Meet Avery Fisher's "Dutchmen"

Discussion in 'Fisher' started by TheRed1, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. TheRed1

    TheRed1 Console Conservationist

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    Have you ever wondered who designed your Fisher? Just about every model ever mentioned in this forum was the brainchild of a team of German engineers Avery Fisher referred to as his "Dutchmen".

    If you look at Fisher chassis you can easily spot the differences between the older Maerkle era designs and the much more modern Mergner era designs. Tube selection, part sourcing and even chassis layout show a definite European (German) influence in the latter models. I believe the Dutchmen designs started hitting the showrooms around 1958-59 and were distinguished by their all-in-one, horizontally-oriented, stereo chassis: TA-600, X-101A, FM-100, 100-T, 202-T, 101-R, etc. It may be of interest to note that several of the "Dutchmen" continued with Fisher through the Emerson era and well into the Sanyo era (the 1990s, in fact).

    I recently received a PM from the son of the original Dutchman, the late Fred Mergner, who was hired by Fisher in 1956 and almost immediately promoted to VP of Engineering. (He replaced George P. Maerkle who went on to become the chief engineer at McIntosh until his tragic death aboard the American Airlines 707 that crashed into Jamaica Bay in 1962.) Mr. Mergner's son just happened to run across some of my posts here at AK when randomly googling his father's name. I replied to his PM with a ton of questions. He graciously offered to set up a phone interview with him and his mother.

    My conversation with Mrs. Mergner was fascinating. Her German accent was charming and she evidently has very fond memories of those times. Her son very kindly sent me scans of some family photos which offer a rare glimpse of the people behind The Fisher name.

    Avery Fisher and Fred Mergner being entertained by one of the upstart Japanese Hi-Fi Companies - possibly Trio/Kenwood - 1960:

    [​IMG]

    Mr. Mergner's son told me that after dinner Avery Fisher and his dad were ushered into a room with only a pedestal in the the center upon which sat this Japanese company's latest receiver. It was a very close copy of a Fisher model and apparently intended as a compliment. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?) Mr. Fisher did not see it that way!

    The Fisher Engineering Dept. in front of Plant #1, 21-21 44th Rd., L.I.C. - 1959

    [​IMG]

    Mrs. Mergner told me a funny story about this photo. Avery Fisher, being the perfectionist he was, apparently spent such a long time rearranging his staff for this photo that someone watching the scene from across the street eventually yelled out: "Just move the building!" Mrs. Mergner said that phrase became sort of an inside joke between her and her husband whenever referring to Mr. Fisher's somewhat obsessive attention to detail.

    [​IMG]

    "The Dutchmen"

    Front Row L>R: Unknown, Frank Krausser, Fred Mergner, Unknown, Werner Regner, Unknown, Harro Heinz
    Second Row L>R: Unknown, Unknown, Herbert Lippold​


    The story behind the Dutchmen is very interesting. Evidently some time in the mid-50s Avery Fisher decided to take advantage of the engineering talent available in post-war Germany. He placed an ad in a German trade magazine soliciting applications. I think Mrs. Mergner said her husband was selected from among 42 applicants interviewed by Mr. Fisher.

    Fred Mergner had been a radio engineer with the German Army during WWII on the Eastern Front. He also spent some time at Peenemunde working on the wire-guided bombs that were used to sink the Italian battleship Roma. At the end of the war he was involved in the desperate fighting against the Russians during the Battle of Berlin and yet somehow managed to surrender to the Americans. After the war he became an engineer for Grundig.

    Once established at Fisher Mr. Mergner recruited the four other German engineers who comprised "The Dutchmen". I believe they had also worked for Grundig. Certainly, Harro Heinz (of Renkus-Heinz) worked at Grundig during its early years. Once Mrs. Mergner gave me the names of the Dutchmen I, of course, googled them and quickly found Mr. Heinz: http://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/harro-heinz

    I have written to Mr. Heinz as well as to another of the surviving Dutchmen who Mrs. Mergner gave me contact information for. Hopefully they will be willing to share stories of their part in Fisher history.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2012

     

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  2. notdigital

    notdigital AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Wow!

    GREAT, great stuff, thanks!!!
     
  3. joel27

    joel27 Super Member

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    You Sir, are an amazing historian. Thank you for your dedication.
     
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  4. dcgillespie

    dcgillespie Fisher SA-100 Clone Subscriber

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    Red -- The nuggets you have provided about Fisher are so unique, rare, and valuable. Many, many thanks for relentlessly pursuing the history of Fisher, and reporting it here in such a fascinating way. How wonderful it is to learn of what was, and how it came to be all that it did!

    Dave
     
  5. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thaks for that great post. Amazing pics and info.
     
  6. Mingo

    Mingo stranger in a strange land Subscriber

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    Amazing and wonderful. I bet it was a real hoot to talk to Mr. Mergner's wife and son. Thank you for sharing!
     

     

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  7. Vinylcafe

    Vinylcafe Linvin' the Dream

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    This is why I love this gear (and have become attached to it) , not just the great sound, but the great stories and the vision of one man.
    Thanks for some great journalism, and for sharing.
    Can't wait for anything else you might dig up.
     
