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Anton and Gerard Philips

Hanso Henricus Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda


Philips started its activities on May 15th, 1891 when Frederik and his son Gerard Philips founded a factory for light bulbs in the city of Eindhoven. In 1895 Gerard's brother Anton joined the factory management.

Philips began by making carbon-filament lamps and, by the turn of the century, was one of the largest producers in Europe. As developments in new lighting technologies fuelled a steady program of expansion, in 1914 it established a research laboratory to study physical and chemical phenomena and stimulate product innovation.

Since the beginning, Philips has placed R&D and innovation at the core of its activities, generating many breakthrough inventions a few decades later, such as the Compact Cassette and the CD.

In 1918, Philips introduced a medical X-ray tube. This marked the beginning of the diversification of the company’s product range and the moment when it began to protect its innovations with patents in areas stretching from X-ray radiation to radio reception.

During the same period, ir. Hanso Henricus à Steringa Idzerda, a Dutch engineer, radio pioneer  and owner of a small radio factory "Nederlandsche Radio-Industrie" (Dutch Radio Industry, NRI) persuaded Philips to start making radio tubes, resulting in the production of the first radio tubes and first Dutch radio broadcast on November 6th, 1919.

Holland was one of the very first countries in Europe where regular radio broadcasts started. The first regular broadcasts of speech and music in Europe came from the Belgian Royal Palace in Laken, in 1914. Unfortunately these experiments stopped with the outbreak of the First World War, when Belgium was invaded by the German Army.

On November 5th, 1919, an advertisement appeared in the newspaper  "Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant", (left) announcing a "Radio Soirée-Musicale" to be broadcast by radio the next day at 20.00 hours.

The transmissions came from a house in Beukstraat 8-10 in The Hague, where NRI, the radio factory, was established.

The first song to be broadcast was "Turf in je ransel", a Dutch military parade march.


Humble beginnings: a model of the first factory in 1891

Expansion: the Philips factory around 1920

The first radio-transmission of speech and music was broadcast under supervision of ir. Steringa Idzerda, using Philips-Ideezet-Generator radio tubes.


The pictures above show the transmitter (the call sign was PCGG) in a later reconstruction, using original parts, and the large cardboard funnel in front of the studio microphone. 

In those days there was no microphone amplification. Speakers, singers or a small orchestra had to sit or stand close to the microphone.
In the first transmissions a wind-up gramophone was used. The opening tune was played by a small music box, owned by ir Idzerda. It was recently rediscovered and can be heard here:






A Philips C1 radio tube, one of the first Philips radio products, made around 1920

The  regular transmissions from The Hague were very popular in Holland, and they were even picked up in England (The BBC started regular transmissions much later, in November 1922) where listeners financially supported ir Idzerda, when he needed money to continue broadcasting his programmes.

Philips became a major producer of radio tubes in Holland. The "Idzerda" tube was followed by a number of others,  like the D1 and later triodes, like the E, A406, A409 and the A415.

    Philips D1 (1921)

   Philips E (1923)

     Philips A406 (1925)


The first radio broadcasts sparked a lot of interest with Dutch radio amateurs and many small radio companies emerged. More than 500 bigger and smaller companies were producing radios in 1926, when radio became a booming business.

Production of Philips radio receivers started relatively late; Philips Radio was founded in 1925, but in the years before 1927, when the first model was introduced, much planning and research was carried out, in particular the acquisition of patents. Philips wanted to make sure every part could be made in their own factories. Market research proved to be a very important instrument to break open new markets. By making full use of the research laboratory, patenting new useful inventions and decentralising production, Philips became the biggest producer of radios in the world.

Because Philips had acquired most of the important radio patents, smaller radio companies had to pay expensive Philips licences and most of them disappeared soon after 1929. In 1930, only a small number of radio factories remained active, most of them associated with Philips in one way or another.

Examples of Philips advertising from the twenties and thirties

This page was last edited on 03.10.2020