan
named Charles Tandy crossed paths four decades later.
Charles Tandy Joins the Family Business
Meanwhile, the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company grew modestly through the
years. 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.
Mr. Tandy's oldest son,
Charles D. Tandy (1918-1978), 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
Tandy returned to Fort Worth in 1947 a driven and demanding man with big
dreams. 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.
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 and his father formed
Tandy Leather Company, while Hinckley kept the shoe business.
Tandy Corporation Listed on the New York Stock Exchange
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.
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.
Tandy began a struggle for control of the company. He prevailed four years
later and was elected Chairman of the Board in November 1959. He moved the
corporation's headquarters to Fort Worth the following year, and the name of
the company was changed to Tandy Corporation. On Nov. 14, 1960, the
company's stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the
symbol "TAN." (When the name of the company was changed from Tandy
Corporation to Radio Shack Corporation in May 2000, the NYSE symbol became "RSH.")
Tandy Corporation Acquires RadioShack
continued to do quite well. It issued its first catalog in 1939 (shown to
the left) when it entered the high-fidelity music equipment market.
In 1947, it opened the nation's first audio showroom; providing amplifiers,
speakers, turntables, phonograph cartridges, and the like. And by this time
the company had an extensive mail order business and expended to nine retail
In 1954, Radio Shack began to sell their private-label products under the
brand name Realist®. However, the company was later sued. As a result,
changed their brand name to Realistic®.
By the early 1960s, Radio Shack had expanded to nine retail stores (plus a
mail-order business) and was a leading distributor of electronic parts and
products to do-it-yourselfers around the world. However, the company soon
fell on hard times due to poor operating practices, coupled with a
disastrous credit offering to its customers.
But the growth of the Radio Shack chain was short-lived as management made a
mistake: The stores began selling on credit and soon had a pile of
uncollected receivables. And in the late 1960s, with the bank on their back,
the company was practically bankrupt.
Charles Tandy, who had become intrigued with consumer electronics, saw the
small Radio Shack chain as an excellent opportunity for rapid growth. He
bought the essentially bankrupt company in 1963 for the equivalent of
$300,000 cash, and embarked on a plan that turned it into one of the great
success stories of American retailing. Since then, Radio Shack has grown to
more than 7,300 stores, and its net sales and operating revenues have
ballooned to $4.8 billion.
Tandy began to phase-out its non-electronic product lines. And in 1975,
Tandy Corporation became exclusively an electronics company after it spun
off all other operations into Tandycrafts and Tandy Brands. In 1986, the
company spun off its foreign retail operations into InterTAN, Inc.
Products That Took America
The '70s proved to be a decade of incredible growth for Radio Shack -
not only in the number of stores that were opened, but in the quantity,
quality and sophistication of the products available at the company's stores
called Radio Shack, "The McDonalds of Electronics" or the "Walmart of
Hi-Tech". Not only did Radio Shack grow in number of stores, but in the
quantity, quality and sophistication of its products. The incredibly popular
citizen-band (CB) radios, were one of its top selling items. (The company
pitched the CB as a "survival tool for the energy crunch of the '70s").
Tandy's own CB handle was "Mr. Lucky."
Following the highly successful citizen-band (CB) radios in 1977, Radio
Shack introduced the first mass-produced personal computer: the TRS-80®
microcomputer - Only $599.95. This computer was the creation of a
24-year-old engineer named Steve Leininger.
In contrast to build-it-yourself
units available at the time, the TRS-80 was fully wired and tested. Although
a primitive machine by today's standards, it was a technological and price
breakthrough, and overwhelming customer demand caused a production backlog
that lasted for months. Over 200,000 TRS-80 Model I computers were sold from
1977 to 1981.
To the right, is the
first appearance of the TRS-80 Computer within a Radio Shack catalog. It
appeared as an insert within the 1978 Radio Shack catalog. (Click to
The '80s continued to make Radio Shack the "biggest name in little
computers," as the company's advertising proclaimed. It's been said that
Radio Shack has done more than any company - more than Apple or IBM - to
bring the computer to your home and office. In addition, Radio Shack offered
the first affordably priced stereo receiver with digital technology, the
first mobile/portable cellular telephone that consumers could install
themselves and the first high-performance satellite TV system that could be
installed by the do-it-yourselfer.
The '90s brought a rejuvenation of RadioShack's core business. The company
saw an explosion in personal communications. The company invented the Family
Radio Service (FRS), which uses license-free 2-way personal radios. Today,
RadioShack sells more wireless phones than any other retailer.
In 1999, RadioShack launched its website, www.RadioShack.com. And in 2003,
discontinued printing their United States-distributed full-line catalogs :-( and
concentrated their marketing media towards their website;
an online solutions center,
delivering thousands of products shipped right to your doorstep.
RadioShack in the 21st
Century – A Solutions Provider
Today, RadioShack offers a retail service concept unlike any other specialty
consumer electronics retailer. Through its convenient and comfortable
neighborhood stores, knowledgeable sales associates help customers get the
most out of their technology products. RadioShack's legendary force of
knowledgeable and helpful sales associates has been consistently recognized
by several independent groups for providing the best customer service in the
consumer electronics and wireless industries.