When Powel Crosley Jr. was first getting his empire up and running, the world was a different place.
The price for a gallon of gas: 25 cents. A gallon milk carton: 36 cents (the carton had just been invented, replacing the glass bottle). A new home: $3,200.

Crosley, who would easily earn the title of Cincinnati's Greatest Entrepreneur, flourished in this world. While he never earned more than $50 a week in his 20s, by age 33 he'd made himself a multi-millionaire by selling auto parts through a brand-new distribution system he called direct mail.

Crosley then developed a bargain crystal radio set that was a hit with the masses (selling for $20, a fraction of the cost of other sets on the market). Later, he would venture into radio programming to help sell even more of his radios. His newly acquired WLW, "The Nation's Station," did indeed broadcast to the entire country—thanks to an unheard of 500,000 watts of power. His baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, played at Crosley Field and served as proving ground for the concept of airing games on radio. His television station at Crosley Square, WLWT, became the first Cincinnati TV station and the first NBC affiliate.

Crosley and his far-ranging companies produced compact economy cars, refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, phonographs, even airplanes. At the height of business in 1924, Crosley Manufacturing Co. was Cincinnati's largest employer. But by the time he died in 1961, Crosley had sold off most of these interests.

"Powel was a visionary marketer who could wordsmith a new product into a salable sound bite—something he did over and over again: the inner-liner tire, the Shelvadore refrigerator, the Harko radio, the Go-Bye-Bye, the SUV and many more," observes Rusty McClure, co-author of the just-published Crosley: Two Brothers And A Business Empire That Transformed A Nation (Cleristy Press, '™Bryonville). McClure should know: He's the grandson of Powel's brother, Lewis Crosley.

"Powel was a risk taker," continues McClure. "What Powel was not was a hands-on micro-manager. My grandfather was the consummate graduate engineer [and]  trusted brother. Lewis managed the dozens of products and dozens of buildings and the 10,000 employees, and in so doing, Lewis allowed his older brother to think and experiment and to deploy his grasshopper mind on the next new thing."

McClure is today the proud driver of a Crosley car (pictured on this page): "I own a 1951 yellow Hot Shot Convertible. It is America's first sports car. It is very, very cool." (He notes that his convertible and other Crosley products and appliances will be on display this month at Kenwood Towne Centre in a celebration of all that is Crosley.)

The biography of the brothers Crosley is a classic tale of entrepreneurial spirit in the Tristate, tracing the creation of a manufacturing legend. It's also a lesson plan for today's entrepreneurs. Think big, but remember: The devil is in the details.

On a somewhat related note, another inventor's passing in late October received scant attention in the local press. Petra Cabot, inventor of the plaid Scotch Kooler, died at the age of 99. Time was, the Scotch Kooler, produced by the Hamilton Metal Products Company in Hamilton, was all the national rage. Even today, the retro checkered tins are a popular commodity on eBay.

Cabot's life and accomplishment is just another reminder of the role Greater Cincinnati played in manufacturing America's hot products for the last century, and the high bar that's been set for entrepreneurial inventors in the coming years.