Admiral 7L series of 6-transistor portable radio, along with the (optional) Sun Power Pak and custom leather carrying case – THE FIRST SOLAR POWERED RADIO: The Chicago based Admiral Corporation announced the release of this, their first transistor radio, in mid April of 1956. Available in four model color variations (7L12 – Holiday Red & White) , (7L14 – Arizona Tan & White), (7L16 – Tropic Yellow & White), and (7L18 – Turquoise & White), the list price for this portable radio was $59.95.
The radio operated from a 9-volt supply (6 “D” cell batteries) or from its’ optional ($185) “Revolutionary Admiral Sun Power Pak” (part No. SP6000) which, when plugged into a jack on the back side of the radio would automatically disconnect the internal batteries and allow the radio to be powered directly by sunlight or an ordinary incandescent light bulb.
An optional ($40) leather carrying case included a zippered storage pocket on the back side where the solar collector unit could be stored. The Sun Power Pak contained 32 1/4-pie shaped silicon solar cells. Thus this became the first commercial solar powered radio and, in fact, THE WORLD’S FIRST CONSUMER PHOTOVOLTAIC PRODUCT.
Amazingly, Admiral’s announcement of this production model came only 6 months after they had shown and demonstrated the prototype sun-powered radio made by Admiral engineer Harry Thanos. At a May 10, 1956 Dallas luncheon Admiral executives delivered to customer #1, Mr. E. E. Germany (president of Lone Star Steel Co.) the very first solar powered radio ever sold.
Over the next several months Admiral distributors and retail outlets advertised and demonstrated working examples of this iconic product in showrooms around America. Consumers marveled at the technology but due to the high 1956 price of the Sun Power Pak (reduced to $175) sales were disappointingly poor. Nonetheless, although now senior citizen artifacts, the radios and (the now exceedingly rare) solar panels still operate very well.
Photographed from the Bill Burkett collection.