Manatee County museums and library to highlight Powel Crosley with exhibition

By CARL MARIO NUDI

Powel Crosley developed and produced affordable radios for the general public. This one can be seen at the Palmetto Historical Park. Carl Mario Nudi photos.

Powel Crosley developed and produced affordable radios for the general public. This one can be seen at the Palmetto Historical Park. Carl Mario Nudi photos.

Cincinnati-based inventor and entrepreneur Powel Crosley Jr. has historic ties to Manatee County going back to the building of his mansion on Sarasota Bay in 1929.

To celebrate this connection, several county museums and libraries, with the support of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, will present “Powel Crosley Jr. Community Exhibition: His Life. His Work.  His Impact.”

“I don’t believe people really know how successful of an entrepreneur Crosley was,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau.

Falcione said everyone involved in the project thought this was a great way to showcase Crosley’s inventions and his connection to the county.

The participating institutions are the South Florida Museum, Manatee Village Historical Park, the Manatee County Historical Records Library, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, the Palmetto Historical Park and Manatee County Central Library Eaton Florida History Room.

The exhibition opened Sunday and runs through Sept. 30 at most venues. The central library exhibit will open June 1 and run through Aug. 31.

Steve Ahern, maintenance technician at the Palmetto Historical Park, demonstrates a hand-cranked field phone used during World War II. Powel Crosley was instrumental in providing the U.S. Army with radio equipment and parts during the war.

Steve Ahern, maintenance technician at the Palmetto Historical Park, demonstrates a hand-cranked field phone used during World War II. Powel Crosley was instrumental in providing the U.S. Army with radio equipment and parts during the war.

Crosley was born in 1886 in Cincinnati, and after he worked for several automobile manufacturing companies, he started the American Automobile Accessory Company in 1916.

Crosley made his fortune through an automobile parts mail-order distribution business. He also developed innovative marketing and business practices, such as the money-back guarantee and independent local dealers.

He is probably most well known for his Crosley radios, which he developed to sell to the general public at affordable prices.

The winter home built in Manatee County was called Sea Gate, and the county purchased the mansion in 1991 to use as an event and conference center.

Each exhibit location will highlight specific aspects of Crosley’s career and inventions, connecting them to that site’s mission or collection.

The exhibit items at the two participating institutions in North Manatee County — Manatee County Agricultural Museum and Palmetto Historical Park — were selected for their uniqueness.

The agricultural museum, 1015 Sixth St. W., located in the historical park, picked Crosley’s Farm-O-Road vehicle as its central display.

“This is the only farm-related invention of Crosley,” said Melissa Dagenais, curator for the past two years at the museum. “It was created during the time he was producing other vehicles – between the ’40s and ’50s.”

Degenais said the sales volume of Crosley’s cars began to decline in 1949, so he decided to bring out a utility vehicle that could be taken right off the farm and into town.

The Farm-O-Road farm utility vehicle will be the central display at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum during the Powel Crosley Jr. exhibition.

The Farm-O-Road farm utility vehicle will be the central display at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum during the Powel Crosley Jr. exhibition.

The Farm-O-Road had attachments for plowing, cultivating, mowing, hauling and towing.

“But you could add seats in the back for more passengers,” Degenais said.

“Our exhibit will compare it to the International Harvester Farmall Cub tractor we have in the museum,” she said. “The two were popular during the same period.”

The Farm-O-Road was in production until 1952 and only 600 were made.

The one at the museum was purchased with an $8,000 grant from the convention and visitors bureau.

“We were going to borrow one from an owner in Pennsylvania,” said Degenais, “but we found one on Craigslist for sale in Everglades City.

“It’s nice to have the only agricultural-oriented invention of Powel Crosley here at our local agriculture museum,” she said, “especially with Manatee County’s ties to Mr. Crosley.”

At the historical park, where there is a collection of historical buildings from around the Palmetto area next to the agricultural museum, the exhibit will focus on Crosley’s contribution to the World War II effort.

Visitors will be able to talk on the Crosley Company-built field phone on the first floor of the Carnegie Library in the Palmetto Historical Park to someone on a field phone upstairs.

Visitors will be able to talk on the Crosley Company-built field phone on the first floor of the Carnegie Library in the Palmetto Historical Park to someone on a field phone upstairs.

“We have the military museum at the park,” said Amanda Polson, supervisor of the historical park, 515 10th Ave. W., “so that was why we picked the military link with Crosley.”

Visitors will be able to tour the collection of military artifacts from the Cypress House Museum on the village grounds. Most will be on display in the historic Carnegie Library, which was opened in 1914.

The exhibit will also include a military camp on the village grounds, where visitors can use a hand-crank Crosley generator to power the lights in a soldier’s tent.

Children also will be able to use the military field phones that Crosley manufactured for the U.S. Army during the war.

The historical park had one in its collection and borrowed another from the Manatee County Historical Records Library in Bradenton for the exhibit.

“Steve (Ahern, maintenance technician at the park) was able to get the borrowed unit working,” said curator Tori Chasey-Edwards. “Children will be able to talk to each other from the one downstairs to the one upstairs.

“These will be very hands-on exhibits,” Chasey-Edwards said. “This makes history come alive for the children.”

Working with the other historical institutions in the county was an added benefit, she said.

Steve Ahern, maintenance technician at the Palmetto Historical Park, demonstrates the hand cranking needed to generate power for the World War II-era field radio and transmitter. Powel Crosley was instrumental in providing the U.S. Army with radio equipment and parts during the war.

Steve Ahern, maintenance technician at the Palmetto Historical Park, demonstrates the hand cranking needed to generate power for the World War II-era field radio and transmitter. Powel Crosley was instrumental in providing the U.S. Army with radio equipment and parts during the war.

“This is the first time all of these institutions did a joint project,” said Cathy Slusser, director of historical resources for the office of the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, “and we’re eager to show off what we have in Manatee County.”

The Historical Resources Department of the county clerk’s office oversees four of the six exhibition sites, including the agricultural museum, Palmetto Historical Park, Manatee Village Historical Park and the historical records library.

The organizers decided holding this joint exhibition during the slower tourist summer season would benefit the area.

“This was designed to get vacationers from the beaches to visit the mainland when they get too sunburned,” Slusser said.

She pointed to a University of Florida study that found in the year 2000, more than $3.7 billion was generated in Florida through heritage tourism.

“The primary activity was going to historical places and museums,” Slusser said.

As an incentive for visitors to check out all of the exhibits, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering a chance to win a replica Crosley radio.

Visitors will be given a “passport” or entry form at their first stop and can get it stamped at each site they visit. They turn in the card at the last exhibition venue they visit and cards stamped with all of the sites will be entered into the contest.

For more information about the exhibition, go to the Manatee County Clerk of Court website: www.tinyurl.com/observer-Crosley.

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