CTS: 125 Years of Innovation

Elizabeth Dale

NAMM Member, CTS is a leading supplier of sensing, connectivity, and motion solutions for the creation and advancement of products and services around the world, including some found in the music products industry. The company celebrated 125 years in business at Believe in Music Week in January and shares its quasquicentennial anniversary with Utah admitted as the forty-fifth U.S. state, the debut of the x-ray machine, and composition of John Phillips Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Founded in 1896 as the Chicago Telephone Supply Company, the company sold telephones through local supply houses, distributors, and mail orders. As the brainchild of father and son team, A.J. and George A. Briggs and lawyer S.A. Buffington, Chicago Telephone Supply found great success in its initial years by focusing on the niche rural telephone market largely-ignored by competitors. This strategy led to a workforce of 250 employees within the first six years of operations. By 1902, the company required larger and cheaper manufacturing space and relocated to Elkhart, Indiana.

CTS Corporation - Company Profile

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The advent of radio broadcasting in the 1920s opened new opportunities, and the company began re-inventing many of its telephone products to have applications for the emerging radio market. By 1922, more than half of sales came from radio components. Chicago Telephone Supply was able to survive the Great Depression by facilitating the sale of cost-effective and stable carbon composition variable resistors, lowering the cost of radio components used in tabletop radios. During this time, the company also shifted its operations from finished products to a manufacturer of components.

Chicago Telephone Supply provided critical support for the U.S. Army during WWII by developing the RM-29 remote telephone field set, which earned the Army/Navy Production Award for Excellence. This recognition caught the eye of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Radiation Laboratory, which requested the development of what eventually became the RLB, a precision potentiometer for radar units. The RLB enabled Allied forces to conduct night airstrikes, a tactic credited for shortening the war. During peacetime, RLB was applied in air traffic safety, enhanced weather forecasting, and medical diagnosis.

Already proficient in adapting to evolving technology, the manufacturer was able to continue its innovation with the onset of the television boom, and by 1950 the company had produced 7,500,000 television receivers. The requirement for resistor components needed to operate a television drove company profits to new heights, and it reaped the benefits of the technological trend. While still thriving in the television market, Chicago Telephone Supply expanded into the computer sector in 1958 with the launch of Cermet, a new type of stable resistance element that could be applied to computers and military industries and solidified its place in the electronics market.

The rapidly evolving consumer electronics market of the 1960s led to several dynamic changes. The Chicago Telephone Supply officially became CTS and went public on the New York Stock Exchange, participated in acquisitions and internal development, expanded its product portfolio to include crystal filters, quartz oscillators, selector switches, and loudspeakers, and opened an overseas manufacturing site in Taiwan.

As demand rose for the miniaturization of electronic products, CTS rolled out its hybrid microcircuits. A product with applications in everything from pacemakers to missile guidance systems. Between the 1980s to the early 2010s, CTS has grown exponentially. The company has acquired assets across multiple industries, including Tusonix, Inc., a manufacturer of electronic components with applications in amplifiers and RF switches; Valpey-Fisher Corporation, a leader in the production of precision crystal oscillators and noise timing solutions; and D&R Technology, a manufacturer of custom-designed sensors. Now, 125 years later, CTS is as committed as ever to “build our reputation as the company that solves problems, faces challenges, and takes advantage of opportunities, all with a level of experience no one can match.”

2021 Milestone Awards

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NAMM was honored to present CTS with a Milestone Award at Believe in Music week in January 2021, commemorating 125 years of distinction in the industry. For more information about CTS, please visit https://www.ctscorp.com/.