The Sparks-Withington Company of Jackson, Michigan, was founded in 1900 by the Withington brothers, Philip and
Winthrop. Within a matter of months they were joined by Captain William Sparks, who would go on to be a key figure in the
company's development. The new company grew quickly and within the space of a few years it became known as the
Sparks-Withington Company, producing products under the Sparton tradename. At first they manufactured small metal
parts for agricultural hand implements, but they quickly diversified into the making of parts for the burgeoning automobile
industry. One of their early products was the first all-electric horn for automobiles in 1911. Beginning in the mid twenties,
they commenced the production of domestic radio receivers, starting out with battery sets, followed by the first "all-electric"
receiver in 1926. They soon progressed onto large and impressive console models, many featuring highly ornate cabinetry.
One of their catch phrases was "Radios Richest Voice", another was "The Pathfinder of the Air".
They are of course most famous for their series of highly acclaimed mirror and chrome radios produced in the mid to late
1930s, at the height of the Art-Deco period, following their association with the noted industrial designer Walter Dorwin
Teague. These magnificent creations became the status symbols of the day and shot the Sparton name to fame. In 1935
they introduced the Nocturne and Bluebird models, followed by the 557 sled in 1936, the deluxe 558 sled in 1937 and, the
last of their mirror radios, the seven-sided 409GL in 1938.
Through the thirties the company manufactured not only radio sets and automobile parts but also, commencing in 1932,
refrigerators. However, this was not a profitable operation for them and by the end of the decade they had given up on this
business. During this period they employed in excess of 6000 people in their six plants, five of which were in Jackson,
Michigan and one in Canada.
In 1950, John J. Smith, a disgruntled stockholder, dissatisfied by the meagre returns on his investments, orchestrated a
management overthrow. He teamed with the biggest stockholder, Theodore Schofield, a Sparton engineer of 41 years who
had just been fired, and together they decided it was time for a change. As a result, at the October stockholders meeting,
Harry Sparks, son of the co-founder, was voted out as president, and Smith, the leader of the revolt, was in. He at once cut
costs, expanded advertising and retained in-house business that had previously been subcontracted out. Business did
improve for a while and the new board was soon able to declare a 20c dividend.
Through 1956 the company continued trading as Sparks-Withington, producing radios and, by that time, television sets
under the Sparton trade name. However, beyond that date, given the late ousting of the original controlling families,
Sparton was officially adopted as the company name. Unlike many of the pioneering domestic radio manufacturers, the
Sparton company is still in business today in the field of high-tech, though no longer as a manufacturer of home radios.
Until its closure in 2009, their headquarters remained at the same address, 2400 East Ganson St, Jackson, Michigan as
one of their earliest plants. Unfortunately, on March 26th 2011 the by then vacant Ganson Street plant burned to the
ground, a sad end for the once proud building. More information on the history of the corporation can be found at
|SPARTON "Sparks-Withington" RADIOS GALLERY
|BRIEF SPARKS-WITHINGTON COMPANY HISTORY
|The thumbnail to the left links to a copy of a document produced to commemorate Sparks-Withington's
40th anniversary in 1940. The file is large, but it contains much interesting information regarding the
roots of the company. Unfortunately, it does not say a lot about the company's radio business, focusing
instead on their role in the automotive parts trade. The content is nevertheless fascinating and highly
informative. In particular, the photos of the Withington brothers are the only ones I've come across.
I located this document in 2009 in the University of Michigan Library and was able to access it and
legitimately obtain a copy. The document was fragile and did not lend itself to flatbed scanning, but I
was able to photograph it with reasonable success.