Turner Company's Story Unusual
The Cedar Rapids Gazette -- February 18, 1951 By Ed Murphy, Gazette Staff Writer
LAST YEAR (1950) the Turner Company in Cedar Rapids manufactured 80,000 microphones and 1,093 embalming machines in a plant which has an art gallery and where employees have recorded music "piped" to them during daily rest periods.
Not really, but definitely unusual.
As a matter of fact the company was unusual from the moment it started in business.
It all began in 1925 when David Turner realized that many persons could not hear the words of the minister when a service was conducted in the funeral home founded by his father.
To remedy the situation, a local radio man named Everett Foster was employed to install a public address system from the Turner chapel to the funeral home parlors at 800 Second avenue SE.
VERY POPULAR -- The microphone shown here is the Turner Model 22, one of the company's most popular mikes. The young lady is singer Rosemarie Jun of Cedar Rapids.
In 1930 David Turner was asked to bring his sound system to Colorado Springs where the National Selected Morticians were meeting.
Turner demonstrated the system with such excellent results that a number of the funeral directors asked him to get similar PA systems for them.
That is how the Turner Company started. The first sound systems were turned out in a third floor closet in the funeral home. But in making these first PA setups Turner was having microphone trouble.
In 1931 he went into the manufacturing business in earnest. A shop was set up at 700 Third avenue SE where the old Turner Funeral home had been located. It is the spot where the Culver Motors used car lot now stands.
ART IN THE BACKGROUND -- The wall along the Turner Company assembly line is covered with original oil paintings and reproductions of art works. Employees also listen to recorded music which is piped to them during rest periods and over the lunch hour.
About the time that the Third avenue plant was set up, Turner began to realize that there was a definite need for a dependable pressure embalming machine for use by morticians.
He worked out plans for such a machine and then went into production. The pressure embalmers were an almost instant success. Today the Turner Company is the largest manufacturer of embalming machines in the world.
David Turner also decided that the company's sales of microphones were being hurt because other firms, which made amplifying equipment themselves, would not buy Turner mikes because they considered the company a competitor.
He discontinued production of PA systems.
The company was out of its infancy and settled down to years of steady growth.
In 1934 the plant was moved to its present location at 909 Seventeenth street NE.
(Wed Editor's Note: The Turner plant is now home to Cedarapids, Inc., manufacturers of heavy equipment.)
In 1940 there were about 35 employees. During World War II employment jumped to 210 (about 85 percent were women). An extra building was leased at 1443 First avenue SE. (Now occupied by "The Music Loft."
During the war the company's production was entirely for the armed forces. Quartz crystals were ground for electronic equipment and microphones turned out for all service branches. The embalming machine business was stopped.
When the war ended, employment dropped to 50 while the company reconverted to civilian production of microphones and embalming machines.
Today there are 86 Turner employees. Two-thirds of them are women.
The plant on Seventeenth street was enlarged in 1946. The company has now roughly 15,000 square feet of floor space.
And within the factory almost every worker can look up from his job and see an oil painting or a reproduction of some art work.
David Turner, who sponsored Grant Wood and other artists, was responsible for the "art gallery."
Walls along the assembly line are covered with paintings. They hang on office walls and at the edge of stock bins. There are about 60 paintings and reproductions altogether. More than a dozen of them are Marvin Cone originals. Two are by Grant Wood.
In addition to art, Turner employees also get soft music with their work. During rest periods and over the noon hour, records are played over a sound system.
Renald P. Evans, company president and general manager, is proud of his employee relations.
There has never been a strike in the history of the company.
Evans is also proud of the company's progressiveness.
For more than a year, design engineers have been perfecting a new type of television booster. It will go into production about March 1.
The company's export business is another point of pride for Evans and William J. Nezerka, vice-president and sales manager. Last year about 25 percent of the company's microphones were exported to 42 different countries and Canada.
(Web Editor's Note: Many amateur radio operators know the Turner brand name for the microphones supplied to Collins Radio Co., also of Cedar Rapids.)
Canadian sales are through the Canadian Marconi Company while other foreign sales are handled by the Ad. Auriema export firm of New York.
There are 14 sales representatives throughout the United States.
Turner microphones are manufactured from start to finish at the Cedar Rapids factory. Only a few component parts such as magnets, are purchased.
The types of microphones manufactured range from rugged models suitable for circus barkers to the ultra-sensitive "Aristocrat" model which was introduced this month and which lists at $150.
Company products are kept before the eyes of the electronics world by advertisements in 15 publications. All company advertising is handled by the W. D. Lyon Company of Cedar Rapids.
Company production is still strictly civilian but Sales Manager Nezerka says that in the line of war production "There is a lot in the mill."
As far as employment goes, President Evans says that he expects no trouble despite the tight labor market in the city.
Evans became president of the Company in 1946 when David Turner assumed the chairmanship of the company's board of directors.
Other company officers and directors include: John B, Turner, vice-president and treasurer; Paul Thompson, vice-president and chief engineer, and W. A. Baldwin, secretary and purchasing agent.
[ Up ] [ The Turner Funeral Chapel ] [ The Turner Company - Oakland Rd. Plant ] [ 1938 Microphones ] [ The Turner Microphone Story ] [ Turner Near Its Peak ] [ Turner Microphone Company Sold ] [ Turner Factory Closes 1979 ] [ Wiring Turner Microphones ]
POSTSCRIPT - The Turner Company was sold to Conrac Corporation in 1967, which sold it in turn to Telex Corporation in August, 1979. A scant three months later all production at the main plant, 716 Oakland Rd., in Cedar Rapids was discontinued and relocated to Telex facilities in Minnesota and Oklahoma.
Drop me a note, I'd like to hear from you, especially if you have Turner microphones or literature!
Original Photos and Text Copyright 2002 by the Author;
Article courtesy of The Cedar Rapids Gazette.