Vintage Radios By the Score | History | Smithsonian
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Vintage Radios By the Score

Tucked into an Elgin, Illinois, office building, Ralph Muchow's Historical Radio Museum houses the world's foremost antique collection

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Even as an 8-year-old boy growing up in Evanston, Illinois, Ralph Muchow was hooked on a new and transfixing technological advance, the radio. He and his siblings gathered in the upstairs bedroom of their house, avidly following their favorite serials.

Much as he enjoyed these features, though, Muchow's real love was the radios themselves — their intriguingly intricate innards. Today, the Elgin, Illinois, dentist owns more than 3,400 of the vintage radios that so fascinated him as a child. All of them are on display in his Historical Radio Museum, where treasures, such as the rare Atwater Kent model 5, are crammed into a converted office building.

Muchow's stellar acquisitions include the transmitter and receiver that Adm. Richard E. Byrd carried on his historic 1928 mission to Antarctica and an ornate console custom-crafted for actor Rudolph Valentino in 1926. He also has an affection for the so-called novelty radio, quite the rage during the 1930s. Many of these models feature images of movie stars and celebrities, from Hopalong Cassidy to the Dionne quintuplets.

Muchow claims that his collecting days are over, that he's no longer about to set off onto the back roads in search of treasures languishing in barns and attics. That may be — but his friends are quick to point out that station wagon parked out back.

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