Elmer G. Osterhoudt
The Modern Radio Laboratories Catalog 

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Mabel Elizabeth Smith (Osterhoudt). Passport photo from March 7, 1923.
She was 5' 1" tall and had brown eyes and brown hair.
Mabel Osterhoudt died of an enlarged heart on July 27, 1983. She and Elmer are buried together in Westminster Cemetery (now named Westminster Memorial Park) near Garden Grove, California. Their headstone is of blue granite, with an MRL emblem on it. Her heart condition may explain why many of the houses they lived in had no upper level.

In January 1984, Elmer was at a senior citizens dance in Anaheim, California where he met a woman named Lois. Elmer and Lois were soon together and Lois took over some of Mabel's role at MRL, assembling kits, parts, literature, etc.

How much energy can one guy possibly have? Five months after his wife died, at 84 years old and still working at MRL, he was at a DANCE. And he hooks up!

By April of 1985 Lois had been living with Elmer for over a year, but he still brought flowers to Mabel's grave every Thursday. The cemetery would collect them on Wednesdays, so Elmer replaced them on Thursdays.

On December 30, 1986 Elmer wrote that he had had shingles on his left arm since December 12, so his health may have been beginning to fail.

On June 7, 1987, Elmer Osterhoudt died of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
He had maintained Modern Radio Laboratories for 55 years.

Below is a list of addresses for MRL.
Note that entries in different colors show the SAME address. (White is not considered one of the colors.)
Some of he number/letter combinations may have been used to track responses from ads in various magazines. "B" is Radio Craft, (later Radio Electronics), "C" is Popular Mechanics, "G" is Elementary Electronics, "H" is Radio News, "L" is RADIO magazine, and later, Popular Electronics. "M" is Science and Mechanics, "T" is Popular Science,  etc.
1924-1928 1522 Firestone Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA MRL Catalog, Los Angeles City Directory
1928-1932 5809 Foothill Boulevard, Oakland, CA Oakland City Directory
-- Modern Radio Laboratories begins in 1932 --
1932-33 1508 23rd Avenue, Oakland, CA "How to Make Coils" Handbook HB-6, Short Wave Craft
1934-38 151 Liberty Street, San Francisco, CA * Popular Mechanics, Radio World, Radio Craft, Radio News
1938-39 7700-C, 7700-T  E. 14th, Oakland, CA Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Radio Craft
1940-43 1406 77 Ave, Oakland, CA (Same as above) 1940 California census, Radio News
1944-45 363-A, C, T, X Hampton, Hayward, CA ** Popular Mechanics, Radio Craft, Radio News, Popular Science
1945 2620 18th Street San Francisco, CA Popular Science (May to December)
1945 PO Box I, 114 Dale Ave, San Carlos, CA *** Elmer's draft card from WWII (Card updated November 1945)
1946 BOX I-B and I-T, San Carlos, CA *** Radio News, Popular Science
1947-48 Eye-C San Carlos, CA Popular Mechanics
1948-50 Eye-H San Carlos, CA Radio News
1948-50 578-B, T San Carlos, CA Radio News, Radio Craft,  Popular Science
1951 411-H, T Capitol Hill, Reno, Nevada Radio News, Popular Science
1952-53 1131-B, 1131-T Valota Road, Redwood, CA **** Radio Electronics, Popular Science, Jim McNutt WA6OTP
1954 328-C and 328-K Fuller, Redwood City, CA **** Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated
1954-56 328-B and 328-L Fuller, Redwood City, CA RADIO magazine, Popular Mechanics, Radio Electronics
1957-58 328 Fuller St, Redwood City, CA Popular Mechanics, Redwood City directory
1958-65 1131-L and 1131-M Valota Road, Redwood, CA RADIO magazine, Popular Mechanics, Popular Electronics
1965-66 993-L, Redwood City, CA 94064 RADIO magazine, Popular Electronics
1966-70 12041 Sheridan Lane, Garden Grove, CA RADIO magazine
1970-71 2612-L, 2612-K Butano Drive, Sacramento, CA RADIO magazine, Electronics Illustrated
1971-72 745-L Cordone Ave, Reno, NV 89502 RADIO magazine, MRL Catalog
1972-74 10322 Ballard Drive, Garden Grove, CA Elementary Electronics, MRL Catalog
1973 & 86 1477-G, 1477-H, Garden Grove, CA 92642 Elementary Electronics (1973), The Horn Speaker (1986)
1975-87 P.O. Box 1477, Garden Grove, CA MRL Catalog, MRL letterhead
* This house was owned by Mabel's parents, George and Alma Smith. They had owned this property since the 1920s. The original house was built in 1913 and was two stories high with a porch that faced the street. Sometime before 1922 it had been converted into two apartments. Elmer and Mabel lived here during the Great Depression. Records show that the Smiths lived here in 1923, but whether Elmer and Mabel shared the Smith's apartment in 1934 or had their own apartment isn't known. The structure no longer exists.

