Sony's Pocket Radio: Grand Theft Gives Birth to a Top Japanese Brand

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Sony was to become one of the world’s biggest corporations, and was one of the very first to emerge from postwar Japan, devastated by two atomic bombs and the relentless firebombing that came just before. The first product that put Sony on the map was the pocket transistor radio–so small and lightweight that it fit in a shirt pocket. It was the first truly portable radio that you could take anywhere: to the beach, the park, to the office.

search-2A curious incident launched the brand in the United States. A New York Times article on Friday, January 17, 1958, reported that 4,000 tiny radios were stolen from a Queens warehouse. They were Sony pocket transistor radios, in lemon, red, black, and green. It was a professional heist, with four locks broken into a freight elevator, a large truck backed into the loading dock, and $400,000 worth of imported merchandise spirited away. Many surmised that, because nothing else was stolen from the warehouse, that these small radios must be special. The word definitely got out. Plus, these small radios were fun, light, colorful, and new to the U.S. market. According to Simon Winchester’s account in his wonderful new book Pacific, it got coverage on all the New York radio stations, and was said by detectives to be the biggest heist of electronics instruments in American history. And so it was grand-theft pocket radios that launched Sony in the U.S. And millions of these small, colorful radios into American pockets.
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