The Presto History Page
THE PRESTO HISTORY PAGE
PRESTO Recording Corporation was a power-house company in the broadcast and recording industry, and most radio stations and networks that made use of disc recorders for delayed broadcast, or air checks, etc., were users of PRESTO EQUIPMENT. All of the major broadcast network headquarters, as well as many recording studios used PRESTO recorders.
This page will include a brief history, as much as we have to date, as we are still accumulating information. And we will compare the development of the basic PRESTO models over the years. The following pages have lots of pictures, so be patient during downloading.
The very early years are a little sketchy but the Presto Products Company was founded in 1915. They produced the Sonora phonograph and other equipment, and a 3 pound head for embossing on aluminum blanks, state of the art at that time, in 1931. They were out of business in 1932, and emerged later as the Duall Company in 1932, and became Presto Recording Corp. in 1933. The first advertisement for a Presto disc was Oct 15, 1934. (1)
In 1932 Gernsback Publications published a book “Home Recording And All About It”, written by George Saliba. In the book are several references to recording “kits”, as produced by the Presto Products Company, and sold to the home recordist and apparently introduced as early as 1930. 2 units are pictured below.
It is difficult to see, but the word “Presto” appears on the pickup head in the right most picture.
PRESTO RECORDING CORPORATION was organized in 1933 and incorporated in New York State in March of 1934 by Morris Gruber, George Saliba, Aaron Benjamin, and Mr. Sholes (Mr. Benjamin’s son-in-law). Morris Gruber was 20 years senior to George Saliba. Mr. Sholes died shortly after, and Mr. Benjamin died in 1960 at the age of 91. Mr Benjamin was an attorney. Gruber and Saliba worked togetheron the technical design side. Mr Saliba was president of the company, and handled administrative as well as technical and sales. Morris Gruber died in1961, at age of 78. George Saliba was in his late twenties, graduating from M.I.T. in 1927 with a degree in electrical engineering. He passed away July 7, 1971 at the age of 66.
According to information from Morris Gruber’s obituary, he had a storied past in radio electronics. Mr. Gruber developed a sound-on-film system for Dr. Lee De Forest’s General Talking Picture Corporation. He also produced Rayfoto, facsimile equipment in 1926 that was used experimentally for the radio transmission of pictures of scientific expeditions to Greenland. During World War II he served as a consultant to the Times Facsimile Corporation. He came to the US in 1907 from Austria, where he had graduated from the University of Vienna.
After more than 3 years of research and development, PRESTO was founded on the development of the cellulose recording disc and associated disc recording equipment.
PRESTO’s most important contribution to the world of Broadcasting and Recording was the lacquer coated instantaneous recording disc. PRESTO was one of three companies to have developed versions of this disc – the others were in France and England – and the PRESTO version was introduced to the US in the fall of 1934, after several years of experimentation. (1)
The disc consisted of an aluminum plate coated with a cellulose nitrate based lacquer (not “acetate”), and offered dramatic improvement over embossing uncoated aluminum and pre-grooved plastic discs formerly used for instantaneous recording. While those systems had been patented, cutting a groove in a soft material was now in the Public Domain. It was a common industrial practice to coat aluminum with various substances. Thus the US Patent Office deemed that making and cutting lacquer blanks was nothing new, and thus unpatenable. This resulted in several companies making similar blanks soon after PRESTO introduced their disc. (3)
The “PRESTO DISC” quickly became the industry standard, and by 1936 PRESTO recording equipment was being installed in stations nationwide. The PRESTO system was the foundation of NBC’s Radio Recording Division, which began operation in the spring of 1935, and was also adopted by CBS when that network began its recording service in 1938. (1)
While there have been refinements over the decades, the basic coated lacquer disc remained the industry standard for instantaneous recording, and is used to this day in the preparation of master discs for analog phono records. The development of the coated disc is a vital accomplishment in the technology of recorded sound, and PRESTO got the credit. (1)
One of the earliest documented use of PRESTO recorders for delayed broadcast was of the Hindenburg disaster in May of 1937. Reporter Herb Morrision and engineer Charlie Nehlsen had been invited to record interviews of passengers embarking from the voyage. History tells of a different story. (1)
Some material provided me, indicates PRESTO made some special equipment, at about 1936, and probably for government and law enforcement agencies for recording telephone and other types of communication. The devices contained dual turntables and a mixer/amp with relays that would start the next turntable as the current one finished, for continuos recording. The operator had only to change blanks and reset the recording head. The equipment consisted of the J5 turntables adapted to run at 78, 33 1/3, and 12 ½ RPM, using 12″ blanks. It was designated the EU-7R. It also incorporated automatic volume control circuits to maintain sending and receiving conversations at a near similar level. A similar unit was produced in 1940 and was designated the 3-D recorder. It operated at 78, 33 1/3, and 16 rpm.
PRESTO enjoyed a large success and was touted to be the world’s largest manufacturers of Instantaneous sound recording equipment and discs. Presto was a privately held company, and in the early 50’s ran into competition and labor problems. The partners, especially the older ones, were reluctant to take the risk of entering new areas. PRESTO was sold July 2, 1956 to Unitronics Corporation of Long Island City,NY.Six months earlier Unitronics had purchased the David Bogen Co.PRESTO was merged with the David Bogen Co., and became the Bogen-Presto division. Unitronics was the successor to Olympic Radio and Television,which also became a division of Unitronics. In September 1957 Unitronics merged with the Siegler Corp., then Siegler merged with Lear, Inc., becoming Lear-Siegler in 1962. During this time Bogen-Presto was listed as a subsidiary. In 1963 the Presto name was dropped, and Bogen shown as a subsidiary. The Moody’s Industrial listed Bogen as still having disc and tape recorders along with their other hi-fi home and industrial electronics. The 1965 listing for Bogen drops the recording equipment in their product mix. Thus the “end” of PRESTO!
