Presto Recording Corporation

PRESTO Recording Corporation was an important company in the broadcast and recording industry, and most radio stations and networks that made use of disc recorders for delayed broadcast, or air checks, etc., were users of PRESTO EQUIPMENT. All of the major broadcast network headquarters, as well as many recording studios used PRESTO recorders.

This page will include a brief history, as much as we have to date, as we are still accumulating information. And we will compare the development of the basic PRESTO models over the years. The following pages have lots of pictures, so be patient during downloading.

The very early years are a little sketchy but the Presto Products Company was founded in 1915. They produced the Sonora phonograph and other equipment, and a 3 pound head for embossing on aluminum blanks, state of the art at that time, in 1931. They were out of business in 1932, and emerged later as the Duall Company in 1932, and became Presto Recording Corp. in 1933. The first advertisement for a Presto disc was Oct 15, 1934. (1)

In 1932 Gernsback Publications published a book 'Home Recording And All About It', written by George Saliba. In the book are several references to recording kits, as produced by the Presto Products Company, and sold to the home recordist and apparently introduced as early as 1930. a unit is pictured below.

Old presto machine.

PRESTO RECORDING CORPORATION was organized in 1933 and incorporated in New York State in March of 1934 by Morris Gruber, George Saliba, Aaron Benjamin, and Mr. Sholes (Mr. Benjamin's son-in-law). Morris Gruber was 20 years senior to George Saliba. Mr. Sholes died shortly after, and Mr. Benjamin died in 1960 at the age of 91. Mr Benjamin was an attorney. Gruber and Saliba worked togetheron the technical design side. Mr Saliba was president of the company, and handled administrative as well as technical and sales. Morris Gruber died in1961, at age of 78. George Saliba was in his late twenties, graduating from M.I.T. in 1927 with a degree in electrical engineering. He passed away July 7, 1971 at the age of 66.

According to information from Morris Gruber's obituary, he had a storied past in radio electronics. Mr. Gruber developed a sound-on-film system for Dr. Lee De Forest's General Talking Picture Corporation. He also produced Rayfoto, facsimile equipment in 1926 that was used experimentally for the radio transmission of pictures of scientific expeditions to Greenland. During World War II he served as a consultant to the Times Facsimile Corporation. He came to the US in 1907 from Austria, where he had graduated from the University of Vienna.

After more than 3 years of research and development, PRESTO was founded on the development of the cellulose recording disc and associated disc recording equipment.

PRESTO's most important contribution to the world of Broadcasting and Recording was the lacquer coated instantaneous recording disc. PRESTO was one of three companies to have developed versions of this disc - the others were in France and England - and the PRESTO version was introduced to the US in the fall of 1934, after several years of experimentation. (1)

The disc consisted of an aluminum plate coated with a cellulose nitrate based lacquer (not acetate), and offered dramatic improvement over embossing uncoated aluminum and pre-grooved plastic discs formerly used for instantaneous recording. While those systems had been patented, cutting a groove in a soft material was now in the Public Domain. It was a common industrial practice to coat aluminum with various substances. Thus the US Patent Office deemed that making and cutting lacquer blanks was nothing new, and thus unpatenable. This resulted in several companies making similar blanks soon after PRESTO introduced their disc. (3)

The PRESTO DISC quickly became the industry standard, and by 1936 PRESTO recording equipment was being installed in stations nationwide. The PRESTO system was the foundation of NBC's Radio Recording Division, which began operation in the spring of 1935, and was also adopted by CBS when that network began its recording service in 1938. (1)

While there have been refinements over the decades, the basic coated lacquer disc remained the industry standard for instantaneous recording, and is used to this day in the preparation of master discs for analog phono records. The development of the coated disc is a vital accomplishment in the technology of recorded sound, and PRESTO got the credit. (1)

One of the earliest documented use of PRESTO recorders for delayed broadcast was of the Hindenburg disaster in May of 1937. Reporter Herb Morrision and engineer Charlie Nehlsen had been invited to record interviews of passengers embarking from the voyage. History tells of a different story. (1)

Some material provided me, indicates PRESTO made some special equipment, at about 1936, and probably for government and law enforcement agencies for recording telephone and other types of communication. The devices contained dual turntables and a mixer/amp with relays that would start the next turntable as the current one finished, for continuos recording. The operator had only to change blanks and reset the recording head. The equipment consisted of the J5 turntables adapted to run at 78, 33 1/3, and 12 ½ RPM, using 12inch blanks. It was designated the EU-7R. It also incorporated automatic volume control circuits to maintain sending and receiving conversations at a near similar level. A similar unit was produced in 1940 and was designated the 3-D recorder. It operated at 78, 33 1/3, and 16 rpm.

PRESTO enjoyed a large success and was touted to be the world's largest manufacturers of Instantaneous sound recording equipment and discs. Presto was a privately held company, and in the early 50's ran into competition and labor problems. The partners, especially the older ones, were reluctant to take the risk of entering new areas. PRESTO was sold July 2, 1956 to Unitronics Corporation of Long Island City,NY.Six months earlier Unitronics had purchased the David Bogen Co.PRESTO was merged with the David Bogen Co., and became the Bogen-Presto division. Unitronics was the successor to Olympic Radio and Television,which also became a division of Unitronics. In September 1957 Unitronics merged with the Siegler Corp., then Siegler merged with Lear, Inc., becoming Lear-Siegler in 1962. During this time Bogen-Presto was listed as a subsidiary. In 1963 the Presto name was dropped, and Bogen shown as a subsidiary. The Moody's Industrial listed Bogen as still having disc and tape recorders along with their other hi-fi home and industrial electronics. The 1965 listing for Bogen drops the recording equipment in their product mix. Thus the end of PRESTO!

To quote from the sale announcement: ( in the July 1956 issue of the PRESTO RECORDER, a monthly newsletter published by PRESTO) David Bogen Co. will transfer its offices and part of its manufacturing activities to Presto's new 80,000 square foot plant in Paramus. It is intended that Presto and Bogen work closely together since so many of their products are complementary. However, Presto and Bogen will retain separate identities,and each will adapt its sales policies to the fields it services. George J Saliba will continue to direct the operations of the Presto Recording Division as Vice President and General Manager. The blank disk division was sold to Reeves/Soundcraft in the late 50's or early 60's.

Perhaps a drawback to their continued success was in the basic design of their recorders. Such was the overhead mechanism of their larger machines, it did not allow for the larger stereo heads to be mounted. Although PRESTO (Bogen-Presto) did offer a stereo head licensed by Westrex that would mount on the 8D, 8DG, and 8GV lathes, it was late in their life. Scully and others developed a superior lathe, more adaptable to the automatic functions necessary for finer stereo mastering.

Presto was first located at 139 W 19th Street in New York City, where it had its offices up through the end of the War. Presto started on 19th street, and later also occupied 3 stories on 55th street off Broadway. In 1940 it moved part of its operation to Paramus, NJ, and in 1948 built a new building behind the older one at Rt 4 and Forrest Avenue. The Presto factory became a large furniture warehouse, and a newer building behind held the Bogen enterprise. Both buildings are now gone, and the site is occupied by the Bergen Mall

The smaller building to the left was occupied in 1940, and was the disc plant. The larger building was completed in 1948 and contained the rest of the operation.
The Disc plant, front view.