John Kaar with amplifier

John Kaar

As a young ham radio operator, John Kaar built his first crystal set at age 13 while at the Palo Alto Military Academy. The Depression left few opportunities in electronics work when he graduated from Stanford in 1935, so he briefly worked in assembly with the Remler Company in San Francisco and later for Western Wireless Limited as a receiver engineer.

In 1936, he opened Kaar Engineering Company in a garage in Menlo Park, but soon moved to downtown Palo Alto. His company was the first wholesale radio store in the mid-Peninsula, catering to other radio repairmen, Stanford engineers, and amateur radio operators.

kaar_catalog_cover_1946

One of Kaar’s employees suggested that they build two-way radio transmitters; since demand was increasing for mobile radios for police cars, yachts, and taxi cabs. Soon the company was doing such a large mobile radio telephone business that its other activities were dropped. During World War II, the company became the largest manufacturer of two-way mobile radio telephone equipment on the West Coast. After the war they branched out into depth sounders and marine direction finders. In 1952, at the young age of 43, Kaar sold his company.

(Above: John M. Kaar with the amplifier of one of his first products, a machine to make phonograph records, built for Menlo School, Menlo Park, 1936. From the Jane Morgan Papers, Perham Collection of Early Electronics)