GE Acquires KenRad

Adam Paris Businesses, News 2 Comments

On this day in 1945, KenRad’s acquisition by GE is became effective. The Bowling Green, Tell City, Rockport, and Huntingburg plants were included in the sale.

In 1918, Roy Burlew was working as a sales manager for an electric lamp plant in Pennsylvania and heard the Kentucky Electrical Company in Owensboro was thinking about selling it’s small incandescent lamp-making department. They had been making incandescent lamps on the 2nd floor at 817 Lewis Street (later the Smith Machine & Supply Co). Burlew knew he would be able to have a successful business selling light bulbs due to the government demand during World War I. He secured financial backing and his team worked out a deal to purchase the operation on November 8, 1918 for $55,000.

World War I ended just 3 days later and the initial plan collapsed. The beginning wasn’t easy for the group, but the business did grow. After a year in the original building, they moved to the old JN Grady site at 9th & Crittenden. In 1922, it was decided to start producing radio tubes and the Kentucky Radio Tube Manufacturing Co was incorporated. This began in a building on W 2nd St, but moved to the 9th St location during an expansion in 1929. In this same year, the two businesses joined under one corporation, Ken-Rad (KEN-tucky RAD-io).

Over the next decade, more expansions and an additional building at 9th & Bolivar were being used by KenRad. In 1940, spreading war conditions caused the Government demand of a new type of radio tube, and in 1941, the Ken-Rad Transmitting Tube Company was organized. Within a few years, the number of employees went from 3,000 in 1937 to over 4,500 in 1943. The increased volume of business called for more expansions and branch factories to be built in Bowling Green, Huntingburg, Tell City, and Rockport.

In 1943, Burlew sold the lamp division to Westinghouse Electric, and in 1945 sold the tube division to General Electric. In 1946, the Owensboro plant had 2,400 employees and produced 18 millions tubes that year. By the late 1940’s the growing market for televisions led to a production of over 23 million tubes by 2,900 employees. In 1951, the number kept increasing with 59 million tubes and 4,900 employees.

In 1987, GE sold the company to a group of investors who formed MPD, Inc.

In Dec 2016, I was given a tour of “Building #9” to take photos before the building was converted into apartments. You can view the gallery here:

MPD, formerly GE/KenRad

Comments 2

  1. My dad, Jewell Tucker – a design engineer, walked through the doors of the that old building for 36 years and absolutely loved every single day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.