  8. dsndblm

    dsndblm Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing. You've come up with some excellent information once again.
     
  9. Jailtime

    Jailtime Standin' on a corner Subscriber

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    And here's another example of why the Fisher Forum is the best. :D Thanks for the look into Fisher history.
     
  10. steerpike2

    steerpike2 Super Member

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    Calling them Dutchmen is a complete misnomer. Dutchmen would be Hollanders, or Nederlanders. Germany is a completely different country! No doubt the confusion to non-speakers of the language comes from Deutschland, being the natives' name for Germany.
    Still, I suppose they can be forgiven, since to the rest of the world, America, Canada and Mexico are all one & the same country. :D
     
  11. LexDM3

    LexDM3 AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thanks for the great information, pictures and story-telling. I'll listen for hints of "Deutsche" inflection the next time I turn on my Fisher.
     

     

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  12. audiodon

    audiodon Addicted Member

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    Dutchie was a common euphemism. My grandfather was called dutchie.
     
  13. Jimerson

    Jimerson AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Outstanding post. Love the history.
     
  14. visman

    visman AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Great information on our beloved "The Fisher" consoles and gear.

    I'm not surprised by the Grundig connection (another line of gear that is very stylish and can sound pretty darn good) - terrific information.

    Thanks Red!
     
  15. HiFiHarv

    HiFiHarv Active Member

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    Fascinating, you are the King! If this doesn't stick forever, I don't know what should. Thanks so much!
     
  16. 1tumbleweed

    1tumbleweed Kozmik Kowboy Subscriber

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    Same as the "Pennsylvania Dutch" - actually German and Swiss.

    "Dutch" being an Americanization of "Deutsch".

    Forget the rest of the world, even in the USA it's common to refer to the USA as America...which in actuality stretches from pole to pole, encompassing North, Central and South America. I suppose the most accurate statement would be that America is an area, the United States of America is a country.
     

     

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  17. TheRed1

    TheRed1 Console Conservationist

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    I sent Mr. Mergner's son, Michael, a link to this thread hoping he might drop by and say hello. He certainly has a unique perspective on the Fisher Radio Corp. Imagine having the run of the Fisher plant in Long Island when your father went in on the weekend and the plant was closed! Imagine being able to rummage through the part bins to build your own “play” radios! Among the items he sent me was this image from a 1966 Fisher Console Catalog. That's him as a toddler pictured in the Fisher Living Theatre TV!

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo from Fisher's 1959 Christmas party showing Mr. Fisher with posing with some of his executives. As identified by Mrs. Mergner: Ira Horan would go on to manage Fisher's big, new, modern production facility in Milroy, Pa. in 1961. Walter J. O'Donnell had been a purchasing agent for Fisher in the early 1950s - I'm not sure what his position would have been in 1959. Bennett L. Arons (Ben) was either Fisher's CEO or CFO. He joined Fisher in 1947 and by 1951 was described as "Vice President and General Manager". He was evidently Avery Fisher's right hand man. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in 1966 at the age of 50. James J. Parks (Jim) was Fisher's VP of Sales, I believe. Despite his youthful appearance he was one of the old-timers, having joined Fisher in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Mrs. Mergner remembered Joe Merolla's name but not his position with Fisher.

    [​IMG]

    Mr. Mergner in front of the Jensen booth at a 1958 electronics show.

    [​IMG]

    The Mergners and Mr. Fisher evidently having a very good time.

    [​IMG]

    The opening of Fisher's Milroy, Pa. plant was attended by the Governor of Pennsylvania who, in 1961, would have been David Lawrence, a noted “king maker” in the Democratic party - instrumental in election of quite a few Presidents.

    [​IMG]

    Frank Krausser, Herbert Lippold and Fred Mergner remained with the company after it was sold to Emerson. Mr. Lippold took over as Fisher’s VP of Engineering in 1977 when Mr. Mergner retired. He was still with Sanyo Fisher in the 1990's.

    [​IMG]

    The man in the gray suit reaching for his drink was an Emerson executive.

    [​IMG]

    As a side note: the only reference I'd found to Avery Fisher's use of the term "Dutchmen" to describe his German engineers (prior to my direct contact with the Mergner family) was the eulogy for Avery Fisher which Fred Mergner himself wrote in 1994 that appeared in the Audio Engineering Society's journal.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2012
  18. Dadbar

    Dadbar Super Member

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    We Americans are just a bit screwed up in that category....Dutch, Deutsch.....close enough!
     
  19. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Is the building still standing in Pennsylvania that housed the Fisher plant?
     
  20. TheRed1

    TheRed1 Console Conservationist

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    Yes. It was considerably enlarged by Sanyo and now houses Corvette America. The address of the building is 100 Classic Car Dr., Reedsville, Pa. It sits alongside Rt. 322 south of State College, Pa.

    I believe all of the buildings that once housed Fisher's production facilities are still in existence with the exception of the original leased space (circa 1945) near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. That building was demolished to make way for Lincoln Center which, coincidentally, is now the site of Avery Fisher Hall.

    Some discussion of the history of Fisher's production facilities in these threads:

    http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?p=5316103#post5316103

    http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?p=2861422#post2861422
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2012

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