WINCHESTER – In its “Fingerprint Factory” in Washington D.C. the FBI kept multiple millions of fingerprints during World War II, as the Bureau gathered information about suspected spies and saboteurs, draft dodgers, federal workers, and others.
Because the list also included war-material manufacturers, a small newspaper notice that Officer John Murray fingerprinted employees of J. H. Winn’s Sons and Browning Laboratories in 1943 identifies these two Winchester businesses as producing products to help the military win the war.
The larger and older business was the Winn factory (formerly at 620 Washington St.). It started life in 1876 making watch hands but later diversified. During the war, the company went almost 100 percent into war production making components for clocks, gauges, aircraft, radar, ammunition, ordnance equipment, and guided missiles. It earned the Army Navy Production “E” Award–the “E” standing for "Excellence”–four times.
The Browning Laboratories was newer and smaller, just the sort of business the town planners wanted to attract during the early 20th century, an era when the town was continuing to rid itself of heavy industry and was rezoning to attract light industry.
A leader in the field of radio electronics, the Browning company added to the luster of Winchester’s reputation.
”This Winchester company,” a Radio Shack ad in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 1951 program stated, “is behaving in a manner to make New Englanders proud of their area’s performance in technical and musical matters.”
When Iowa native Glenn Hazard Browning (1897-1974) moved into his new home on Appalachian Road in 1926, his career was about to take off. During 1927, he and Dr. Frederick H. Drake formed the Browning-Drake Corporation. The two men, who met as students at Harvard University, engaged in research to increase the efficiency of radio frequency transformers and developed a special mathematically designed, tuned R.F. Transformer which was incorporated in a circuit known as the Browning-Drake circuit.
“The invention was an overnight success, and sales of a kit using the circuit reached into the millions,” collector Bob Millum stated. “The Browning-Drake Company was one of the first companies to specialize in the manufacture of precision built radio receivers.” It also offered the first American-produced FM 'hi-fi' tuner, which brought the company national recognition.
In The Winchester Star of the 1920s and 1930s, it was most often Browning’s bowling scores at the Calumet Club which appeared in the papers, but as early as 1928 the Star referred to the Browning-Drake company as “widely known.” On that occasion Browning presented one of his company’s newest radio sets to the Club.
Also a member of the local Masonic Lodge, Rotary Club, and American Legion post, Browning and his family mixed well in their new town. On several occasions Browning addressed the Rotary Club and explained new developments in the field.
In 1937, Browning and Drake went in separate directions. Browning incorporated Browning Laboratories to manufacture a variety of electronic devices. While Browning was president, Winchester native Ralph L. Purrington was vice-president.
Whereas the earlier company was based in Cambridge, Browning located the new one in Winchester, renting the former Symmes grain mill property at 747 Main St. (now site of the Town Pantry).
Browning became a world-recognized name in radio-electronic research and development.
“Browning just doesn’t know how to make anything less than the best,” Radio Shack declared. Browning patented many different inventions. Early products were a short-wave receiver, preselector, frequency meter, and short-wave converters. Browning was the first company to build a stereo receiver, before any radio station was broadcasting in stereo.
By 1954, the company was not only recognized as a leading manufacturer of hi-fidelity AM-FM tuners but was also known for designing and manufacturing fundamental electronic test equipment such as cathode ray oscillo synchroscopes, micro-wave equipment, and associated instruments for military, industrial, and laboratory use. Today Browning products are collectibles.
During the war years, the company grew in size and added the Sylvester garage across the street (742-750 Main St.) to its facilities.
During World War I, Browning had been a 2LT in the U.S. Army. During the Second World War, his company assisted the military. The breadth and specifics of the Browning Laboratories’ war work is unknown, but it is not surprising that the country should look to this company at a time when the military needed the latest and best in technology.
In 1945, after special permission was obtained to show some of the units, an exhibit of electronic equipment designed and manufactured by Browning Laboratories was displayed in the window of the Winchester Trust Company to familiarize townspeople with the work being done to help win the war.
The published photograph of the display shows five machines, each with an explanatory card (impossible to read). The text states simply that it included “an intruder alarm system and several other interesting examples of equipment being produced for the use of the Armed Forces.” One of the other examples was probably a frequency meter.
A 1942 advertisement in FM, “the journal of wartime radio-electronic development, engineering & manufacturing,” highlighted the company’s engineering of electronic boundary protection for industrial plants and public utilities, as well as the Browning Frequency Monitor, used as standard equipment for police and public utility emergency communications systems throughout the USA.
Like other local businesses, the Laboratories contributed to local war-support efforts. It also lost some employees to the services. In January of 1944, the Browning Laboratories service flag bore six stars. Like other businesses in the region (including Raytheon), the firm probably filled vacancies with women, a practice continued after the war.
“Wanted - Female help to work in Winchester,” read one ad in 1954. “Experienced in wiring and soldering of electronic equipment. Pleasant working conditions.” A 1954 article about the lab was accompanied by a photograph showing women assembling oscillo synchroscopes.
The esteem accorded the Browning Laboratories by local officials was pointed up in September 1952 when Sen. Leverett Saltonstall visited Winchester. A full-day schedule of events included visits to three industries, starting with the Browning Laboratories and including also J. H. Winn Sons and the Beggs & Cobb Leather Company.
In 1954, the company was reorganized. Gardiner G. Greene purchased the controlling interest of the company and became its president. The company moved to Laconia, New Hampshire.
Browning continued as chairman of the board, but, like the company, he also moved out of Winchester. At that time, he was Regional Director of the Institute of Radio Engineers, then the largest electronics association in the world.
Browning made one further contribution to the community worth recalling. In 1951, he proposed to the Rotary Club that the high school should have a radio station.
The Club waited until the high school and junior high school buildings had been renovated and had swapped their identities (so the high school was then housed in what is now the McCall Middle School). Then, in 1954, it devoted its annual auction to the radio station and raised $4,000 to buy the major portion of the transmitting equipment.
As a completely equipped broadcasting unit duly licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, WHSR-FM went on the air on June 1, 1956. The school viewed it as offering a challenge to the students in the study of communication arts and an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of school and community relationships.
During the 1956-1957 school year the station operated on a two- or three-day schedule each week while school was in session. Over 200 students actively participated, while another hundred worked as apprentices in the various departments.
Year after year, more students worked at the station. After operating for over 30 years, some legal and technical difficulties with the station’s location on the FM band led to the station’s ceasing to broadcast after 1989.
While the station was active, however, its popularity with students confirmed that Browning was a man of continual bright ideas.