Crosley Farm-O-Road

Let’s Talk Rusty Iron: Powel Crosley Jr’s Crosley Farm-O-Road was ahead of its time

| December 2011

Does anyone remember the Crosley Farm-O-Road? At the Indianapolis Speedway in April 1939, Powel Crosley Jr. introduced a new line of cars to the press. The tiny economy car made its public debut at the New York World’s Fair in June that year and was billed as “The Car of Tomorrow.”  

Born in 1886, Powel Crosley Jr. had been fascinated by cars since he was a boy in Cincinnati. He tried to build cars, but his 6-cylinder Marathon never made it past the prototype stage in 1909, and the DeCross Cycle-Car of 1913 also failed.

Crosley then dreamed up and manufactured a tire re-liner to help solve the problems motorists were having with the tires of the day. The re-liners sold like hot cakes and Crosley enjoyed moderate success.

By 1919, tires had much improved and the sale of re-liners dropped. Crosley’s younger brother, Lewis, a graduate engineer who could get things done, joined Crosley after service in World War I. They made a good team, one that would last until the end: Powel dreamed up the ideas and, if they were at all practical, Lewis made them work.

Radio for the masses

To diversify, the brothers started making phonographs, which were all the rage at the time. Then, around 1920, the newfangled medium of radio began to sweep America. In February 1921, Powel’s 9-year-old son asked for a radio, or “wireless set,” as they were then called. Powel was outraged at the price of the cheapest sets, which, he observed, cost one-third as much as a Model T car.

Always one to sense an opportunity, Powel declared he could build a radio for half the price and jumped into the infant radio business. Before long, Crosley was cranking out inexpensive radios “for the masses, not the classes.” But for radios to sell, folks needed something to listen to, so Powel started a broadcasting station in Cincinnati and his sets flew off the shelves.