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Heathkit is the brand name of kits and other electronic products produced and marketed by the Heath Company. Their products over the decades have included electronic test equipment, high fidelity home audio equipment, television receivers, amateur radio equipment, robots, electronic ignition conversion modules for early model cars with point style ignitions, and the influential Heath H-8, H-89, and H-11 hobbyist computers, which were sold in kit form for assembly by the purchaser.

The Heath Company was founded as an aircraft company in 1912 by Edward Bayard Heath with the purchase of Bates Aeroplane Co, soon renamed to the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Co. Starting in 1926 it sold a light aircraft, the Heath Parasol, in kit form. Heath died during a 1931 test flight. The company reorganized and moved from Chicago to Niles, Michigan. In 1935, Howard Anthony purchased the then-bankrupt Heath Company, and focused on selling accessories for small aircraft. After World War II, Anthony decided that entering the electronics industry was a good idea, and bought a large stock of surplus wartime electronic parts with the intention of building kits with them. In 1947, Heath introduced its first electronic kit, the O1 oscilloscope that sold for US$50. The price was unbeatable at the time and the oscilloscope went on to be a huge seller.

Heathkit manufactured electronic kits from 1947 until 1992. After closing that business, the Heath Company continued with its products for education, and motion-sensor lighting controls. The lighting control business was sold around 2000. The company announced in 2011 that they were reentering the kit business after a 20-year hiatus but then filed for bankruptcy in 2012, and under new ownership began restructuring in 2013. As of 2015 the company has a live website.   Page opens in new browser window

Amateur Radio
Heathkit made amateur radio kits almost from the beginning. In addition to their low prices compared with commercially manufactured equipment, Heathkits appealed to amateurs who had an interest in building their own equipment, but did not necessarily have the expertise or desire to design it and obtain all the parts themselves. They expanded and enhanced their line of amateur radio gear through nearly four decades. By the late 1960s, Heathkit had as large a selection of ham equipment as any company in the field.

They entered the market in 1954 with the AT-1, a simple, three tube, crystal controlled transmitter. It was capable of operating CW on the six most popular amateur short wave bands, and sold for $29.50 (equivalent to about $230 in 2009).

The 39-page catalog contained only two pages of ham gear. An antenna coupler was the only other piece of equipment specifically intended for amateur radio use. The other two items were a general coverage short wave receiver, the AR-2, and an impedance meter. A VFO for the AT-1, the model VF-1, came out the following year.

The company's first full featured transmitter, the DX-100, appeared in 1956. It filled two facing catalog pages, indicating Heathkit's seriousness in building kits for amateurs. The description noted that it was amateur designed meant to convey expertise in designing specifically for the amateur radio operator - not the usual sense of the term amateur. And it stated that amateurs in the field are enthusiastic about praising its performance under actual operating conditions, indicating that it had been through what we would call beta testing today. Heathkit DX-100 Amateur Transmitter built in 1958 by W3BOA/W4AHY

Heathkit had been including schematic diagrams of nearly every major kit in its catalog since 1954. In addition, the DX-100's listing contained two interior pictures and a block diagram. The 15-tube design could transmit either CW or AM (voice) with 100 to 140 watts output on all seven short wave amateur bands. It had a built-in power supply and VFO, and weighed 100 pounds. Priced at $189.50, it was expensive for the time (about $1500 in 2009), yet undercut other amateur transmitters having similar features. It became quite popular.

The following year they introduced two scaled-down transmitters: the CW-only DX-20 model, meant for beginners, and the DX-35, capable of both CW and AM phone. Both models covered six bands, only lacking the DX-100's coverage of the 160m (1.8 MHz) band. Although they resembled the DX-100 in appearance, they lacked many of its features. But at $35.95 and $56.95, they were much more affordable. The DX-35 was superseded a year later by the improved DX-40.

The DX-100 was upgraded in 1959 to the DX-100B (there apparently was no DX-100A) and sold for the same price. By 1960, the catalog advertised it as the "best watts per dollar value" and called the 5-year-old design "classic".

The Heathkit Tribes
In 1959, a year before the last DX-100 was sold, a new deluxe line of amateur equipment was introduced. The TX-1 Apache transmitter and the RX-1 Mohawk receiver were about the same size and weight as the DX-100 but had updated styling and a new cabinet (to which the DX-100 also changed). The transmitter had many more features than its predecessor, and the RX-1 was Heathkit's first full featured amateur band receiver.

Both units used a slide rule dial with a scale on a rotating drum that changed with the band selection, and provided more accurate tuning. Together, Heath’s top of the line pair sold for $504.45 (equivalent to nearly $4000 in 2009).

The SB-10 SSB adapter was introduced in 1959 to enable both the Apache and DX-100 to operate on the new mode. The next year, a matching kilowatt linear amplifier, the KL-1 Chippewa, was added to the line. Completing the line, the model VHF-1 Seneca covered the 6 meter (50 MHz) and 2 meter (144 MHz) bands.

The MT-1 Cheyenne transmitter and MR-1 Comanche receiver were considerably smaller and lighter than the Apache-Mohawk pair. Used with either an AC or DC external power supply, they could be operated in fixed or mobile service. Without transceive capability, this pair was probably challenging to operate while driving. A year later these units were reborn as the HX-20 transmitter and HR-20 receiver (and were no longer given names), capable of SSB operation.

The HX-10 Marauder was a redesigned replacement for the Apache, operating on SSB without an external adapter. It appeared in the 1962-63 catalog along with a new linear amplifier, the HA-10 Warrior.

The last new entry in the tribes generation was the HX-30 transmitter and HA-20 linear amplifier, both capable of SSB operation on the six meter (50 MHz) band.

