The rare 1923 National Browning Drake "Regenaformer" table top radio is rich in the history of the early art, a story of collaboration, litigation, competition and excitement. This particular radio is built in an all glass case which is what makes it so rare. I’ll get into the reasons behind the glass case shortly, but first, who was the National Browning Drake company and what is a Regenaformer?
If you are a long time radio enthusiast or an amateur radio operator all three of those names are probably familiar, but they are not usually thought of together.
The National Company began as Stone and Webster Engineering Inc., a supplier of sheet metal materials to the growing power plant industry at the turn of the century. Looking for an additional source of income and already having shops capable of turning out sheet metal products, Warren Hopkins, president of Stone and Webster, along with associates Walter Balke and Rosewell Douglass, incorporated the National Toy Company in October of 1914. They landed their first order with retail giant Woolworth’s and soon secured a patent for the manufacture of talking toys. By 1916 the company was highly successful, supplying toys to F.A.O. Schwarz, Gimbels and others. By the early 1920 the company added radio components to its product line. Tuning capacitors in particular, are made from plates stamped from aluminum or brass sheet metal. Soon after, the company dropped the word “Toy” from its name and became “The National Company”. (*1) The company was located in Cambridge Massachusetts.
In the early 1920s, Fred H. Drake and Glenn Browning, both Harvard engineering graduates, were conducting research at the university on methods to improve the efficiency of radio frequency transformers (note 1), then typically only 20 to 30 percent efficient. Mr. Drake suggested (and I quote from his own paper) that they should use “a mathematical treatment of a tuned radio frequency transformer, in order to determine the proper constants necessary for maximum amplification”. The results when built and tested in the lab proved to work better than he and Mr. Browning had hoped for. (*2)