by John Galt
July 31, 2012 19:00 ET
As a true capitalist pig, I do understand how American business functions and when a business concept goes awry or is outdated, the company is usually absorbed or liquidated in bankruptcy. Sadly, this story is a sad silent key for a company that was a part of my childhood as the company which provided thousands of youths with the opportunity to build their own electronics from kits to functioning units is no more, as Heathkit went out of business this month.
From the Herald-Palladium newspaper of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI on July 19 in an article by Julie Swidwa:
“The situation was purely one of the economy,” he said. “Heathkit (Educational Systems) was primarily dependent upon federal and state funding for schools. Spending in education continued to drop down, and it was economically unfeasible to continue operating.”
The Heath Co. was founded in 1926 as an aircraft company but shifted its focus several times to remain competitive. After World War II the company switched to the electronics industry and bought a large surplus of wartime electronic parts to build kits. The company once employed as many as 1,800 people in the Twin Cities.
Heathkit was a division of the Heath Co., which eventually split to become Zenith Data Systems, which took most of the workers, and Heath/Zenith and Heathkit, which together kept a couple hundred workers, Desrochers said. Heath/Zenith was sold in 1999 to a corporation that moved it out of state. Heathkit stayed in the Twin Cities.
Heathkit had left the kit business in 1992. By then its Heathkit Educational Systems division was focusing on selling educational systems, such as hardware and manuals for career and vocational training. In 2008 the company vacated a building at 455 Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor and moved into the 25,000-square-foot section of a 330,000-square foot building in St. Joseph Township owned by Southshore Companies.
While the story is typical where a company could not enhance its niche or identify a new one, the sadness of its demise can not be measured. During my childhood, it was common for boys to build kits of various types not just to learn how they worked, but to understand the basics of electronics and engineering. The best part about the kits of that era was not the performance of the radios, although Heathkit rigs were legendary for their durability and performance in many cases, but how it stimulated the imagination of youngsters to the point where they pursued careers in various engineering fields. Modern conveniences such as personal computers, cellular telephones, and other various items may not have been developed in the United States had it not been for the corporations like Heathkit which fulfilled an educational niche.
Unfortunately the demise of this company is another indicator of how far our nation is falling. If one takes a moment to ask how an iPhone was built some would instantly reply with “at the Apple factory in California” without understanding the inner workings and magnificence of the integrated circuit or LCD technology. The majority of teenagers could care less how to build a computer nor learn how the physics within the technology functions, alas, they are more desirous of information to reach the next level including cheat codes and hacking the games. Unfortunately for the American people, this lack of interest in developing new technologies using the vast array of modern engineering tools will eventually leave us subservient to the Far East as their prowess continues to progress.
Indeed, this is a sad, silent key for a company from my childhood. I wish to thank all of the engineers and employees of this company throughout the 1960′s, 1970′s, and 1980′s which provided me with hours of entertainment and education.