The Cutting Edge of Corporate AV, Circa 1938

I was wandering around a junk shop a few weeks ago when I came across this behemoth. ‘What the heck is that?’ I asked, but the junk shop owner didn’t know anything about it—not even how much it cost. “You want it? What’s it worth to ya?” he shrugged. Well, I wasn’t in the market for a Rube Goldberg AV system, but I sure wanted to know more about it, so I started Deep Googling….
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I was wandering around a junk shop a few weeks ago when I came across this behemoth. ‘What the heck is that?’ I asked, but the junk shop owner didn’t know anything about it—not even how much it cost. “You want it? What’s it worth to ya?” he shrugged. Well, I wasn’t in the market for a Rube Goldberg AV system, but I sure wanted to know more about it, so I started Deep Googling….

It turns out the contraption is an Electro Acoustic Products Co. Illustravox Senior—an all-in-one traveling presentation system that was manufactured for more than a decade, starting sometime in the 1930s. Old catalogs reveal that there were two models—the Standard, which was expected to cover audiences of up to 350, and the Senior, seen here, which they ambitiously estimated could cover 1,500 people!

Making that happen was an 8-inch “electro-dynamic removable speaker for placement at the screen” and a 300-watt projector. All in all, the Illustravox Senior weighed 39 lbs., so it wasn’t really a portable AV system—more like a luggable one. Still, it looked stylish for the era, housed in a box measuring 17.25 x 8.5 x 18 inches that was covered in black leatherette.

Electro Acoustic Products itself was owned by an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant, Frank R. Freimann; a born inventor, he founded his company in Chicago around 1929, just as the Great Depression kicked in. EAP merged into Magnavox in 1939, moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana that year. Freimann later became Magnavox’s president in 1950 and ran the company until his death in 1968; during his tenure, he raised sales from $32 million annually to $400 million.

Since the Illustravox Senior has an Electro Acoustic Products label on it, presumably this unit was built before the merger, and there are some mentions of it in industrial publications from around 1938. The system was still being sold as late as 1949 and went for $150—roughly $1,475 today.

It may not be worth much now, but if nothing else, the Illustravox Senior serves as a reminder that while corporate AV is an industry forever at the cutting edge, it's been chasing that edge for a long time.