** There is a house at 361 Hampton Road in Hayward that was built in 1942, and a house at 365 Hampton Road that was built in 1924, however the address in between, 363 Hampton Road, doesn't exist. Could 363 Hampton have been behind 361? The houses are crammed together as if zoning laws didn't exist. Another MRL mystery. See it here.

*** The PO box was the letter "I." This caused problems because it looked like the number 1.

In RB&H #36 (printed in 1953) Elmer related that they moved from Valota Road to a nine unit apartment house, which they built. He said it was "three blocks north of Broadway, in Redwood City, and close to all chain stores, etc." This would be their address at 328 Fuller Street. After 68 years it's difficult to verify this address. Three blocks south of Fuller Street is "Broadway," just like Elmer wrote, so we know we have the correct "Fuller Street." Public records for San Mateo County don't list an address for 328 Fuller Street, so it seems the apartment building is gone. An office building now occupies the site. See for yourself here: MAP

In February of 1986, the advertisement above was placed by MRL in the "Wanted" section of a magazine named "The Horn Speaker." Elmer hadn't placed an ad this detailed since 1934.
In the September 1987 issue, this message was printed in the "Wanted" section. It states that you can write to Mel Osterhoudt for more details. Melvin was Elmer's youngest brother, and would have been 62 years old at the time.

This ad is very misleading. According to Paul Nelson, Dr. Berford A. Turke, the owner of MIDCO, placed this ad! There was no "encouragement" from Elmer, and Mel Osterhoudt had nothing to do with MIDCO.

Following the instructions above, I wrote to Mel in 2018. Unfortunately it was 31 years later, but I hoped there would be a family member still living there. The unopened letters were returned with "NOT AT THIS ADDRESS" written on them. I then wrote to Paul Nelson, who informed me that his friend, Mel Osterhoudt, died in the early 1990s. LINK
These MIDCO ads appeared in Hands On Electronics from July 1986 until December 1988.
It has been reported that Dr. Turke sometimes sounded quite unhinged over the phone. The MIDCO venture lasted till the year 2000, when Dr. Turke became ill. At that time, he placed an add in Antique Radio Classified for someone to bring a truck and haul away 50 years of MIDCO radio equipment and crystal radio supplies, free of charge. He died on November 25, 2002.

The August 1987 issue of Monitoring Times, page 19, states the Osterhoudt family was considering selling MRL to a qualified individual. In the early 1990s MRL reappeared under the direction of Paul Nelson. All trademarks now belong to him.

From an article in Radio Age by Dick Mackiewicz: "Elmer was involved in a severe automobile accident in 1986 and never recovered. Paul visited Elmer during his convalescence and expressed interest in carrying on Elmer's business. Elmer and his family liked Paul a great deal, and when Elmer passed away in 1987, Paul bought Elmer's business and moved it to its present location in Minnesota."
NOTE: Paul has stated that the part of the article where it says he visited Elmer in his convalescence is not true.
The article can be found here.

When Paul Nelson acquired MRL, the only things left were Elmer's printer and two crystal set kits. There were no coils or anything else handmade by Elmer. Where did it all go? 31 years later, dozens of brand new MRL coils made by Elmer were found on a website that sold antique radio parts. How did they end up there?

