Emerson Radio FC-400 "Patriot" and "Aristocrat"

Design: Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958)

Manufacturer: Emerson Radio & Phonograph Corp. New York, 1940/41

Dimensions: 27,5 x 20,5 x 16 cm (w x h x d)

Material (case): Catalin

Inv. No. K 1296 w

The Emerson FC-400 radio is one of the iconic products by the ingenious American designer Norman Bel Geddes. He developed the FC-400 in two designs: ‘Patriot’ and ‘Aristocrat’. Patriot is characterised by its truly patriotic design: the speakers form the case’s ‘stripes’ and the controls feature ‘stars’. The case was available in white, red or blue; each with the respective two other colours used in the detailing, so that, besides the ‘stars and stripes’, each radio would also reference the American flag by its use of colour.

Those who did not want to display American patriotism to such a degree could opt for the more subtle ‘Aristocrat’, which featured different case colours and spherical controls. To emphasise the design’s noble expression, users could choose between brown, caramel and green shades and even a marble finish!

The secret of the colours used in the Patriot and Aristocrat models is to be found in the material: Catalin was a US development based on Bakelite, the first entirely synthetic material. In 1927, the American Catalin Corporation had taken over the (expired) patent for Bakelite and continued to develop the synthetic resin. They were thus able to produce 15 more colours in addition to the original brown, black and dark green shades and were also able to offer a marble finish.

Unfortunately, early synthetics were not light-fast, which has resulted in colour changes: for example, the shades of the originally white Patriot now range from yellow to orange. If you are wondering why the controls and speaker slits of the red case are still bright white, this is because different synthetic composites with better light resistance were used for fittings and detailing.

Works of Art