"Lafayette Surprise, Political Intrigue and Radio" article
I originally wrote the feature article "Sixty Years of Lafayette Radio" for Monitoring Times in the December 2012 issue. My research into why Lafayette seemed to break up from a company with mail-order headquarters in Chicago, Atlanta and New York back to a New York based company and dropping the Chicago and Atlanta addresses led to this follow-up article which was published in the April 2013 issue of Monitoring Times.
Since my new article titled The Heathkity Legacy has just been released in the July 2013 issue of Monitoring Times, I've decided that more folks might want to read the Lafayette Surprise follow-up article. Please note that the article is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission of Monitoring Times or the author.
Lafayette's three owners
Sometimes when you look closely at a company, a surprise pops up. Such was the case with Lafayette. The change in corporate names in 1939-40 and the separate catalogs in 1942 as well as the sudden and permanent disappearance of Lafayette from Atlanta and Chicago in 1951 triggered the question of why. Was there a rift among partners? Searching on the names of the three owners as stated in the Federal Trade Commission action against Wholesale Radio in 1935 turned up nothing until I received a clue from John K2TQN (1)and his May 2010 QST column which covered the Lafayette Trutest 25 watt Junior transmitter and Professional 9 receiver. Apparently, the FTC citation I had located had misspelled the names of two of the three owners and had left out the middle initials. A search on the correctly-spelled names of Samuel J. Novick and Max H. Krantzberg came up with Krantzberg as the Executive Vice President of Lafayette with stock holdings just a bit less than President and Chairman Abraham Pletman in a Securities and Exchange Commission report in 1961. Each owned roughly a third of the outstanding shares. Krantzberg was also the author of record for a number of Lafayette catalogs and equipment instruction manuals as late as 1967 as registered by the U.S. copyright office.
Novick - Army-Navy "E" award
The surprise, however, was Novick. In addition to his involvement with Lafayette, Novick had purchased the Transformer Corporation of America, changing its name to Electronic Corporation of America in 1942 with himself as President and his wife as Secretary. He also set up a couple of smaller companies as divisions. During World War II, Novick's Electronic Corporation of America had contracts with the US Navy for production of six million dollars worth of secret radar testing equipment. His company received an Army-Navy "E" award for production excellence. He had been honored at a dinner with 300 business and labor leaders in Chicago for his wartime contributions to harmonious labor-management relations and was presented with a scroll by the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union. At the dinner he was cited as the author of "A Plan for America at Peace", a 40 page publication extolling the future with electronics through his company with all workers working in harmony for the common good. Speakers at the event were Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly and Marshall Field. (believed to be Marshal Field III, investment banker and publisher of the Chicago Sun Times.)
The communist connection
Novick was not actually the author of "A Plan for America at Peace" but his company sponsored and paid for the publication. He had immigrated to the US from Czarist Russia in 1914 at age 17. One of his early jobs in the US was radio telegrapher. He became an excellent business man. He was also an avowed communist who allegedly paid the bills for radio commentators from the American Communist Party on the Blue radio network. He supported a variety of organizations later deemed to be underground communist groups according to FBI reports. Some labor unions at the time were also controlled by communists allegedly including the one that had honored him. Of course, in free speech America, this was allowed.
Spies and Lies
However, it was after the FBI uncovered a Russian spy that Samuel Novick came to their attention. Arthur Adams was a high-ranking undercover GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) operative under the code named "Achilles" and was assigned along with others in the NKVD (forerunner of the Russian KGB) to obtain US corporate and military technology secrets.
