Tales From Old Atchison
Fred Stein Made Radio "Waves" in Atchison
by Jack Hayslett


Atchison has enjoyed it's share of tourists over the years - rightfully so.
After all, who hasn't ever heard of Amelia Earhart or the Atchison, Topeka &
Santa Fe Railroad? Who hasn't heard of the stopover in Atchison by the
Lewis and Clarke expedition in 1804? They had a park down by the
old depot named for them. Most of us know that David Rice Atchison,
the man whose name was given to this city, served as
President of the US for one single day back before the Civil War.
But, one young Atchisonian's vision of harnessing the "unseen" forces of
electricity and radios led to a brighter and simpler future for all of us.
If you asked young people today about the electric radio's history,
most would likely say it came from Japan, from the mind of someone like
Alexander Graham Bell or from RCA. None Few would
guess Fred Stein - Atchison. Stein made radio "Waves" all over the globe
come into our households. Stein made his mark on the radio market
in 1926 when he introduced the world's first light-socket powered radio.
Prior electric radios were powered by batteries.
Considered internationally as a genius in the electronic field, the Atchison inventor
had another big invention in 1932 when he introduced
the world's first moisture tester for grain. Born in Greenleaf, Kansas on
June 24, 1888, he and his family moved to Atchison in 1900.
His father, George, came from Germany and farmed near Washington, Kansas
before taking a job with the Missouri Pacific Railroad and moving to Atchison.
The Stein's first home here was at 407 Kearney. Fred W. left school during
his 8th grade year and never did receive his diploma.
Always interested and fascinated by electricity, he took a job with the
Atchison Street Railway Light & Power Company as an apprentice electrician.
Stein was a "Pioneer" inventor.
One of his proudest moments came, as nobody in Atchison who knew Fred Stein
would doubt, when he was awarded a Honorary Degree at the St. Benedict's College
commencement ceremonies in 1969.
Stein's first business venture in Atchison was when he and Frank Roth
started an electric shop in the 100 block of North Fifth, later to become the
Standard Electric company in the old Jackson Building at that same address.
Jack Woodhouse became Stein's partner in 1909, and they opened in
quarters at 511 Commercial. At 710 Commercial, later the home of the
Crystal and Madrid theaters, Stein kept on working and inventing.
His first Major invention, the "Galvolite," was a therapeutic device marketed
through mail-order houses. In 1919 he was mustered out of the
US Navy after serving 18 months. He returned to Atchison and made
his new headquarters over the Barney Self Clothing Store at 718 Commercial.
In 1921 Stein formed the Atchison Radio & Electric company and began
experimenting with "wireless phones", as early radios were known. This was the beginning
of the Steinite Electric radio, the first no-battery electric radio to be placed
on the market in the US.
Prior to his radio breakthrough, Stein had a nationwide market for three-tube
battery sets he had developed during his electric radio pioneering.
The old Atchison Specialty building at Omaha Junction led to further expansion
to the 4th & Kansas location in 1923.
He first began production of his radio at the Weis Mfg. Co. in the
1000 block of Commercial. In 1926 his world-altering radio went on the market.
A national, then international market arose for Stein's new radio.
It was the first successful no-battery radio.
Mr. Stein had brought his engineering and manufacturing of radio receiving equipment
and electronic apparatus business to Atchison. In 1920 he came to stay.
He had several locations for his plant around Atchison.
In 1910, the City Directory listed Fred W., Leo J. and Frank Stein as electrical engineers
at Woodhouse-Stein, 806 N. 5th.
In 1928, Steinite Radio Co. was at 1022 Commercial.
Also listed was Atchison Radio Mfg. Co. which was located at 317 Commercial.
By 1932 the "Stein Radio Laboratories" was at 823 Kansas Avenue
in something called the "Radio Bldg."

 

Many an Atchisonian worked for Fred Stein.

Back in 1922, there were only 18 employees at Steinite.
The business that year moved to the Railway Specialists Plant at Omaha Junction West of town.
Eighty workers were employed. In 1925 Stein had to move much of his business again,
to expand it's work force from 125 to more than a thousand. They went to a site on west
Commercial in the 1000 block on the south side of the street.
All that remain of this building are several landmark windows and coal ducts
that can be viewed from the alley behind the Atchison Globe building.
By 1927 his plant turned out 700 radios a day. It was Atchison's largest employer.
Over 1,000.
The familiar Stein Laboratories site at 4th & Kansas Avenue was selected for their next location
and is still operational today. Further expansion followed.

 

Depressing Depression Years


The Great Depression was foreseen by Stein as an omen. He sold the radio
manufacturing business to a Chicago group who moved the plant to Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1930.
He had to go public for financing, and chose to remain in Atchison.
After the Steinite move, he began manufacturing table model radios and automobile radios
in the Steinite No. 2 plant at 12th & Main.
Fred Stein and Stein Laboratories continued to develop electronic equipment in Atchison
well after the radio business had gone.
Stein had first started on a moisture tester for grains in 1928. In 1932 they began production
in a building just across the street from today's plant, first occupied in 1938.
At the location on West Main, Stein invented the Electronic Moisture and
Oil Testing devices. It became the National and International Standard of all such devices,
and an updated version is still made in Atchison today.

The Legacy Continues


Fred Stein was an Atchison Pioneer. Just as was Amelia Earhart.
Both were important to their causes. We celebrate Amelia's life with a grand party on her
birthday in July. June 24th sounds like a good day to celebrate Stein's contributions
to the whole world. Stein, too, has affected millions and millions of lives
all over the world. His legacy continues.
If Amelia is Atchison's Favorite daughter, then isn't it logical that Stein might
be considered our Favorite Son?
'HAVE A HYSTERICAL DAY"