To everything…there is a season…and a time to every purpose
– Pete Seeger, from Eccl. 3:1 (KJV)
In 1929, Bill Lear, his friend Elmer Wavering, and their girlfriends drove from their town of Quincy, Illinois to a scenic spot to watch the sun set over the Mississippi River.
“I wish this car had a radio,” said one of the girls, wistfully. But alas, car radios did not exist.
Bill Lear Goes To Work
Luck is when opportunity presents itself to the prepared mind. Bill Lear had worked with radio in the U.S. Navy. He and Wavering were self-taught engineers. They started working on a car radio.
They were not the first to try. Other attempts to make and sell a car radio had been unsuccessful. Too expensive. Too hard. Cars bounce around. Radios break in such tough service. Forget about it.
Paul Galvin Tries and Tries Again
Paul Galvin was a failed but undaunted businessman. He launched a battery business in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and he went bankrupt. That was in the roaring ’20s.
Galvin bought an asset out of his own bankruptcy sale to start yet another business, one that would bypass the batteries of a battery-powered home radio to run off A/C current. That was an okay business for a while, but manufacturers got smart and started to sell A/C powered radios.
Galvin’s “battery eliminator” business was failing.
Launching into the Great Depression
In the shadow of the Great Crash of 1929, Paul Galvin and Bill Lear met while working in the same neighborhood in Chicago. They conversed at a radio trade show. Build me a car radio, said Galvin, and I’ll make and sell it.
In May 1930, Lear built the car radio and installed it in Galvin’s Studebaker. Whereupon Galvin drove 850 miles to the Radio Manufacturers Association Convention in Atlantic City. He couldn’t afford to pay for an exhibition booth, so he parked his car outside and blasted sound from his car radio through a loudspeaker he brought for that purpose.
Convention-goers placed enough orders to get Galvin started making car radios.
They liked the model 5T71.
But what a name!
Galvin knew he needed a better trademark.
How about “motor-” for car and “-ola” for sound (playing off the popular Victrola)?
Motorola! The car radio was born and christened.
(If you do nothing else for your company, register your trademark!)
Meanwhile, Bill Lear and the company Grunow filed a patent application on the car radio.
In 1933, Henry Ford became a believer and started installing Motorola radios in Ford automobiles.
In 1934, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued U.S. Patent 1,944,139 to Lear and Grunow.
Paul Galvin and his company—soon to be renamed Motorola, after their signature car radio—snatched up the patent rights from Lear, paying Lear well through a 1/3 interest in the newly energized company, for the opportunity. Grunow presumably was compensated as well.
Bill Lear would go on to do other things in electronics and aviation. You’ve heard his name in connection with jet airplanes. More than 100 patents would issue to him in his lifetime.
Lear’s friend Elmer Wavering would do well for himself, too. He became an executive in Motorola, where he had a long and successful career, pioneering the alternator (widely adopted by the auto industry) and becoming President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company, among other accomplishments.
Galvin’s Motorola became a juggernaut. Automakers ultimately would abandon the Company as a source of car radios (customers can be fickle), but Motorola would find other successes, for example, in military radios—helping power the United States to victory in World War II and Korea—and in inventing the first handheld cell phone. You can fault Motorola for being slow to recognize digital, but you have to give them credit for close to a century of market leadership.
You have the time
So what’s the point? What can we learn from Bill Lear and Paul Galvin?
Last year was the season for making money, for large-scale production, for selling into high demand.
If you succeeded at that—if you are succeeding still—more power to you.
If not—if you’ve failed until now—welcome to the crowd! You can join Paul Galvin in the parade of failures who turn the corner and accelerate into success!
If you’re not fully engaged in production and sales, you have the time to invent. Just as Lear invented the first successful car radio, you can invent in your own field.
Maybe car radio is not your thing. That’s okay.
One of the fun things about being a patent attorney is that we get to see inventions in fields as diverse as electronic health records, medical devices, motor vehicles, oilfield equipment, online gaming, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and steel.
Some fields are hot. Others are cold. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” But it’s always a good time to invent.
I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. We baled hay all summer long to feed the Holsteins through the cold winters. We “made hay while the sun shone.” In the winter, we worked as little as eight hours a day, milking, doing chores, repairing tractors and agricultural equipment.
I’ve seen that same principle—“to every thing there is a season”—pay off in many fields of endeavor. We are seeing successes in everything from antiseptics to wheel removal devices.
Whatever your niche—whatever your specialty—you are uniquely equipped to invent, and to succeed, even and especially if you’ve failed before.
The time is right
You see a radio in the home? Your girlfriend wants one in the car? Get to work!
It’s always the right time to solve people’s problems, to fill their needs.
The clock is ticking
The formula for success is simple. Invent, file for patent, and sell! For more on timing, see my post on When to Patent.
If you don’t fill the need, someone else will.
As a human being, you were made to create. Go forth and invent. Then do what Bill Lear did: Call your patent attorney. Find a business partner like Paul Galvin. Get your invention into production and on the market.
For inspiration, listen to The Byrds’ recording of Turn, Turn, Turn.