This advertisement was placed by Paul Nelson in The Horn Speaker in 1998.
The MRL website appeared soon afterward.

Now if we could only figure out who that other Elmer kid was, the one who showed up at the Osterhoudt place in 1915 (Page 1) and helped get the radio working and this whole thing started, hoopie-hellie, that would really be something.

The first radio Elmer made didn't work. After he built his first antenna tower it became illegal to have an antenna. After he opened the Manchester Radio and Electric Shop on Manchester Avenue, the city changed the name of the street. Two weeks after he got married, the stock market crashed, the Great Depression began, and a year later the radio store and their brand new house were just a memory. He opened another store in 1938, then the manufacture of consumer radios and parts was halted during WWII.

Yet, he persevered and spent a lifetime in radio. He helped thousands of others in the "small set" field, some of who also went on to make radio a life-long career. Today, a knowledgeable person who helps a novice in radio is called an "Elmer." We can all learn a lesson from Elmer Osterhoudt.

  Westminster Memorial Park                Photo by Chuck Schubert
Remembrance Garden 56A, Lot 483, Sp. 4
(click on photo for full size)


Much of the personal information presented here about Elmer G. Osterhoudt came from Elmer G. Osterhoudt himself, including the fact that his name is pronounced "OH-sterhowdt"...

... except this: His middle name was Guy!

Additional information for anyone who wants to do a genealogy search:
Elmer G. Osterhoudt - Born  October 6, 1899. Died June 7, 1987
Mabel Elizabeth Smith - Born August 26, 1900. Died July 27, 1983
  Elmer's siblings: Born - Died  
  Cyril Wilbert 1901 - 1952  
  Clarence 1903 - 1903 *  
  Wilda Frances 1915 - 1973  
  Charles Frederick 1916 - 2005  
  Nora Elizabeth 1918 - 1922  
  Dorothy Evelyn 1921 - 2013  
  Ada May 1923 - 1925  
  Melvin Arthur 1925 - 1992  
* Unverified. On October 14, 1903, two weeks after Elmer's mother Minnie Osterhoudt died in Yakima, Washington, the Yakima Herald reported that Clarence Osterhoudt, age 3 months and 5 days, son of W. A. Osterhoudt had also died. See this.

Wilbert Arthur Osterhoudt (Elmer's father) born March 3, 1870. Died Dec 3, 1930
Minnie Jane Comer Osterhoudt (Elmer's mother) Born Jan 1, 1876. Died Sept 29, 1903
Elmer's parents were married on Feb 22, 1899. Elmer was born 7.5 months later.
Alice Elsie Shields (Elmer's stepmother) Born Sept 18, 1888 or 89, Died July 15, 1981
Wilbert and Alice were married on August 30, 1914 in Oregon, then married again on August 14, 1915 in Santa Ana, CA after they moved to Los Angeles.
Charles Higby Osterhoudt (Elmer's grandfather) Born Aug 28, 1829. Died April 8, 1903
Elizabeth Woodruff Osterhoudt (Elmer's grandmother) Born June 10, 1832. Died June 1, 1896

Charles and Elizabeth (known as Betsy) were married in December 1851 in Ogle, Illinois.
They had 11 children.

Attempts to obtain any information about "Lois" have so far been unsuccessful.

Information from the US Census
The 1900 Census from the Scotts Mills Precinct of Marion County, Oregon, shows that Elmer's father William was 30 years old. He was a carpenter. William lived with his father, whose name was Charles, in Charles' house. Charles was 70 years old. Also in the house were two of William's brothers, Henry and John. They were both farmers. William was "not employed" 8 months of the year, so he may have been farming for those months. The property is listed as a farm, owned by Charles, free of any mortgage. In the residence lived a daughter-in-law named Minnie J. Osterhoudt who was 24, and a baby named Elmer Osterhoudt, who was 7 months old.

