Eccentric used car king Earl William “Madman” Muntz became famous for introducing an affordable TV set in Chicago in 1949.
The TV set featured a built-in antenna, one knob picture control, and a low price that helped bring down the price of televisions nationwide (a cost of ten dollars a screen inch-$170 for a seventeen-inch screen-measured diagonally). Owning 72 stores, Muntz sold over $20 million sets by 1950. Muntz is credited with coining the term “TV.”
The concept for ‘Madman’ originated when Earl Muntz was selling cars. He wanted an advertising gimmick that would really get people’s attention, and so he hired artist Michael “Mike” Shore to come up with an idea. Shore designed a caricature of Muntz dressed in long red flannel underwear and sporting a Napoleon hat.
MAKER OF TELEVISION SETS NAMES DAUGHTER TEE VEE – Mr. and Mrs. Earl Muntz of Chicago announced today the birth of a daughter, weighing 5 1/2 pounds and named Tee Vee. Muntz is more commonly known by his nickname “Madman,” and – believe it or not – manufactures television sets. – Newspaper article (Chicago, Feb 8th)
Advertising catchphrases used for the Madman Muntz campaign included: “I buy ’em retail and sell ’em wholesale. It’s more fun that way!” and “I wanna give ’em away but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me. She’s crazy!”
Muntz was forced to sell his TV business when a plan to sell an automobile (The Muntz Jet) failed in 1953-54. He later went into the stereo business and created the Muntz stereo chain and the Muntz Stereo-Pak 4-track system, the direct ancestor of the 8-track.
Born in Elgin, Illinois on January 3, 1914, “Madman” Muntz died of lung cancer on June 21, 1987.