TESLA, the original radio and TV brand, long before Elon Musk

Source: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague

“We have a good start, but how to continue? We are missing something! » In the very vintage advertising spot that the TESLA company presents on its site, the saleswoman in a blouse from a TESLA Eltos shop comes to the rescue of young radio amateurs in need of components. Opened in 1965, the shops of the brand TESLA Eltos (originally called TESLA obchod a technické služby) were only one of the many facets of the electrical engineering group TESLA, founded for its part in 1946 by the nationalization of some 16 national and international companies (including Philips and Siemens).

Photo: Pardubice Museum

From micro-component to mega-amp

With dozens of factories throughout Czechoslovakia, including six in Prague, the TESLA np group (for “národní podník”, state enterprise) covered all forms of electronics and electrical engineering, all its stages too, from the smallest passive or active component to electronic devices for domestic, professional or military use. Thus TESLA Karlín specialized in the production of telephone switchboards and TESLA Holešovice in that of light bulbs, TESLA Pardubice in television sets and tape recorders, TESLA Bratislava in radio receivers, TESLA Vráble in amplifiers for cinemas and theaters , etc.

Photo: Pardubice Museum

TESLA thus had a national monopoly on the production of television sets, radio receivers and many other electrical engineering devices, which the group also exported to member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance: Soviet Union, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland or even Romania.

Among the articles that marked the company of the time, we will first mention the legendary T58 transistor radio. Named after the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, where it was first exhibited, this portable radio was visibly different from competing transistors by its low power consumption, small size and low weight.

The T58 transistor radio |  Photo: Josef Kopecký, ČRo

Talisman and Tamara

But the most legendary TESLA item is undoubtedly the small 308U Talisman radio, with its Art Deco-style Bakelite cabinet designed by Igor Didov, from the TESLA Bratislava factory, and produced by this same factory between 1953 and 1958. Many Czechoslovak families at the time gathered around a Talisman set, since more than a million copies were sold…

The Talisman 308U radio |  Illustrative photo: LubosHouska, Pixabay, CC0

In 1973, the Slovak factory TESLA Orava v Nižné began mass production of the first Czechoslovakian television capable of receiving color and black-and-white broadcasts. With its 59 cm diagonal Soviet-made screen – impressive for its time – and its wooden box with a paper rear panel, the Color television set weighed 46 kg!

Video of Tesla Color 4401A

The KRTP-86 Tamara passive radar |  Photo: RomanM82, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the field of military electronics, TESLA was also behind a famous device: the KRTP-86 Tamara passive radar, which was said to be the only one in the world capable of detecting stealth aircraft. A little less than 20 copies were made in all, most of them used by the USSR.

An ambiguous brand name

Nikola Tesla |  Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

When the brand was created in 1946, the name TESLA was chosen in homage to the famous engineer of Serbian origin Nikola Tesla, who had died three years earlier. Nikola Tesla is known for his leading role in the development and adoption of alternating current for the transmission and distribution of electricity. Years later, in 2003, it was in honor of the same person that an American automaker chose to name its newly founded (and subsequently invested by a certain Elon Musk) brand of electric cars… Despite their domains very different specialties, this choice was nevertheless the subject of a dispute between the two groups, and it was not until 2010 that these non-competitors reached a “non-aggression” agreement, mutually recognizing the right to use the Tesla brand

Photo: Drahtlos, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

However, it was not the first time in the history of the Czechoslovak brand that its name posed a problem: indeed, after the ideological split in 1948 between the countries of the Eastern bloc and Yugoslavia, now an ideological enemy (mainly in personal animosity between Soviet leader Stalin and Yugoslav Prime Minister Tito), the name of the Yugoslav inventor became undesirable. Fortunately, an irrefutable official explanation has been advanced: nothing to do with Nikola Tesla; the TESLA brand was actually an abbreviation of TEchnika SLAboproudá (“low current technique”).

From monopoly to museum

Source: Tesla as

And since the Velvet Revolution? The various TESLA factories became independent and were privatized. Some have changed names; others subsequently integrated larger entities. But after several decades of undisputed monopoly on the Czechoslovakian market, not all of them have been able to adapt to the new, modern and competitive market environment… The direct successor of the public company TESLA np, for its part, has become the company anonymous TESLA as Its headquarters are now located in the Prague district of Vysočany, and the company presents itself as “one of the leading suppliers in the field of special radiocommunications and communication equipment for fixed and mobile military tactical networks”. It is also the main supplier of the Czech army’s stationary telecommunications network.

Photo: Retro Museum Praha

If you need a new TV, then, no need to search for the TESLA brand AC wave logo on the shelves of your home appliance store. On the other hand, you can go to the Retro muzeum Praha, which presents the daily life and aesthetics of the 1970s and 1980s in Czechoslovakia, to admire with nostalgia some consumer TESLA devices that delighted the united families of communist Czechoslovakia – at least in advertising spots.

Video of Socialistické televízory (1988)

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