To quote from the sale announcement: ( in the July 1956 issue of the “Presto Recorder”, a monthly newsletter published by PRESTO) “David Bogen Co. will transfer its offices and part of its manufacturing activities to Presto’s new 80,000 square foot plant in Paramus. It is intended that Presto and Bogen work closely together since so many of their products are complementary. However, Presto and Bogen will retain separate identities,and each will adapt its sales policies to the fields it services. George J Saliba will continue to direct the operations of the Presto Recording Division as Vice President and General Manager”. The blank disk division was sold to Reeves/Soundcraft in the late 50’s or early 60’s.
Perhaps a drawback to their continued success was in the basic design of their recorders. Such was the overhead mechanism of their larger machines, it did not allow for the larger stereo heads to be mounted. Although PRESTO (Bogen-Presto) did offer a stereo head licensed by Westrex that would mount on the 8D, 8DG, and 8GV lathes, it was late in their life. Scully and others developed a superior lathe, more adaptable to the automatic functions necessary for finer stereo mastering.
Presto was first located at 139 W 19th Street in New York City, where it had its offices up through the end of the War. Presto started on 19th street, and later also occupied 3 stories on 55th street off Broadway. In 1940 it moved part of its operation to Paramus, NJ, and in 1948 built a new building behind the older one at Rt 4 and Forrest Avenue. The Presto factory became a large furniture warehouse, and a newer building behind held the Bogen enterprise. Both buildings are now gone, and the site is occupied by the Bergen Mall
The smaller building to the left was occupied in 1940, and was the disc plant. .
The larger building was completed in 1948 and contained the rest of the operation.
The Disc plant, front view.
During the world war II years, Presto was heavily involved with government and military production. Through George Saliba’s contacts with MIT, Presto was able to secure contracts for building such equipment as Location/Range finding equipment installed in NY harbor to detect submarines;test equipment for Radar installations/ Long Range Navigation for overseas lend/lease; as well as developing navigation simulation equipment for the Marines training for the Invasion of Japan (2). For these services, Presto was awarded the prestigious Army-Navy “E” award for it’s help in the war effort.
After the war, Presto, who had relied heavily on their disc recording equipment, needed to expand for the future. Some one involved with the Nuemberg Trials at wars end, friends with the Principles at Presto, sent 2 German tape recorders used at the trials to Presto. They were military models, brand unknown, but must have been Magnetophone recorders. They were very ruggedly built, and were of the three motor design (2). That action resulted in Presto entering the tape recorder field.
Since Bing Crosby Enterprises had invested money in Ampex,developing the tape recorder at about the same time, Presto was in a catch up mode, and never reached the success of Ampex in acceptance. Many broadcast stations who had their disc equipment, purchased their tape recorders. Presto stayed with the 3 motor design, and never entered the home consumer market.
Arthur Gruber, son of Morris, worked for a time for Presto designing the tape transport systems of their later models. Shortly after the company was sold, he and several other engineers were employed by Scully and re-designed the Scully tape recorders, which were very advanced in their field at that time. Arthur was chief engineer and vice president of Scully Recording Corp from 1961 to 1968. Arthur died November 27,2001.
Presto also was help to CBS Labs in the development of the Long Play 33 1/3 microgroove record (2).
An interesting sidebar in the “Presto Recorder” of Oct, 1950: “Used aluminum base discs are worth money to you. Presto will pay 15 cents each for 16″ and 10 cents each for 12″ discs. Broadcast stations and recording studios should send their used discs in any amount of 100 pounds or over via Railway or Motor Freight collect.” Then, in another side bar in the May 1951 issue this appeared: “It’s no secret that aluminum is scarce, except for essential defense requirements, And, as you know, aluminum is the most widely used base in the manufacture of recording discs. No other metal has proven satisfactory for this purpose. The nearest substitute for aluminum is glass. With the exception of its fragility, glass possesses all the mechanical qualities of aluminum and will produce an extremely satisfactory disc. This all leads up to the already obvious fact that Presto will henceforth deliver glass discs only, until such time as restrictions on aluminum are lifted. Prices will remain the same, as will the type numbers used to designate the discs, except the word “glass” will be added. The glass disc will have a steel insert at the center. A paper label applied to each side will bind this insert to the disc and provide maximum strength at this vital point………” This tends to explain, in addition to scrap drives during world war II, where all the old transcriptions went.
As can be seen by the progress of the development of PRESTO equipment by pictures and pages from catalogs, the basic design did not change that much over the years. In the following pages I show similar models and approximate dates. Note the similarity, especially in the construction of the overhead mechanism from the early “stationary recorder”, through the dual turntable models A and B, the 28N and the 8N lathes. Also, the 6D, and 6N also have great similarity. The PRESTO “JR”, shown in 1937, progressed to the K10 of the 60’s, and the basic appearance is the same. The amplifier of the model remained virtually the same, with a pair of 45 tubes as the output drivers.
PRESTO also manufactured several superior recording amplifiers, along with playback turntables, mixers and other broadcast equipment. The 90A amplifier/mixer, introduced in 1947 , was perhaps the first commercially manufactured recording mixer.