Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Allen Balcom DuMont Collection

Collection ID:
Du Mont, Allen B. (Allen Balcom), 1901-1965
Physical Description:
46 Cubic feet
150 boxes

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
While the collection is focused rather specifically on the development of television in America, including technical details, legal proceedings, marketing and advertisement, and manufacturing, it is also a rich source for the history of American advertising, work cultures, sales, and entertainment. There is also information about radio, mostly in periodicals collected by Du Mont. Information about Allen Du Mont is largely limited to his professional development and activities, except for a few travel photographs and information about and logbooks from his boat.
Materials date from 1884 to 1965, but the bulk come from the years 1931 1960; mostly scattered periodicals comprise the earlier years.
The collection includes correspondence, photographs, blueprints, films, videotapes, pamphlets, books, periodicals, newspaper and magazine clippings, annual reports, organization charts, stock records, ticker tape, legal documents, patent documents, bills, accountants' reports, meeting minutes, scrapbooks, technical drawings, advertisements, catalogs, and technical manuals. Processing included revising the previous series order, refoldering and reboxing all items, and completely revising the finding aid. Duplicates were weeded out; two copies were retained of any multiple item. Materials in binders were unbound. An example of each binder with the DuMont logo was retained, and the materials once contained therein refer to the appropriate binder in the container list. Plain office binders were discarded.

The collection is divided into 16 series.
Series 1: Personal Files, 1920s-1965
Series 2: Executive Records, 1938-1964
Series 3: Stock Records, 1937-1962
Series 4: DuMont Laboratories, Inc., Patents and Legal Proceedings, 1884-1960
Series 5: DuMont Laboratories, Inc., Financial Records, 1931-1964
Series 6: DuMont Laboratories, Inc., Operations, 1938-1958
Series 7: Radio Technical Planning Board, 1944-1946
Series 8: Federal Communications Commission, 1940-1959 and undated
Series 9: DuMont Laboratories, Marketing and Sales, 1939-1961 and undated
Series 10: Telecommunications for Venezuela, 1952-1957 and undated
Series 11: Du Mont Network, 1944-1952 and undated
Series 12: Du Mont Publications, 1933-1963 and undated
Series 13: Photographs, 1928-1960 and undated
Series 14: Clippings/Scrapbooks, 1933-1962
Series 15: Non-Du Mont Publications, 1892, 1907-1963 and undated
Series 16: Audiovisual Materials, 1948-1955
Series 17: Addenda, 1933-1959

