From May 1982 to November 1983 Donald O. Patterson wrote in his Radio Age newsletter the story of Grebe Radio, A. H. Grebe & Company, Inc. In order to research the story, Don traveled to interview in person Alfred H. Grebe’s surviving wife, Stephanie M. Harvey, as well as daughter Stephanie Meier and son Alfred H. Grebe, Jr. Here are excerpts from Part I.

A. H. Grebe on deck the S. S. Saranac
Alfred Henry Grebe, the son of Henry Grebe and Anna Marie Krick, was born at Richmond Hill, Long Island on April 4, 1895. Grebe had a brother, Rudolph Louis. His father was a horticulturist by trade conducting his business from behind the family home on Van Wyck Avenue. Grebe’s father was strict and didn’t allow Alfred to attend public school. So his father had a tutor teach him German, English, Math and Art. He was quite good at the latter and a still life of apples still exists today.Early in his childhood Grebe told his father about these radio waves that were in the air. He wished he could have a book on them. Elder Grebe sent to Germany for a textbook that would eventually lead Alfred down the path to success in the radio manufacturing business. Grebe’s first radio was made from an oak sewing machine box and all of the family listened to the strange waves called wireless. When Grebe was about 10 years old his father died. His mother then allowed him to attend public schools. Here and in the neighborhood the kids congregated at a little shack behind the house to hear and see the wireless sets Grebe was making. None of the mothers were worried as they knew their kids were at the Grebe’s. A cartoon published in 1940 (shown in previous article) exemplified what went on around his house.Once when Grebe had the measles, his mother sent for Doctor Woods. When Dr. Woods arrived, Grebe wasn’t in his room. So Dr. Woods exclaimed, “Where is that measily kid?” Well, he was outside his window putting up an antenna. As soon as he came in, he put the earphones up to Dr. Woods’ ears and said, “Listen, Doc, it’s Mexico.” Dr. Woods, quite satisfied with the demonstration said, “He’s got the measles, but he will be OK.”

Alfred was like any other child when it came to devilment. He had cousins who lived in Hempstead, Long Island; his mother’s brother’s family. While a trolley went down in front of their house, Grebe threw something across the lines and shorted out the electricity. Grebe and the cousins would sit in the house and laugh while the operators would try to figure out why the trolley stopped.

Ralph Sayers, long time friend, said the first meeting with Grebe was at his shop (rear of Van Wyck Blvd. home) one afternoon in 1910. “Arthur H. Lynch, a schoolmate, took me there and introduced us as all three of us were interested in wireless. the shop was a former toolhouse adjacent to an abandoned greenhouse and Grebe was busy with a small foot lathe turning out some machined brass.”

“Grebe was in his first long pants while Arthur and I still wore knickers. He was a striking personality then with deep red hair, keen dark eyes that twinkled at the corners.”

“In a few weeks I purchased at a bargain a fine homemade receiver with crystal detector as vacuum tubes were then unknown in wireless. Grebe planned a new receiver to go with his homemade amateur transmitter.” Leroy Hammond, a telegraph operator for Western Union and Long Island Railroad taught Grebe and Ralph Sayers code for 25 cents per hour each.

“Soon Grebe made his first voyage to Turks Island on S/S Cherokee of the old Clyde Line. This was before the first operators licenses were issued. His wages were $30 monthly.”

Louis Gerard Pacent, – then Retail Manager of Manhattan Electrical Supply Co., NYC became interested in GREBE DETECTORS, – an exclusive and highly efficient improvement conceived, developed and made personally by Grebe. Copper and Brass was bought, along with Sheet Hard Rubber from New York sources and electroplating had to be done in New York. Two models were in the Grebe “Line” and Pacent featured same in the Retail Shop of Mesco. In addition we began advertising them in small space in the then few amateur periodicals. Business grew steadily. After school and Saturdays, I helped and Grebe taught me how to handle the lathe, thread brass and finish the product.

Grebe complained to his mother that he wanted to learn more about wireless. He quit high school and his mother enrolled him in the Marconi Institute of America on Cliff Street in New York City. For six months he learned everything known about the phenomena called wireless. Officials at the school recommended that he go to sea as a wireless operator. According to Ralph Sayers he began sailing as Assistant, then Chief on vessels of Panama Railroad Steamship Company, Clyde Lines and other American flag vessels in coast wise trade.

During “Port Time” he doubled up and worked long and late in Shop with Grebe Detector Manufacture, which business I did on a part-time basis after school and weekends on a basis of “piece work”. “It gave me extra pocket money and I enjoyed it.” One day Grebe announced the business was netting him $15 weekly and he was going to remain ashore awhile and give it all his time.

The German Telefunken Company was then entering the American field and also the British Merchant Marine field with its excellent Ship-to-Shore Radio Telegraph equipment, and Grebe was one of the first American lads to be employed by them on American ships carrying their equipment. He later installed several Telefunken sets of equipment to replace that of the Marconi Company on vessels of the Panama Railroad Co., American-Hawaiian Steamship Company and others. Later, he took the British Tramp Tanker S/S Saranac out on a run to India with Telefunken gear – the first to be installed board a British vessel. The following pages contain excerpts from the diary of A.H. Grebe on his voyage which began December 8, 1912 and returned April 14, 1913. (The diary text will appear in the following entry, “Places Visited.”)

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