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Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Strange Story of John Meck As A Young Man

No one in his Chicago circle of friends and family understood John Meck very well.  Classic education, good grades in school, participation in inter and intra-mural sports were all expectations for boys in the 1920's who were thought to be headed toward a life of success. Although he struggled throughout his school career, was something of a loner (we would call him a 'geek' today), and did not distinguish himself in sports, John still managed, to the relief of his parents, to earn good enough grades to be accepted at Northwestern University.

Growing up in Glencoe, Illinois, John's life was that of the privileged upper middle class.  The Mecks were a model 1920's family as his father, a professor by education and background, was the school principal and his mother managed the family's active social life.  There is no evidence that John was anything but a typical and normal teenager, perhaps a bit more taken with the new gadgets and technology that were emerging during the 1920's, but otherwise just another smart, growing boy.

So in the fall of 1925, off he went to Northwestern, living on campus and pursuing his Freshman studies. Or so it was thought.  Sometime after December 1, 1925, John Meck disappeared from school. Neither his friends nor family heard from him after he left.  One college classmate recalled him saying something like he 'was dissatisfied with being a student and wanted to learn the radio business'.1

Mirror Tone Mod 850 Deluxe mfg 1947
Meck Industries
The amplifying vacuum tube had just been developed by the early 1920's and this new technology revolutionized the radio industry.  Companies were springing up all over the place manufacturing consumer radios for the burgeoning broadcast business.  In mid-summer 1920, AM type broadcasting began in Argentina.  Shortly thereafter, the first known radio news program in the U.S. was broadcast by station 8MK (the unlicensed predecessor of WWJ in Detroit). In November of 1920, station KDKA of Pittsburg was the first to broadcast election results (Warren Harding won). In 1921, the first commercial station, WBZ of Springfield, Massachusetts was licensed and by 1925, when Meck left school, there were more than 600 commercial radio stations and home radios were being manufactured and sold everywhere.2

In this exciting time of new technologies and industries, where in the world was John Meck?

His parents were so concerned after John mysteriously dropped out of sight (and college) that his mother reported him missing to the Evanston, Illinois police and commissioned a wanted poster offering a $200 reward for information of her son's whereabouts. There is no record as to whether or not anyone collected.

Finally, in April, 1926, after circulating fliers about her son around the area radio shops and factories, John's mother located him working in a radio store on Dearborn St. Again, he explained that he wanted to learn the radio business, not the classics or the law or any other liberal arts that his parents foresaw him doing.  In return for him returning home, his parents agreed that he could get his education wherever he wanted. 

Late 1940's Meck Radio Ad
No one knows where or if John Meck completed college.  No more is known of him until just prior to World War II when he founded Meck Industries in Plymouth, Indiana.  The company began business by manufacturing phonographs and public address systems.  During the war, it expanded into making quartz crystals for military radios and other electric devices for the War Department. After the war, the company produced radios carrying names like Deluxe, Lee, Mirror Tone, Trail Blazer and Plymouth. In 1949, they made and marketed their first home 7 inch and 10 inch TV receiving sets. The business continued on making radios and TV's, and even acquired another company, until 1956, when it closed.

To this day, no one knows for sure where Meck went to school.  Some speculate maybe Notre Dame, for why else would he have chosen Indiana for the location of his business? Meck's radios are not common finds since the company was never a real economic force in the radio boom during the post-War years.  But what the company produced was elegantly designed and made with high quality components.  Owning one today is a true collectible reflecting the innovative entrepreneurial spirit of John Meck


1. The Mystery of John Meck, Glencoe Historical Society web article, June 10, 2010.

2. The History of Radio, Wikipedia

© David Simons, Sep 2013

Here is a link to one of the Meck Industries radios recently restored and is available for sale in our shop.

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