Scotts Mills is about 50 miles south of Portland, on the edge of Marion County. Elmer wrote on his 1942 draft card that he was born in Butte Creek, Oregon. Butte Creek is actually a creek that runs through Scotts Mills.

In 1900, Scotts Mills consisted mainly of two mills that were built on the creek in 1847, two churches, a blacksmith, a post office, two general stores, and about 150 inhabitants. Charles, being 70 years old in 1900, seems to have been one of the first settlers. According to The Centennial History Of Oregon, 1811 - 1912, Volume 2, Page 670, Charles Osterhoudt and his brother Elias came from Illinois and settled in Marion in the 1860s. This would have been after the Civil War (he had been a soldier in the Union army). "Came from Illinois" does not mean "born in Illinois." Charles was born in New York, but he was married in Illinois in 1851.

The 1910 Census shows William Osterhoudt still living in Oregon, but in Eugene City. Elmer is ten years old, born in Oregon. There is no mention of Cyril, just William and his son Elmer. William is a merchant in the lumber trade. (William's legal name was Wilbert.)

Another entry shows John Osterhoudt and his wife Lillie and their three children living in Eugene. William and Elmer lived at 205 8th Avenue. John and Lillie lived at 593 8th Avenue (according to John's draft card).

(Eugene, Oregon is about 90 miles South of Portland and about 70 miles south-west of Scotts Mills. It was a much larger town than Scotts Mills, having a population of about 9,000 in 1910.)
Downtown Eugene, Oregon in 1915.

Another 1910 Census page shows Cyril Osterhoudt, age 8, living with his aunt and uncle, Charles and Nellie McConnell, in Clackamas, Oregon. Nellie McConnell was Wilbert Osterhoudt's sister.

The 1920 Census has Elmer Osterhoudt, now 20, living in Fresno, CA. He is head of household and a radio operator at a power company. Almost all the names on the next seven census pages are males who also work at a power company. They are laborers, foremen, machinists, a wagon maker, a teamster, blacksmiths, clerks, an oiler, a store keeper, etc. Apparently, Elmer may have lived in company housing. (Elmer wrote that he worked for the Southern California Edison Company in 1920, but in San Francisco.)

A separate 1920 entry shows William and his wife Alice Osterhoudt living in Los Angeles. Alice (whose maiden name was Alice Elsie Shields) was from Vancouver, Washington, born in 1889.

William, age 49, a house carpenter
Alice, age 31
Elmer, age 20, a wireless operator
Cyril, age 18, a cook in the US Navy
Wilda, age 4 years, 11 months
Charles, age 3 years, 7 months
Nora, age 1 year, 4 months
Also living in the house was Elmer's uncle John, age 45. He is a "retired carpenter."

Note: Dorothy Osterhoudt was born on June 29, 1921, so she didn't make the census. At the time, the Osterhoudt address was 8011 Crockett Blvd. The 1922-23 Watts-Compton city directory also listed their address as 8011 Crocket Blvd.

Ada May was born on February 7, 1923. What is interesting is that the attending physician lived at 8006 Crockett Boulevard. In 1937 Cyril Osterhoudt lived at the same address. See THIS.

The 1930 Census shows Elmer, now 30, living with his wife Mabel in Oakland, Alameda, CA. It states Elmer is a proprietor in the radio business, and Mabel is a clerk at a railroad.

Back in Los Angeles, the following lived on Crockett Boulevard:
William A Osterhoudt age 60
Alice E Osterhoudt age 41
Wilda F Osterhoudt age15
Charles F Osterhoudt age 13
Dorothy E Osterhoudt age 8
Melvin A Osterhoudt age 4
John E Osterhoudt age 55
Note: John died on June 18, 1930. William died on December 3, 1930.

The 1940 Census shows:
8019 Crockett | Value of home - $1,500
John Newman age 48 - Truck Driver - veg produce
Alice Newman age 51
Fred Osterhoudt * - step son, age 23 - Hardware Machinist - garage door Co
Melvin Osterhoudt  - step son, age 14
* Fred and "Charles F" from the 1930 census are the same person.

