AN UNRECOGNISED RADIO MANUFACTURER
After World War I, wireless telegraphy
had more than twenty years of existence. From the army to the stock exchange,
from sailors to watchmakers, a number of professionals did get something out of
this already reliable technology that simplified communications and abolished
distances. Condemned to Morse broadcasts of weather reports and time signals
from the Eiffel Tower, the general public felt no passion yet for those
mysterious dots and dashes, meaningful only to a few visionaries and enthusiasts.
It wouldn't come to mind to invest in such a complex and expensive equipment
producing just an unattractive humming. All this changed in 1921 with the advent
of the first phone broadcasts.
Dealers or enthusiasts, hobbyists
wanting to make their passion a trade, numerous were those who, with more or
less skill and success, (often less than more) ventured into this new market and
attempted to meet this new demand. Finally, the 1923 bulletin of Radio
electricity already listed some 800 "manufacturers" in France. Beside
the Ducretet, Vitus, Hurm, Péricaud, Radio -LL. .. recognised at that time, and
today revered by collectors, a lot of them, who had not the fortune or the
talent to occupy the market for a long period would be quickly forgotten by
history. The provincial, discrete, modest and ephemeral manufacturer Paul
Horguelin belongs to this latter category.
Through years of continuing research, J.C. Verdier's Museum contributes today to his recognition.
Wireless telegraphy was still in its infancy when Paul Horguelin was born in 1899 in a village near Châlons-sur-Marne (now became Châlons-en-Champagne). A son of a teacher, with a basically rural background, nothing predestines him to take part in the pioneers' adventure of the radio electric construction. A brilliant pupil, he passed the "certificat d'études". With his "baccalaureat" in his pocket, he started studies in agronomy at the Agricultural Institute of Beauvais. Nevertheless, since his teenage years, his passion was in other things.Curious of everything, he was not fifteen years old yet when he convinced the priest of the village to accept to hang an aerial between the steeple of the church and the roof of the school in order to pick up the Eiffel tower time signals with a home-brew crystal radio. As the war started, his knowledge of Morse allowed him to get into the transmissions service of the army and quench his thirst for knowledge.
Returning to civilian life in 1921, Paul Horguelin no longer thinks about agriculture. Following the example of many transmissions veterans, he considers the fantastic future of radio electric constructions and dreams only to take advantage of the rare competence that the war has allowed him to acquire. In 1920, the family parcel of land, at Nuisement sur Coole, contains a 20 meter metal tower (that the villagers will call "the Eiffel tower") with which he succeeds in long distance transmission experiments. At the same time, he builds his firsts tube receivers and his talent was acknowledged with a 1st award at the 1922 Paris radio exhibition.
Although desirous to live in the United States, he had to give up his project because of a rush of orders. At first alone, then with workers recruited on the spot, Paul Horguelin replies to the demand, making receivers for other companies and, very quickly, under his own trademark : Radio-Techna. The business flourishes and a first shop is opened in Châlons. In 1925 a second shop is opened in Agen (it will be held later by the cousin of the constructor), then a third in Reims in 1928, another one at Châlons in 1930 and a last one in Epernay in 1932. Thanks to a sales representative, Radio-Techna receivers are sold in the north-east and south-west by a real system of retailers.
This situation will not last. In 1928, the market of radio apparatus has changed. It is necessary to produce always more rapidly, and to reduce its margins to face the competition. Being a Craftsmen enterprise, the Chalonnaise company is condemned to develop or disappear. As an engineer more than a businessman, Paul Horguelin does not take the risk of the industrial adventure. In 1929, Radio-Techna has lived and sale shops are transformed to sell Philips radios. As Marguerite Horguelin, his wife, told us, it's only at this time that he began to really earn some money. Then he can henceforth dedicate to an other passion, very different: the beekeeping. At the head of a farm of 600 hives, Paul Horguelin will occupy until its death in 1967 the chair of President of the union of French Beekeeping (UNAF) and vice-president of the international federation of beekeepers (APIMONDIA).
A fully-fledged manufacturer
In the early twenties, almost anybody can call himself a "manufacturer" of radio receivers . A few screwdrivers, drills and pliers are sufficient tools to begin a commercial activity, a table corner, not too overloaded, is generally what it takes to make a workshop.
