In 1936, General Motors forecast a growing new market for radios in automobiles. They contracted with Crosley Radio to build them in Kokomo, where Crosley was operating out of an old Haynes Auto company building. Within a few months, GM bought the plant from Crosley and made it part of their Dayton Electric, or Delco, division. That same year, they began building the first in-dash auto radio, which was introduced in the 1937 Buick.
During WWII, the plant was converted to wartime production and built anti-radar equipment, tank radios, walkie-talkies, and aircraft radio among other things.
After the war, they went on to develop new technologies like push-button tuning and signal-seeking radios, and introduced the first transistorized car radio in the 1956 Corvette.
In 1951, they took over the former Reliance dress plant on North Washington for the manufacture of communications equipment and anti-aircraft fire control systems for the military.
The 1960’s were years of rapid growth for Delco, and an employment boom for the county. By the 1970’s, Delco was one of the largest manufacturers of auto radios in the world and employed as many as 30,000 people worldwide (about half of that total in Kokomo alone). Their products also included guidance and navigation equipment for the Apollo space flights. The company’s world headquarters were located in Kokomo, as well as its research and development facilities.
The last transistor was made in 1978, as integrated circuits became common and electronic devices smaller. Delco’s research, development and manufacturing capabilities led them into the manufacture of engine control modules, high energy ignition systems, even components for missile guidance systems, along with car radios.
During the late 1980’s, the Kokomo operation was one of the largest manufacturers of integrated circuits in the country. In the 90’s, GM took over Hughes Electronics and merged it with Delco to form Hughes Electronics. Hughes was eventually split up into Raytheon, Direct TV, and GM’s Delphi Automotive Division, with the Kokomo operations as part of Delphi. Then, in 1999, Delphi was spun off as a separate company. It still exists as such today, but is a much smaller company and the plants remaining in Kokomo are largely empty. The North Washington plant was demolished, as was the original Haynes plant. The administration building on Firmin Street is now home to the Inventrek business incubator.