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Allen Balcom Du Mont was born Jan. 29, 1901, in Brooklyn, NY to S. William Henry Beaman and Lillian Felton Balcom Du Mont. He contracted poliomyelitis when he was eleven and was confined to bed for nearly a year. During his illness, he began to amuse himself with a crystal radio set; by year's end, he had built a receiving and transmitting set. He was licensed as a ship's wireless operator when he was fifteen, and took a job a year later as a radio operator on a passenger vessel that ran between New York and Providence, RI. He worked as a radio operator for the next seven years.
Du Mont graduated in 1924 from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, with a degree in electrical engineering. He had already begun his first invention for the Sound Operated Circuit Controller, a device that turns a switch on or off when it hears a sharp sound; he used it to turn off his radio during commercials with a hand clap. Du Mont began working for the Westinghouse Lamp Company (later a division of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation), raising their output of radio tubes from 500 a day to 5,000 an hour in four years. For this, he received the Westinghouse Achievement Award in 1927. He left Westinghouse to become chief engineer at the De Forest Radio Company in 1928; his inventions increased output there to 30,000 radio tubes a day, and he was promoted to vice president in charge of production. In 1929, he received his first patent, for a radio tube mounting device.
He also worked with television at De Forest, using mechanical receivers with a spinning "Nipkow disk" that scanned electrical impulses and gave the effect of a motion picture. The De Forest experimental transmitter, W2XCD, in Passaic, NJ, broadcast television programs in 1930. Du Mont quickly concluded that there was no future in scanning discs; they produced a small, dark picture, and were difficult to build correctly. Others had developed television pictures that were produced by an electronic beam scanning rapidly across a florescent screen at the end of a tube. However, those cathode ray tubes were still imported from Germany, were very expensive, and burned out after only twenty five to thirty hours.
Du Mont left his job at De Forest in 1931 and started a cathode ray manufacturing business in a garage laboratory at his home. He developed a tube that lasted a thousand hours and could be manufactured inexpensively. There was almost no market for his tubes; gross sales income the first year was only $70. However, the tubes were an integral part of the cathode ray oscillograph, an instrument widely used in physics laboratories that measures and records changes in electrical current over time. The business, incorporated in 1935 as DuMont Laboratories, Inc., prospered in the oscillograph market. DuMont Labs moved in 1933 into a series of empty stores, then to a plant in Passaic, NJ, in 1937. Du Mont also acted as consultant to manufacturers with cathode ray tube problems and served as an expert witness in patent litigations.
Du Mont used the money he made from oscillographs to develop television. His innovations in making precise, quickly manufactured, inexpensive, long lasting cathode ray tubes made commercial television possible. In 1938, Du Mont sold a half interest in his company to the Paramount Pictures Corporation to raise capital for broadcasting stations. In 1939, the company became the first to market a television receiver for homes, and was part of a major display at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Television development and sales were cut off by World War II, since DuMont Laboratories converted entirely to wartime production of oscillographs and to radar research. DuMont Laboratories returned to television production in 1946 and was the first company to market a postwar television set. By 1951 the company grossed $75 million a year and had four plants manufacturing television sending and receiving equipment in Passaic, Allwood, East Paterson, and Clifton, NJ. Du Mont had become the television industry's first millionaire. He was chosen in a Forbes magazine poll as one of the twelve foremost business leaders of America that same year, and was once characterized as "one of the very few inventors in the annals of American industry who have made more money from their inventions than anyone else has" (Rice, 36).
Du Mont began an experimental television station, W2XTV, in Passaic, NJ, in 1939. He added WABD (later WNEW TV) in New York City, WTTG in Washington, D.C., and WDTV (later KDKA) in Pittsburgh, PA. He concentrated on technology and business, leaving entertainment to others in the company. However, the DuMont Network "featured such names as Ernie Kovacs, Morey Amsterdam, Ted Mack, Ernest Borgnine, Jan Murray, and Dennis James. Its long running variety hour, Cavalcade of Stars, showcased not only Jackie Gleason but The Honeymooners, which made its debut as a Cavalcade sketch" (Krampner, 98). The 1950s superhero Captain Video became famous on the DuMont network, and Bishop Fulton Sheen's inspirational show, "Life is Worth Livinq," won surprisingly high ratings (Watson, 17). Ultimately, America's fourth network failed: in 1955, DuMont Broadcasting separated from Du Mont Laboratories, Inc., becoming the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company and, with the addition of other properties, Metromedia, Inc.
Du Mont testified frequently before the Federal Communications Commission to set technical standards for American television broadcast between 1945 and 1952. In 1946, Du Mont's company was one of several to oppose the Columbia Broadcasting System's petition to the FCC to establish color television standards; Du Mont preferred to wait for further research to develop all electronic color television, rather than the mechanical method CBS favored. He felt that method produced a picture far less than optimal, and would have required persons who did not own color sets to purchase adapters to receive broadcasts being produced in color. Standards were developed by the National Television Standards Committee in 1951 1953; the Federal Communications Commission accepted them in 1953, and regular transmission of color programs began on the major networks, including the DuMont Network, in 1954.
Sales of television receivers from DuMont Laboratories, Inc. peaked in 1954; by the late 1950s, the company was losing money. The Emerson Radio and Phonograph Company purchased the division that produced television sets, phonographs, and high fidelity and stereo equipment in 1958. In 1960 remaining Du Mont interests merged with the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation. Du Mont was president of DuMont Laboratories, Inc., until 1956, when he became chairman of the Board of Directors. His title changed to Chairman and General Manager in 1959. In 1961 he became Senior Technical Advisor, Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories, Division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation.
Du Mont received many awards for his work, including honorary doctorates from Rennselaer (1944), Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (1949), Fairleigh Dickinson College (1955), and New York University (1955). He received the Marconi Memorial Medal for Achievement in 1945, and an American Television society award in 1943 for his contributions to the field. In 1949, he received the Horatio Alger Award, "a yearly prize bestowed by the American Schools and Colleges Association on the man whose rise to fortune most nearly parallels the virtuous careers of Ben the Luggage Boy and Tattered Tom" (Rice, 35). He held more than thirty patents for developments in cathode ray tubes and other television devices. His inventions included the "magic eye tube" once commonly seen on radios and the Duovision, a television that could receive two programs simultaneously. Du Mont was also noted for success in predicted log power boat racing; in his television equipped Hurricane III, he became the national champion of the power cruiser division of the American Power Boat Association in 1953 1955 and 1958. Du Mont died November 15, 1965; his obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times. He was survived by Ethel Martha Steadman, whom he married in 1926, and their two children, Allen Balcom, Jr., and Yvonne.
Current Biography 1946, pp. 162 164. Krampner, Jon. "The Death of the DuMont [sic] Network: A Real TV Whodunit." Emmy Magazine (July August 1990): 96 103.
Obituary, New York Times, 16 November 1965, 1:3.
Rice, Robert. "The Prudent Pioneer." The New Yorker, 27 Jan. 1951.
Watson, Mary Ann. "And they Said 'Uncle Fultie Didn't Have a Prayer . . . "11 Television Quarterly 26, no. 3(1993): 16 21.
Who's Who in America, 1962.