In 1937 Novick had written a letter to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service vouching that Adams was a highly skilled radio engineer who had worked for him for 10 years at Wholesale Radio as its Canadian representative and was needed in the US. It was a lie. Novick later signed Adams' immigration papers and also gave Adams a cover job at Electronic Corporation of America which allowed him significant freedom of movement and access to technology information during World War II. His inquiries into atomic energy at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Chicago finally caught the attention of FBI agents in 1944. They surreptitiously searched his house in December 1944, finding spy apparatus and documents pertaining to nuclear secrets at Oak Ridge. Adams eluded the FBI in New York in 1945. His trail was picked up again in Chicago. He was prevented from boarding a Russian ship in Portland, Oregon but was not arrested. The State Department wanted him detained in the US but not arrested. They did not wish to antagonize Joseph Stalin and the Russians since Russia was our ally against Germany, and World War II was still being fought. Adams eluded the FBI again and disappeared. Russian sources report that he stayed in hiding in five different safe houses before finally making his way back to Russia in secret in December 1946
Stolen nuclear secrets
The speed with which Russia was able to build and explode a test nuclear device in 1949 shocked America into the realization that the US atomic bomb secrets must have been leaked. That as well as the Berlin airlift and the Russian takeover of eastern Europe marked the beginning of the Cold War. Fear of communism advocating the takeover of governments as happened in Eastern Europe triggered the infamous Mccarthy era and congressional investigations. The House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed a number of individuals who had been investigated by the FBI, including Sam Novick. In his testimony before the committee, Novick is quoted in a newspaper column (1) as having said that Electronic Radio Corporation was "originally" known as Wholesale Radio Service Co. which was also known as Lafayette Radio Corporation. When asked further, he stated the Lafayette name "was just a name for a radio set". When confronted with his 1937 letter to the Immigration Service on behalf of Adams, the newspaper columnist commented that Novick had difficulty keeping his lies straight. The Un-American Activities Committee later determined that he had been part of one of several cells in the US that had helped Soviet agents obtain atomic secrets. Fearing prosecution for perjury and other offenses, Novick fled the country for Mexico in 1951.
Arther Adam's career
Was the Russian spy successful? Russian archives and sources reveal that Arthur Alexandrovich Adams' most important contributions were on atomic bomb development and nuclear research. He is credited in 1940 with being one of the first Soviet intelligence officers to notice that work on uranium development seemed to have disappeared from American scientific journals. He concluded that work on such a promising scientific area could not have stopped. He soon developed a network of informers and provided a total of over 10,000 pages of documents and a variety of samples including weapons-grade uranium, plutonium, and beryllium.
Russian sources (2) further report that on the night of February 23, 1944, an American with the code-name "Camp", believed to be a scientist who is still unknown to this day, delivered a portfolio of about 1000 pages detailing atomic weapons research along with samples of uranium and beryllium. Adams worked all night to copy the documents since the material had to be returned to "Camp" in the morning. Radio Moscow later reported back in a coded message that the material had been received. Upon his return to Russia in 1946, he was promoted to the rank of engineer and Colonel, the GRU's highest rank. His quick rise to that rank is reportedly unique in the history of the GRU. He retired from his espionage career in 1948. In 1999, he was posthumously named a Hero of the Russian Federation. According to one Russian language report on his career, none of his sources were uncovered. For that reason their names had been kept secret until the present (date of that publication is 2004.)
Escape to Mexico
But for his part in the spy plot, Sam Novick was known. Despite unsuccessful efforts to bring him back to the US for trial, he remained in Mexico with other Communist expatriates until his death in 1986. He had establised a radio business there in 1945. He was reportedly called one of the "Red American Millionaires" by the Mexican press. Time magazine called Mexico a "Red Haven" for American Communists avoiding prosecution.
The timing of Novick's departure from the US coincides with the breakup of Lafayette Radio back to a New York-area-based company. In her book, Diana Anhalt quotes Novick's step daughter as stating that he left the United States because he "got a lot of flak from his business associates after his appearance before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings"(3). That and passage of the McCarran Act in 1950 would have made doing business with known communists difficult at best.
Lafayette would survive and grow again, but its mail order headquarters would remain exclusively in New York. It would take years before they would again be represented across the US, first by individually-owned associate stores and toward the end by about 100 or so company owned stores.
(1) My thanks to John K2TQN for the correct spelling of Novick's name and for a reference to a 1948 column written by Pulitzer-Prize winning syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler.
(2) A Russian language version of Arthur Adams' spy career can be found at http://www.warheroes.ru/hero/hero.asp?Hero_id=4434.
(3) Anhalt, Diana; A Gathering of Fugitives, American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965, Archer Books 2001
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