Perham Collection Creator Profile: Ampex

View items related to Poniatoff and Ampex in the Perham Collection of Early Electronics

In 1944, at the suggestion of his Dalmo-Victor employer, a Russian immigrant and former aviator named Alexander M. Poniatoff (1892-1980) started a manufacturing company in the loft of their San Carlos building. This spin-off, named Ampex, developed specialized light-weight magnet motors and generators for the U.S. military’s airborne radar equipment.

Promotional image of Ampex products to be marketed in fiscal year 1965 (Ekkehart Willms Collection, History San Jose )

Ampex grew quickly in 1944-45, moving to its own building. A year later its wartime contracts had ended and it had no post-war commercial product to sell. Poniatoff turned from motors to high fidelity sound equipment. Teaming up with Jack Mullin, then working on improvements to the German magnetophone, and encouraged by Bing Crosby, one of America’s most popular entertainers, Poniatoff dove into the production of easy-to-thread magnetic tape recorders.

By the end of the 1940’s, Ampex was a leader in the field of magnetic recording for entertainment and as a means to store information quickly and more compactly than any other medium then available. In 1955, it developed the first stereo home music system, and soon after released a portable videotape recorder that revolutionized the television industry.

Further reading: Transcript of “The Ampex Story” talk by Harold Lindsay, 1974

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