Three or four decades ago the Czechoslovakian Tesla disc phone, television set and microscope were the symbols of world class technology, the evidence of high standard of living of their owners. The Tesla logo could be found on radio transmitting units, in scientific laboratories, army units and even in spacecraft. And today it can also be found at many former “addresses. The quality of goods produced under this brand is impressive. The fame of the great physicist Nikola Tesla and the famous electrical concern casts a light on both the past of the Tesla brand and its future.
The brand’s history began in the 20s of last century, when one of the oldest European electrical company Elektra was founded on the territory of modern Czech Republic (in 1921). And in 1923, the Czech company, a pioneer in radio electronics, produced the first medium-wave radio transmitter. A few years later, the first shortwave transmitter was designed and assembled there. In 1932, on the crest of success in the development of modern radio engineering firm Elektra joined the group Philips, which belonged to until 1945.
In 1946, under the trade name of Tesla (an abbreviation of the words “telecommunications” and “weak current technology”), Elektra opened a new page of its history, which coincided with the postwar nationalization of socialist Czechoslovakia’s industry. According to the vision of its founders, the firm successfully absorbed 68 industry companies scattered throughout Czechoslovakia and achieved the high status of the national enterprise of the radio electronics industry – Tesla.
There were about 30 000 employees in the Tesla Group. In 1953 the first television transmitter with an antenna system of its own design with a capacity of 5 kW (see Fig. 1) was produced under the Tesla brand. Radio and later television receivers became the main products of the company.
Fig. 1 – The first television transmitter with an antenna system of its own design (produced until 1957)
At the end of the 40’s and beginning of the 50’s Tesla plants began producing measuring equipment. Beginning in the mid-50s, the concern began full-scale production of radio relay communication systems on the track between the television studio and the transmitter itself. At the same time as the transmitters, antenna systems were also put into mass production. Thanks to Tesla products, a network of radio and television broadcasting centers was gradually established in the former Czechoslovakia. The unique Tesla equipment and the experience of Tesla specialists were also used during the construction of broadcasting centers in the CMEA countries. The company, which at that time was in the economic space of the socialist camp, managed to successfully compete with producers from the so-called capitalist countries and supplied its products to Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Syria.
More than 60% of the radio and television transmitters deployed in the USSR were made by Czechoslovak specialists. A wide range of audio and television equipment was produced at the company’s plants (see Figure 2). One could find recognizable Tesla logo in people’s houses: on disc and scarce at the time push-button telephones, radio receivers, home optical devices and incandescent bulbs. In the middle of the 60-s Tesla company started to produce TV sets. Some models pleasing the consumers with their high quality and marvelous design.
Fig. 2 – Model “Astra”, 1959, 17″, 12 channels
By the way, the art of creating not only high quality but also superficially elegant radio equipment became the reason for one exclusive order. We are talking about a multi-band radio designed for the legendary T 600 Tatraplan-Sport convertible, created in 1946 on the occasion of the anniversary of Joseph Stalin. This personal vintage car was designed by the best minds of Czechoslovakia. The body shop Sodomka, which specialized in producing cars for the political elite, was to perform the order. Especially for the gift cabriolet Tesla made a multi-band radio, which by its price characteristics was unaffordable for ordinary car enthusiasts.
By the way, some models of radios, TV sets and telephones produced by Czechoslovakia are still considered iconic and are valuable artifacts in the collections of collectors of old home electronics. Just type the word “Tesla” into an internet search engine and you are bound to come across a forum of “teslo-men”, passionately chasing vintage models of home appliances and eagerly putting up photos of their latest acquisitions.
The flowering of the Czechoslovak company was accompanied by a powerful drive for success, progress and development of new scientific and production niches. At the beginning of the second half of the XX century Tesla had 60 branches and R&D centers, which enabled the company to keep the pace with the advanced technological achievements. Products with “Tesla” trademark were supplied to all CMEA countries and were used in the most different spheres, including military ones. At the end of the 60-s the company presented one of the first developments in this field – a radio-relay communication line. At the same time the Tesla enterprises began to develop and produce radar stations or radars for air reconnaissance, land and sea targets detection. The fully functioning second-generation system had a female name, Ramona, and was originally developed under the cipher PRP-2. In its modernized form the system got a long name – KRTP81M Ramona-M. Its tasks included reconnaissance at the strategic level. In total, the Tesla companies produced 17 Ramona units, 14 units of upgraded Ramona-M stations and one training station. Even with excellent performance, these stations were very bulky and difficult to operate: 13 heavy trucks were needed to accommodate one system.
In the early 1980s the decision was made to improve the system. The new project was named “Tamara” (see Fig. 3). The upgraded system could be used for strategic and tactical reconnaissance. It was capable of detecting radars, radar transmitters, swashbuckler transmitters, TACAN navigation systems, DME rangefinders, JTIDS tactical information exchange systems, and active jamming equipment operating in the 0.82-18 GHz band. Even today unique radars are produced under Tesla logo. They operate without the slightest emission of radio signals, due to which they are almost impossible to detect. The principle of operation of these radars is based on patented special mathematical methods of signal processing. And it is one of the greatest achievements of the Czechoslovak scientific school.
Fig. 3 – “Tamara” radar system
The 1970s were the time of a technological breakthrough in Czech space instrumentation. The first flights of Soviet space rockets made it clear that the improvement of research reactors in space and the quality of information on-board the spacecraft required new approaches for all on-board and ground receiving equipment. For this purpose, a special telemetry system TC-1 was created. It was the whole complex which consisted of on-board transmitter, on-board recorder as a recorder, ground receiving antenna with low-noise amplifier and ground receivers, developed by the Institute of Communication Tesla VÜST.
It is worth noting the great success of the company in the development and production of professional audio equipment. In 70-80-ies the sound amplifiers Tesla were very popular among the rock musicians and several soldiers of the Soviet army, who served in Czechoslovakia, were caught red-handed while trying to smuggle to the USSR equipment with the “Tesla” logo in disassembled state.
By the end of the 70-s the range of Tesla products and services was for all branches of the economy, including mechanical engineering, radioelectronics, medical and military equipment.
In the early 90’s the giant national concern Tesla disintegrated into many joint-stock companies and limited liability companies. Most of them continue to work and defend their positions on the markets of the Czech Republic and other countries. The Tesla trademark is used with the permission of the company by 21 companies, among which there are manufacturers of radio electronics and household appliances.