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Munder Electrical Company

F97 Orleans Street, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA


First seen: 1-Oct-1922
Last seen: 1-Oct-1931

Brand(s): Volutron, VOX


As was often the case with 'true' tube manufacturers, Munder Electric was first a tungsten lamp manufacturing company, giving them the head start needed to become an early radio tube manufacturer.


Volutron variants:


V T
O R
L O
U N
201-A
1
Tube
Tall cylinder, sheet-brass base, ink-stamped, tipped envelope { rare}

           
Volutron variant 1



Volutron base view

{v1} small seamed plate prototype [abt Mar 1923].

V T
O R
L O
U N
201-A
2
Tube
Tall cylinder, sheet-brass base, ink-stamped, tipless envelope

Volutron base view
Volutron variant 2



'ex' stem marking

{v2} small seamed plate prototype [abt Mar 1923].

Early Radio Guild Ad
Confirmed tube brandings: "Volutron", "VOX"

Other Advertised tube brandings:"VOX" & "Radio Guild Association" may have only distributed outside the USA
First Reference Found: Radio News Magazine: Oct 1922, pg 691; 

RN lists the Radio Guild, Inc. as Mfg of the 'Vox Humana' receiver, suggesting that the Vox brand tube got it's name from the relationship between Radio Guild and Munder Electrical.

Radio Guild - "Designers and Manufacturers of the 'Vox Humana' the Receiver with the Living Voice"


Last Reference Found:  Radio Retailing Magazine: Oct 1931, pg 62; 

RRM lists Munder as one 31 legitimate (licensed) tube manufacturers at the time.


Estimated production dates: 1923 to Jan 1928

The lack of un-thoriated tungsten tubes found suggests production started after Oct 1922, when the UV-201a was introduced. It is believed that they would have needed to retool the factory a bit for thoriated tungsten to be used in Mazda lamp production at this time as well.

The existance of tipped tubes suggests that production started before Nov 1924, when tipless envelopes were introduced.

Variants include: 

Unconfirmed: No examples of 'detector only' [UV-200] have been seen.  We can assume none we made for production.
  • Unconfirmed: Cylinder envelope variants [UV-201 1amp equivalents] unlikely, since the 201-A shipped Oct 1922

V T
O R
L O
U N
201-A
1
Tube
{v1} Tall Cylinder, "Volutron", "A" "201", brass base, tipped, ink-stamped date labels {rare}

Volutron 201A tube and box

V T
O R
L O
U N
201-A
2
Tube
{v2} Tall Cylinder, "Volutron", "A" "201", brass base, tipless, ink-stamped date labels

  • Globe envelope variants [UX-201A equivalents]
  • {v3} Globe (s-14), ": - Volutron - :" "- UX-201-A -" engraving pattern (four corner dots show engraver mount vice marks), with dashes on top and bottom engraving lines, short bakelite base
  • {v4} Globe (s-14), "- Volutron -" "UX-201-A" engraving patter (no corner dots from vice), no dashes before and after UX-201-A, tall bakelite base
  • {v5} Cylinder envelope variants [UX-201A equivalents], unlabeled variants with blue glass suspected to be samples of Munder try-outs for new business, and so were never branded. 

 



History of Munder Electric's tube business


Munder was split from G.E. after the NELA antitrust breakup, or was it?

"Munder Electrical Co." was formed in 1895, and begins to appear in trade listings and articles at least as early as 1905. Munder was a light bulb manufacturing company that made Mazda lamps and other glass envelope bulbs. From 1913-1917, the Electrical Trade Directory lists them as " Munder Electric Works of General Electric Co., Central Falls, R.I." They appear to have been a subsidiary of G.E.'s National Electric Lamp Company, which was secretly operating under dozens of names.

General Electric is found in Federal antitrust court to have  owned through exclusive and regular sales, the stock of the National company itself. (filed 1910, found guilty 1918)  

The lawsuit forces the break up of the NELA consortium & contracts, But G.E. was a true corporation by then, and certainly saw the potential to satisfy the terms of the NELA breakup, and use the same strategy and companies for radio tubes. The second time around, there were new laws in place, but in response, G.E. had armed themselves with the very best legal teams..

So, back to 'little' Munder Electric Co., who suddenly was allowed to make 'tungsten lamps' but their one and only customer, G.E. could no longer buy their Mazda bulbs. I can only imagine that G.E. visited the plants after the verdict, when America was still engaged in WWI - a time when patent enforcement was on hold. General Electric execs,off the record of course, proposed that they retool for Vacuum tubes. The plant was already more than half way ready to produce tubes, and the same 'secret monopoly' plan was put in place, Munder would be 'shell corporation' for G.E., in todays terms.

The gamble was an easy bet. Even with the damages suffered by G.E. at the end of 8yrs of litigation, the profits were staggering. Radio tubes promised to be just as lucrative, and with Radio, there were dozens of patents snarling up the courts already. It was a strategy that had all the odds in it's favor.


The man behind the factory

Charles Frederick Munder was born in New Jersey, February 1855. The son of Wilhelm Christian Munder and Juliana Fredericka (nee Schragg), His father died in 1880 of stomach cancer, and Charles married Eudora M (nee Young) in 1885. He and his family briefly moved to Manhattan, but are found settled in Springfield, Massachusetts by 1900. He founded his company in 1895 at 30yrs of age, and certainly can be described as a highly successful industry leader of his time . 

In 1920, we find him listed as President & Treasurer of the M&WCo.,  30 Taylor, Springfield, MA. 

Patent wars raging, Charles Munder sells his 'Blue Dot' photo tube patent with controlling interest in Munder Electric, to Hygrade Lamp Company. He was now 72yrs old in 1928, and there was never a better time to retire.

