New Technologies, New Products
Despite the tough economic times of the Depression, technology continued its relentless march, and Graybar marched with it, distributing a variety of new products.
When police department radios made their debut in 1929, Graybar immediately entered the market and became a leading supplier. By 1935 it had sold Western Electric transmitters and receivers to police departments in more than 40 cities. Radios transformed law enforcement by replacing the cop on the beat with the officer in a radio-equipped patrol car.
Graybar also developed an important business distributing Western Electric hearing aids. Western invented one of the first wearable hearing aids in the early 1930s, a godsend for people with hearing problems. Previous hearing aids were carried in large boxes that were placed on table tops. The new wearable devices were made possible by the miniaturization of vacuum tubes. A wire connected the earpiece to the microphone and batteries, which were strapped to the body or carried in a shirt pocket. One Graybar ad asked, “Can a hearing aid make people happy?” It answered with a picture of a young girl sitting on her grandmother’s lap and saying, “You’re not a crosspatch any more!”
In the late 1930s General Electric installed fluorescent lighting in Graybar’s Chicago district office to test the product before offering it commercially. Fluorescent-lamp technology had been known for decades, but GE was the first company to develop a practical fluorescent bulb. The test was successful, and Graybar became a major distributor of GE fluorescent lamps.