Provided with standard parts made by specialised manufacturers (Bardon, Brunet, Far, Wireless Thomas...), most of the small manufacturers had only to drill ebonite panels, to assemble components in a small polished wood cabinet , according to one of the hundred schematic diagrams found in the specialised press (La TSF Moderne, Radio Amateur, L'onde Electrique ...) and finally ( supreme instant ), to affix their manufacturer plate on the finished product. Miracle, that works! ... and nevertheless, few of these "specialists" are able to explain why.
As a perfectionist and lover of beautiful things, Paul Horguelin does not consider his radio-electric construction activity the same way as most of his contemporaries. Not unlike the greatest French manufacturers Ducretet, Vitus or Horace Hurm, he wants to create his own style, his distinguishable trademark . He wants to give his machines an aspect that which cannot be matched by the sets quickly-made of bits and pieces by unscrupulous merchants trying to meet an increasingly growing demand from credulous and inexperimented customers. Although he had few resources, he wanted to become a real radio manufacturer.
As a tangible result of his ambition of excellence, the first receivers built in 1922 in the workshops of Châlons-sur-Marne are at the best level. Clearly inspired by contemporary English productions, Paul Horguelin wants his machines to be made with only first quality components that French parts manufacturers are not generally able to provide.
Thus, the set of mechanical parts is specially manufactured. From levers to capacitors, from coils to knobs or to heating rheostats, everything that makes the Radio-Techna receiver results from the inspiration of the master. Over dimensioned, mechanical pieces in varnished brass that cover front panels remind of contemporary Marconi equipment. Finely engraved thanks to a specially machine imported from England, ebonite front panels give the user all useful information to make the machine work. Objects of a special license, knobs with flat sides and with central stop bring a touch of originality beside the traditional knobs with border or with pointer used by the great majority of constructors. They are unit manufactured and mechanically engraved at "L'école des Arts et Métiers" of Châlons, main supplier of the company. Supreme audacity in 1922, while almost competitive apparatus appear with apparent vacuum tubes, receivers constructed under the name of Radio-Techna had the tubes inside, it means apparatus with electronic tubes hidden from the user's sight.
Some examples of the Products
Built in small series or unit made, Paul Horguelin receivers have not been much advertised in the specialised press of the twenties. Furthermore, only 3 catalogue has been published by the manufacturer from 1925 to 1928. thus, it is essentially by chance that one can realise the evolution of the production of the workshops of Châlons-sur-Marne between 1922 and 1928 :
The mono tube model receiver - 1924 : It is one of the firsts receivers manufactured by Paul Horguelin under the trademark Radio-Techna, the machine has an original shape that stands apart from all contemporary productions. Small dimensions (L 27, H 20, D 12), it is equipped with a variable capacitor, a variometer, a heating rheostat and an internal coil with plugs. Tuning is operated by moving the knob with pin control from the coil and a MW/LW switch. Designed for headphones listening, this receiver can eventually be linked to a two-tube amplifier to enable use of a loudspeaker. With the same dimensions, the amplifier is supplied with a heating rheostat and a 3 positions reverser to select the number of tubes to be used.
Special receivers : apart from his specific line, Paul Horguelin sometimes makes devices for other professionals such as the Company SAFIR, manufacturer of headphones in Paris or E. Delidon, electrician at Marmande or Radio Toulouse. Without the trademark Radio-Techna, these receivers are entirely manufactured in workshops of Châlons-sur-Marne and are supplied with the same components (in case of doubt, open the device, Paul Horguelin always signs his work).
Late receivers : from 1927 Paul Horguelin's Radio-Techna radios became more ordinary. While radio electricity becomes an industry, the Chalons constructor, in order to survive, is condemned to produce more and more rapidly to meet increasing demand. Evidently, the sacred spirit has gone. Little by little, the specific components leave place to commercial spare parts, the quality of assembly declines. Only High End receivers, such as the " Super-Techna-Luxe " proposed at the price of 2000FF in the 1928 catalogue, partly stand out of the lot. Equipped with a luxury heavily inlaid woodwork. This receiver is equipped with special knobs "with automatic tuning" for an extra 250 F. It is a setting six vacuum tube superhétérodyne circuit.
Many thanks to Madam Marguerite Horguelin, her daughter Madam Hassoux-Horguelin and her son Marc Horguelin for the pictures and their symphatic contribution to the realisation of this page.
Many thanks to Mr Jean-Luc Fradet, from Déols, for his contribution to the english translation of this page
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