Jodi L. Bunnell
Custodial History
Collection transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Electricity (now known as the Division of Work and Industry) on April 14, 1983.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Immediate source of acquisition unknown.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Jodi L. Bunnell, 1995.
The finding aid follows the practice established by David Weinstein in his book The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004 and Library of Congress Name Authorities. Allen B. Du Mont, the man, retains the space between Du and Mont. Allen B. DuMont Laboratories has no space and the Du Mont Television Network does.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives. Special arrangements required to view materials in cold storage. Using cold room materials requires a three hour waiting period. Only reference copies of audiovisual materials may be used. Contact the Archives Center for more information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Allen Balcom Du Mont Collection, 1929-1965, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Related Materials
Materials in the Archives Center
Edward J. Orth Memorial Archives of the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940
Warshaw Collection, Worlds Expositions, New York World's Fair, 1939 (AC0060)
Larry Zim World's Fair Collection (AC0519)
George H. Clark "Radioana" Collection, ca. 1880-1950 (AC0055)
Division of Work and Industry
Related artifacts consist of cathode ray tubes, oscillographs, television receivers (including a Duoscope), and other instruments. See accession #:EM*315206, EM*315208, EM*315209, EM*327728, EM*327735, EM*327742, EM*327743, EM*327745, EM*327749, EM*327751, EM*327756, EM*327758, EM*327759, EM*327760, EM*327763, EM*327770, EM*328155, EM*328178, EM*328182, EM*328193, EM*328198, EM*328200, EM*328209, EM*328212, EM*328224, EM*328231, EM*328247, EM*328253, EM*328258, EM*328264, EM*328269, EM*328271, EM*328277, EM*328280, EM*328282, EM*328283, EM*328286, EM*328299, EM*328305, EM*328306, EM*328315, EM*328316, EM*328322, EM*328325, EM*328327, EM*328336, EM*328337, EM*328343, EM*328348, EM*328352, EM*328353, EM*328366, EM*328368, ZZ*RSN80323A74, ZZ*RSN80552U05, ZZ*RSN80748U09, ZZ*RSN80748U11, ZZ*RSN80844U09, and ZZ*RSN81576U01.
Library of Congress
Records of the Allen B. DuMont Laboratories, Inc. 1930 1960 (bulk 1945 1960). 56 lin. ft. Consists of nine series: Administrative Files, 1935 1960; General Correspondence, ca. 1930 1960; Interoffice Correspondence, ca. 1935 1960; Financial Records, 1932 1960; Sales and Advertising File, 1936 1960; Production and Engineering File, 1932 1960; Television File, ca. 1935 1960; Hearings File, 1935 1957; and General Miscellany, ca. 1937 1960. National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections number 68 2021; National Inventory of Documentary Sources number 2.1.243.
Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
John H. Zieger Papers, 1942 1980. 1 box (type not specified). Correspondence, clippings, leaflets, and memoranda, related to Zieger's union activities with Western Electric Employees Association and Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories. National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections number 91 2872.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Clippings -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Electricity Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Newsletters Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Television broadcasting Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Televisions -- advertising Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Notebooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures (visual works) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Television Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Electricity and Modern Physics Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Du Mont Laboratories, Inc. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012