There was also a Merlin Gale Osterhoudt (02/05/1915 - 08/24/1996), born in Eugene, Oregon, who listed his address as 8019 Crockett Blvd on his draft card in 1940. Alice Newman was his aunt. Who was he? He was the son of Wilbert's brother John and Alice's sister, Lillie. Like his father, he was a carpenter.  Draft card.

On July 27, 1904, John Osterhoudt married a girl named Lillie S. Shields in Vancouver Washington. Lillie was 17 years old. John was 29. They lived in Enterprise, Oregon, which is a tiny little town even today (population 1,940 in 2010). They had three children, Floyd (1905), Clarence (1907), and Ray (1908) then moved to Eugene, Oregon and had four more children, Hazel, Meriel, Merlin and Dorothy.

John and Wilbert married two sisters! Why then does the 1920 census show John living in the same house as Wilbert and Alice, but without Lillie?

Apparently, it's because John and Lillie went their separate ways in 1919. John's draft card, dated September 12, 1918, states they lived at 593 8th Avenue in Eugene, Oregon. Lillie signed the card where it listed "nearest relative," so they were still together. On November 2, 1920, The Morning Oregonian reported that John deserted Lillie and their seven children in December of 1919, and Lillie was seeking custody of the children in the divorce.

 The 1920 census shows Lillie Osterhoudt as head of household, with children Floyd, Clarence, Ray, Hazel, Meriel, Merlin and Dorothy. They live in Lane, Oregon. (Eugene is in Lane County) No entry for John, even though Dorothy is only a little under two years old. John appears in the census as living with Wilbert Osterhoudt in Los Angeles.

Lillie (Shields) Osterhoudt married a widower named James Campbell on December 7, 1921, in Vancouver, Washington. The 1930 census adds some information. It shows "Lily" (born in Washington) married to James Campbell and living in Multnomah, Oregon. Floyd Osterhoudt, age 24, born in Washington, is listed as James Campbell's stepson. Floyd lists his father as being born in Iowa, which is where John Osterhoudt was born. James Campbell is a night watchman and Floyd Osterhoudt sells newspapers. The Campbell's have two daughters and a son, Nora, age 9, Nancy age 7, and Daniel, age 2 years, 10 months.

The 1930 census also shows Hazel Osterhoudt, born in Oregon, age 19, living in Los Angeles and employed as a servant. Clarence Osterhoudt, born in Washington, age 23, is an inmate in Lane County jail, Oregon.

The 1940 census shows Lillie was divorced, head of household, living with Nora and Daniel. She was 53, had borne 10 children and was divorced twice. Whew.

Wilbert Osterhoudt married Alice Shields in 1914. Their daughter Wilda was born in 1915 in Eugene Oregon, then they moved to Los Angeles. Afterward, John Osterhoudt ended up living with them, while Lillie Shields Osterhoudt went off and married James Campbell. I wonder if Alice knew she'd be living with her sister's ex-husband for the next 15 years or so. It would make an interesting story if we knew all the details.

What happened to Elmer's mother? Minnie Jane Comer Osterhoudt died in Yakima City, Washington on September 28, 1903, aged 27 years and eight months. She is buried in Miller Cemetery in Silverton, Marion County, Oregon, near Scotts Mills.

Charles Osterhoudt, Elmer's grandfather, also died in Yakima, and is also buried in Miller Cemetery. He died the same year as Minnie, but earlier that April in 1903. He was 73. Why were they in Yakima in 1903 and what happened to them there?

In 1903 Yakima was in the middle of a population boom, experiencing unprecedented prosperity in agriculture and building. The Yakima Valley was considered the most fertile land in the United States. 1902 saw the building of over 160 new dwellings and many new stores and businesses, which did not keep up with the demand. The population had doubled in the three years since 1900 to about 6000.

Conceivably, Wilbert brought the family to Yakima because he was a carpenter and work as a carpenter was plentiful, but if that were the case, why did his 73 year old father travel the 215 miles with them? We may never know the reason they were there. All we know is that they were in Yakima in April and September of 1903, Charles and Minnie died there, and their bodies were brought back to Oregon.

