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Ralph Matthews behind a Z-Nith Regenerator (Regenerative Tuner) made in 1920
Zenith logo used in 1937
The company was co-founded by Ralph Matthews and Karl Hassel in Chicago, Illinois as Chicago Radio Labs in 1918 as a small producer of amateur radio equipment. The name "Zenith" came from its founders' call sign, 9ZN. They were joined in 1921 by LCDR Eugene F. McDonald, and Zenith Radio Company was formally incorporated in 1923. Zenith introduced the first portable radio in 1924, the first mass-produced AC radio in 1926, and push-button tuning in 1927. It added automobile radios in the 1930s, with its Model 460 (bragging it needed no separate generator or battery) selling at $ 59.95. The first Zenith TV set would appear in 1939, with its first commercial sets in 1948. The company would eventually go on to invent such things as the wireless remote control, FM multiplex stereo, high-contrast and  flat-face picture tubes, and the MTS stereo system used on analog television broadcasts in the US and Canada (as opposed to the BBC-developed NICAM digital stereo sound system for analogue TV broadcasts, used in many places around the world.) Zenith was also one of the first companies to introduce a digital HDTV system implementation, parts of which were included in the ATSC standard starting with the 1993 Grand Alliance.
In the 1980s, Zenith encountered increasing financial difficulty as their market share progressively went to Japanese companies who had lower overhead, and could sell their sets cheaper. In 1979, they entered the home computer market with the purchase of Heath Company and their H-8 computer kit; Zenith renamed Heath's computer division Zenith Data Systems, and eventually sold ZDS and Heath to Groupe Bull in 1989 to raise money for HDTV research efforts. Zenith changed its name to Zenith Electronics Corporation in 1984, to reflect its interests in computers and CATV, and since it had left the radio business two years earlier.
By 1990, Zenith was in trouble and looking more attractive to a hostile takeover. To avoid this, Zenith sold 5% of itself to LG Electronics as part of a technology-sharing agreement. With their analog line aging (the last major update to the line had been the System≥ chassis in 1978), and the adoption of HDTV in the US decades away, Zenith's prospects were dim. Eventually, LG would raise its stake in Zenith to 55%, enough to assume a controlling interest. Zenith filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999, and in exchange for its debts, LG offered to buy the part of Zenith it didn't already own. During this era, some of Zenith's products were being rebadged as OEM under the Admiral name.
Today, LG produces the Zenith DTT-900 and Zenith DTT-901 ATSC digital TV converter box. LG also offers some Zenith branded plasma, LCD, and direct view televisions through selected retail outlets.

This page was last edited on 03.12.2016