Arthur Collins Forms Collins Radio
Some children are prodigy pianists. Art Collins was a prodigy entrepreneur. In 1929, as a young boy, Art was fascinated by that new “Radio” technology and dreamed of talking to far off lands. His fascination, that dream and his penchant for excellence in form and function would lead to the creation in 1932 of Collins Radio of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Art started experimenting with communication (tin can and a string) when he was just 9 years old. By the age of 15, he was communicating regularly with the government funded MacMillan Expedition in the Arctic, riding his bicycle into town to telegram the government folks in Washington and then riding back to send out their reply. By age 23, his newly formed Collins Radio Company was designing and manufacturing transmitters and some critical electronic components.
His involvement in the MacMillan and Bird expeditions resulted in the creation of a network of contacts in Washington and the military that, combined with his consistent focus on excellence, would drive his small newly created company into a position of leadership by the end of World War Two.
By 1945, Collins Radio had almost 8000 employees, a record of saving lives and providing reliable communication and, following cancellation of the war contracts, almost no business.
Hard work, some creative employee “parking” and some gambles on new commercial ventures would save the company and go on to make Collins the leader in Amateur Radio, Commercial Broadcast, Avionics, Space Communication and Military Electronics.
When it came time to equip the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules with comm gear, Collins equipment was the immediate choice. If you wanted it to always work, and always sound like “Collins”, then that was the only choice.
In the 1970s, Art’s penchant for innovation and leadership pulled him far out in front of the industry, into surface mount technology and into the new field of computing. He reached out too far….. and he lost the company. He saw this as a failure. It was not.
After being bought out by Rockwell in 1973 (Sales approximately $280 M that year), the imbedded Collins Radio Division went on to maintain its leadership in Avionics and Military Communication and today Rockwell Collins is a profitable publicly held (COL) quality oriented spin-off of Rockwell with sales of $4.7 B in 2008 and over 20,000 employees. Art would be proud, but he would probably be out there changing the color of a panel, or killing a model change because it did not advance the state-of-the-art enough.
The company continues to reap the rewards of Art’s outlook on quality and engineering excellence and that “Iowa” farm work ethic that he infused into the company.