The year before, in 1902, an event happened in Scotts Mills which may or may not be related. The Oregon Land Development Company, which began in 1888 with the purchase of 2,107 acres of land from Thomas Scott, went bankrupt. According to the Scotts Mills Historical Society, it "resulted in the loss of property to many buyers." For years the lots of the Oregon Land Company (also known as the Friends Oregon Colony) went up for sheriff's sale, many for only $1.32, but some for as low as 20 or 25 cents. Was Wilbert Osterhoudt affected by this?

Yakima City was only 8 years old in 1903. It grew around a train station built by Northern Pacific Railway in 1885. The first train station was an old boxcar placed in the middle of Yakima Avenue. A larger structure was erected in 1898 to replace the boxcar. If the Osterhoudt's traveled by train, they would have arrived here. (PHOTO)

Unfortunately, the city's infrastructure couldn't keep up with the population increase. Sanitation and water quality were horrendous. The sewer system discharged directly into the Yakima River, which was used for drinking water. Outhouses were built next to wells, which were then contaminated with coliform bacteria. Irrigation ditches were open and contained sewage, feces and salmonella. Garbage, horse manure and animal excrement caused huge fly swarms in the entire Yakima Valley. 300,000 sheep and 15,000 cattle roamed the area.

Between 1897 and 1911, Yakima had outbreaks of scarlet fever, typhoid fever, smallpox, diphtheria, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Babies died of "Cholera infantum" in the summer, which was not actual Cholera, and was probably salmonella bacteria in contaminated milk. "Fever deaths" in Yakima were five times higher than the national average. Charles and Minnie may have died of disease. (This is conjecture on my part; we don't actually know what they died from.) The Yakima Herald, on September 30, 1903, published the following:

  Minnie Osterhoudt  

Elmer's father, Wilbert Osterhoudt, died of heart disease on December 3, 1930, aged 60, leaving Alice with four children under the age of 15. Alice married James Clarence Newman on November 18, 1932. James died in 1964, aged 71. Alice lived till 1981 and was 92 years old. Wilbert and Alice are both buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Los Angeles, as are their daughters Nora and Ada May.

Wilbert and Minnie Osterhoudt, Elmer's parents. (Click for full size.)
Photo thanks to Melissa Alberda and Lois Ray. Melissa is distantly related to Elmer.

Information from the 1940 Census
Note: Click on the link above, select ED 61-256 and go to page 27. Does not work in Firefox.
Or, just click here.
Address 1406 77th Avenue, Oakland, California
Value of home or rental property $9000*
Home owned or rented Owned
Name of each person in residence as of April 1,1940 Osterhoudt Elmer G.    Head of Household
Osterhoudt Mabel E.   Wife
Place of birth Elmer - Oregon
Mabel - Missouri
Age Elmer - 40
Mabel - 39
Highest grade of school completed Elmer - H4, Code 30 (12th grade)
Mabel - H4, Code 30 (12th grade)
Industry Elmer - Radio Store
Mabel - Railroad**
Occupation Elmer - Proprietor
Mabel - Clerk
Class of worker Elmer - OA (Working on Own Account)
Mabel - PW (Salary worker in Private Work)
Number of hours worked per week Elmer - 54
Mabel - 40
Number of weeks worked Elmer - 52
Mabel - 52
Amount of money, wages or salary received Elmer - $0
Mabel - $2100***
Income from sources other than money, wages or salary Elmer - Yes
Mabel - No
* When the Osterhoudts purchased this location in 1938, the average cost of a house in California was $3,527. They
   must have owned the whole building. (See picture on the bottom of page 4.) No one else on the census page has a
   house valued at this much.

There is nothing written by Elmer that references Mabel working anywhere except MRL. She was a clerk at
     Southern Pacific Railroad.
1936 San Francisco directory listing showing Mabel as a clerk at Southern Pacific.

*** Only one other person on the census page made this much money; he was a chemist in a paint factory.


Updated March 6, 2021