The 1930 Census shows Charles & wife Eudora M (nee Young) retired, living @ 69 Maplewood Terrace, a home they had owned since before 1900, now valued at $45,000. Their son Robert is listed as 'Salesman, Lamp Factory'.


Barely legal, highly profitable

It's likely that the demand on G.E. in 1920 to produce tubes for RCA and then Cunningham was much higher than actual production output. I suspect that G.E. had no intentions of leaving money on the table, and used the same illegal monopoly practice to handle the orders. In early 1920, with Marconi broken up, RCA began its onslaught of patent lawsuits. With massive 'double ordering' in place and a new OEM deal with Cunningham ok'ed, the temptation to use NELA factories to produce tubes on the side was too great. 

Munder Electric Co., being just such a NELA lamp factory, was likely a secret operation of General Electric. Remember, Westinghouse, Moorhead, and others were all competitors at that point, each holding key patents. So why do I attribute the Munder Electric Co. "Volutron" tubes to this clandestine story? Lets examine bits of evidence that leads me there.


A unique envelope shape

Volutron tipless example

Likely a holdover from the Mazda lamp envelope molds, Munder worked with  glass envelopes having a distinct shape a bit like a cross between an egg and a tube. We know from tipped examples that production predates Aug 1924. Given that Munder was developing photo tube patents, the oblong envelope perhaps allowed larger elements for photo tubes prototyping. No known advertising has been found for Volutron tubes, supporting the idea they were lying low with memories of the 1918 anti-trust decisions.

In 1924, the Novelty Incandescent Lamp Company (NILCO), formed the Sylvania Products Co. to produce radio tubes.

15 Aug 1924, 'tipless radio tubes' are announced and become widespread quickly



Volutron enters the 'Silver Era' of tube production (1925-1945)

Feb 1925, Bakelite tube bases are introduced, allowing OEMs to purchase wholesale, and then brand their own tubes using either 'hot stamping' or engraving machines. Gone were the oblong envelopes, now standardized with the industry-wide S type envelope or 'Globe' style.

Variants suggest that these tubes may been purchased generic 201-A tubes, OEM branded with a tube branding machine. They could in fact still be produced at the Springfield factory but with little evidence we can only guess.

Blue variants with Bakelite bases marked "X-201-A" suggest they were made by Munder Electric. An example, unattributed, can be see on Bill Condon's site.


The end of Volutron as a brand (1928)

In 1928, Charles F. Munder, sold Munder Electric Company to Hygrade Lamp Co. He *also* seems to have sold his photo-cell tube patents to General Electric. It makes sense he wouldnt sell one and not the other.

Did Munder Electric stay open under Hygrade? Did they shop the brand around to see if they would keep things operational? If so, the brand name 'Volutron' wouldnt survive.


A recent aquisition in my collection shows the 'VOX' brand alive and well until the mid-1930's, though the 'tested' date on a new tube can include a much later date than manufacture. Many tubes of this era were overstock sold through discount houses like Chicago Radio Salvage which advertised heavily discounted 201A tubes, to the tune of $1.50 to .49cents each.



VOX brand variants:

{v6} "VOX" "UX-201A", engraved bakelite base; nickel pins, ribbed plate, tipless, painted color meatball logo on envelope top; unmarked stem



VOX UX-201A variant 1
{v6} "VOX" UX-201A
VOX UX-201A plate detail
VOX UX-201A stem detail
 
VOX UX-201A base detail 2
VOX UX-201A top logo
{v6} VOX UX-201A.












Note: this tube draws only 0.20amps at 5v DC, indicating is a very late design & construction. With a tested 14-Jul-1936 label on it, it was likely made as late as 1935.


Dec 1929:

Munder claims to increase production to 6,000 tubes/day, making 'Vox' tubes and tubes for the Radio Retailer Assn. I suspect this was common practice in that era. The SEC would not come about to regulate such things until 1934.

Listed on an Australian site is the only reference verifiable as to Munder using the 'Vox' brand.

Eclipse Radio of Flinders Lane, Melbourne, AUS:  In their catalogue from around 1929 they made a point of advertising the fact that their sets were fitted with 'Vox' tubes.

In 1930, Wall Street gossip declared Hygrade Lamp Co. as having secured a license from RCA to manufacture tubes.

In 1931, Hygrade Lamp Co. & Sylvania Products Co. merged to form "Hygrade-Sylvania Co."

Hygrade-Sylvania was much more interested in Munder's 'blue dot' photo tube patents than resurrecting the mediocre-selling brand 'Volutron' line. They brought stronger brands to the table, and so we see the last of 'Volutron' X-201-A tubes slowly work their way through the sales channels in January of 1928. Typically you could buy 'obsolete' brand tubes from discout houses for 1-3yrs after the company completed their last production,..unless they WAY over-produced. I dont see signs of that in discount ads.


Munder's patents make legal history as precedent for gross error

In 1931, employees of Hygrade-Sylvania (likely in merger chaos), renew Munder's patents, even though they never owned them, or in fact were involved in their sale. Certainly they would have known when purchasing Munder Electric what patents had been included. 

G.E.'s army of lawyers spots the filing immediately, and a lawsuit breaks out. General Electric sues Munder Electrical Co. who was by then owned by Hygrade-Syvania. I can only imagine the relief Charles Munder felt when he explained from retirement that he was in no way involved.

General Electric Co. vs. Munder Electric Co. resulted in setting a legal precedent that is still referenced in case law today:

Accident, inadvertance, or mistake, relied on as basis for issuance of a patent, must be in real good faith, and not simulated


In December, 1952, Charles Munder died just short of a centenarian.

Charles F Munder, a pioneer in the electical field, and once knew Edison, dies at 97yrs of age


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