Dec 23
Radio Stratosphere

There is quite a debate on how Zenith decided on the Stratosphere radio name. Some have speculated that Professor Auguste Piccard's and Dr. Jean Picacard's stratosphere balloon projects of the 1930's were the inspiration for the name. According a 1933 National Geographic story there was a large stratosphere balloon display at the Hall of Science featured at the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition. The most active period for stratosphere balloon flights was 1933-1936. Zenith's headquarters and radio production plants were in Chicago and the development of the 1000Z Stratosphere radio was 1933-1934.

It would be the high profile Piccard-Compton Stratosphere Ascension balloon event at the World's Fair on August 5, 1933 at Chicago Soldier Field that would capture the attention all of Chicago and World Fair goers' while making huge news headlines around the world even though the balloon launch turned out to be a failed attempt.

Stratosphere balloon on display at the Hall of Science featured at the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition

Below is how this major event was reported in an August 14, 1933 Time Magazine story.

A big moment at every fair is the grand balloon ascension. During the first week of the 1933 fair, 40,000 people crowded in to Chicago's Soldier Field to see what promised to be the greatest balloon ascension ever made-a flight to the stratosphere by Lieut. Commander Thomas G. W. ("Tex") Settle. Ceremonies lasted seven hours. Soldier and sailors paraded the field. Massed bands counter marched. Radio loudspeakers brought from Manhattan the voice of Professor Arthur Holly Compton. Scientific director of the flight, wishing Commander Settle luck in breaking Auguste Piccard's 10-mile altitude record setting flight was to gather data on cosmic and ultraviolet rays. A major general had the honor of starting the hydrogen gas hissing into the acre of white rubberized bag, one of the biggest ever built. An admiral saw to the hooking on of the spherical gondola made of _-inch thick metal. Mrs. Rufus Cutler Dawes, wife of the Fair president, dashed a bottle of liquid air on the gondola and christened it “Century of Progress”. Colors were piped. Bands blared "Anchors Aweigh." Commander Settle climbed into the gondola, waved, sealed himself in, and was off into the moonlit sky. Searchlights fingered the balloon as it floated up and westward over the Loop. After ten minutes it ceased to rise. Then it began to fall. Down, down it came, skimming the sheds in the Burlington & Quincy Railroad yards at 14th & Canal Streets. Plunk! The balloon landed on the tracks, barely missing the head of a yardman and scaring him out of his wits. In a few minutes a crowd of thousands jammed the yards. "Get those cigarettes away!" shouted Commander Settle, who had pulled the ripcord to empty the bag of hydrogen. Except for a dent in the gondola the balloon and instruments were intact. Sadly Commander Settle explained the fiasco: planning to hang at 5,000 ft. until dawn, he had pulled his gas escape valve. The valve stuck open.


The Piccard-Compton Stratosphere Balloon Ascension. From Soldiers Field at the 1933 Century of Progress Worlds Fair August 5, 1933.

Commander Settle using NBC broadcast equipment in Stratosphere balloon.

Then it was recalled that during the last-minute fanfare the valve had been opened and closed several times while those near the balloon listened for escaping gas. Commander Settle later admitted that he was not quite positive the valve was completely closed as he took off, but was unwilling to spoil the show with further delay. The Chicago Daily News, which had financed and ballyhooed the flight (with the Exposition and National Broadcasting Co.) refused to admit defeat. Stubbornly it boasted: "A balloon flight that ended as brilliantly as it began gave Chicago one of its greatest thrills. The climax was the unexpected. Settle did not reach the stratosphere as he had planned. But he did something more-a thing that will be imperishable in the history of ballooning. He landed the biggest balloon ever built in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world in darkness, and landed it perfectly." Source: August 14, 1933 Time Magazine

Stratosphere balloon drops into a Chicago railroad yard after a gas valve stays open

Original souvenir program form Piccard-Compton Stratosphere Ascension August 5, 1933 Chicago Soldiers Field

Souvenir Stratosphere balloon pin from Century of Progress flight August 5, 1933 flight

In this September 1934 Radio Retailing Magazine we see the very first publicity by Zenith on what they would call their 25 tube De Luxe model. In September 1934, the much New York National Electronic and Radio Exposition in Madison Square Garden takes place and Zenith would elect to not show it De Luxe 25 tube model. Instead, Zenith held its own three-day convention for a group of 130 Zenith dealers. At this July 16, 1934 convention, Zenith would introduce 18 new models including the 25 tube De Luxe with a $750 price tag. This event included a gala day yachting trip on Commodore McDonald's personal yacht the "Mizpah." This is the first public showing of what would become the 1000Z Zenith Stratosphere.

Radio Retailing also listed in their New York National Electronic and Radio Exposition issue the Zenith De Luxe 25 tube model with not detailed information. In the same issue Zenith mentions their 25 tube Deluxe model in their full page ad.