Heathkit also brought out a pair of single band, low power, CW and AM phone VHF transceivers - the HW-10 and HW-20 for the 6 meter and 2 meter bands, respectively. Designed primarily for mobile use, they were much smaller than the tribes but bore a strong family resemblance down to their chrome knobs.

In 1961 they also brought out a distinctive set of low cost, compact, single band transceivers for 6 and 2 meters, the HW-29 and HW-30, also called the Sixer and Twoer. Completely self-contained, with a built-in speaker and a matching microphone, they could operate from AC or DC power. Somewhat limited in features, they were designed for AM phone operation only and frequency control was crystal controlled on transmit.

These portable transceivers looked distinctly different from other Heathkit gear. Tan and brown rather than the pervasive green, they were roughly rectangular shaped with rounded corners and had a handle on top. That particular shape and appearance would lead to them being dubbed the Benton Harbor Lunchboxes in the 1966 catalog.

A New Novice Station
To succeed the DX-series that started in the 1950s, Heathkit designed an entirely new novice station consisting of the DX-60 transmitter, HR-10 receiver, and HG-10 VFO. These matching units were smaller and lighter than the tribes, covered five bands, and were much lower priced. They would go through incremental improvement and sell for more than a decade. In 1969 Heathkit added the HW-16 to its beginner-level line - a transceiver designed specifically for the Novice licensee. It covered the three HF Novice bands, CW only, and was crystal controlled but could be used with the HG-10 VFO.

The SB-series and HW-series
By the early 1960s, a large majority of amateurs had adopted SSB as their primary mode of voice communication on the HF bands. This led to the development of equipment that was specifically designed for transceive operation on SSB, and also much smaller and lighter than the previous generation of ham gear.

As with other manufacturers, such as Drake and Collins, Heathkit began in 1964 by introducing a transceiver. It covered only one band and came in three models: The HW-12, -22, and -32, covering the 20m (14 MHz), 40m (7 MHz) and 75m (3.8 MHz) bands, respectively.

Influenced heavily by the S/Line from Collins, Heathkit designed the SB-series to become their top-line set of amateur radio equipment. Like the S/Line, these new products were designed to operate together in various combinations as a system. The first models appeared in the 1965 catalog, displacing the large, heavy units of the tribes generation (except for the Marauder and Warrior, and the 6 meter units which remained for one year).

When used together, the SB-300 receiver and SB-400 transmitter could transceive and had many other features of the S/Line, including crystal bandwidth filters and 1 kHz tuning dial resolution. They could also operate separately (if the optional crystal pack was installed in the transmitter), giving the operator more flexibility in talking to foreign stations who could not transmit in the same range as the U.S. stations could. The S/Line influence was easy to see too, in its cabinet styling, tuning mechanism and knobs. But by designing them as kits and using less expensive construction, Heathkit could offer these units at much lower prices. The pair sold for $590 that first year (equivalent to about $4500 today). The matching SB-200 1200-watt input/700-800-watt output linear amplifier completed the line for 1965.

The following year two more units were added: the SB-110 transceiver for the 6 meter band and the HA-14 Kompact Kilowatt, a smaller kilowatt linear amplifier based on the SB-200. The HA-14 also used grounded grid 572B's but with external AC and DC power supplies. At 7 lbs the amplifier itself was very small, matching the HW mono-banders in style, and usable in both mobile and desktop service. Like the SB-200 from which it derived, its input was designed to match the 100-watt output of the Heathkit SB and HW series plus as Collins and others.

In a last minute, four page, center insert to the 1966 catalog titled New Product News Heathkit announced the SB-100 five-band SSB transceiver.

Heathkit SB-101 transceiver circa 1968
Like the other transceivers of this time, the SB-100 (and later improved models SB-101 and SB-102) would become one of Heathkit's best selling amateur radio products. This included a scaled-back, lower priced version of the SB-100 called the HW-100 (later updated to the HW-101) introduced in 1969. The HW series were affectionately nicknamed the "Hot Water" series.

In the next three years, Heathkit brought out several more SB-series accessories, including a 2 kilowatt input /1.4 kilowatt output linear amplifier, the SB-220. The SB-400 model transmitter was slightly updated with the newer SB-401 model. The final model in the original SB-series was the SB-303 receiver, a solid state replacement (in a smaller case) for the SB-301 and its earlier sibling, the SB-300 receiver. The 2000 film, "Frequency", starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, featured a Heathkit SB-301 receiver being used with artistic license as a transceiver (film studio prop), although the SB-301 did not have any transmitter stages in it and was not a transceiver. An SB-302 receiver was never produced (no reason ever given for why the 302 model number was skipped) and some hams who worked at Heath hinted that there was talk of a solid state SB-103 transceiver, but it never made it past the proposal stage.

The SB-series would continue to be improved and sell well until 1974 and the arrival of solid state and digital design, with the SB-104 transceiver, its accessories and a new generation of amateur radio gear. Though somewhat redesigned physically it had a similar appearance to the earlier SB-series generation. The SB-670 was a short-lived dream antenna tuner that matched the SB-104. Unfortunately, only a few were produced and those were considered "prototypes". However, technical issues with the first production run of the SB-104 led to Heath having to quickly update it with the SB-104A. By that time, amateurs were buying transceivers made overseas being produced for the same amount of money with more features (including the AM and FM modes that the Heathkit SB and HW series did not have) and did not require user assembly.

In 1983 Heathkit came out with their last ham radio kit, the HW-5400 transceiver. It was all solid state with 100 watts output on 160 through 10 meters including the newly-available WARC bands. Also available was a matching power supply.

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