Celebration of Larry Miller’s Restoration
of Stanford University Libraries’
Ampex Magnetic Tape Recorder, Model 200A.
Stanford University, 2012 November 13
by John Leslie
It is wonderful to see the Libraries’ Ampex Model 200A restored so
completely. Larry accomplished what I would have believed to be next to
impossible. I am amazed that he could even find replacement parts for
this 64 year-old recorder. But knowing Larry, he likes to do the
The Model 200A is an important part of the history of magnetic tape
recording. When it was introduced to the World in 1948, it very quickly
revolutionized both the radio broadcasting industry and the audio
recording industry. For those of you who are not familiar with the
background of Ampex and magnetic recording, I want to give you a brief
history of the early years of Ampex.
There are five people who were major contributors to the development of
the Model 200A recorder: (1) Alexander Poniatoff, who was president of
Ampex Corporation (for those not familiar with Ampex, the name comes
from Alex’s initials AMP followed by EX for excellence); (2) Jack
Mullin, who was a major with the US Army Signal Corps; (3) Harold
Lindsay, a mechanical engineer at Ampex; (4) Myron Stolaroff, an
electrical engineer at Ampex; and last but not least, (5) Bing Crosby.
During WWII, Jack Mullin was stationed in England and often heard
classical music, broadcast by German radio, that sounded so good that it
might be from “live” performances. He found that hard to believe and
wondered how they did it!
After the War, the Signal Corps asked Jack to go into Germany and
explore their electronic activities. He discovered that Germany had
developed a magnetic tape recorder that they called a Magnetophon, and
it was used for the broadcasts he had heard in England. Jack received
permission to bring two of the recorders home to San Francisco.
Now for the Ampex part of story: During the War, Alex Poniatoff’s little
company manufactured small electric motors for military applications.
When the War ended, orders for the motors dropped sharply and Alex was
searching for a new product, or products, for his company to
Now back to Jack Mullin; May 16th, 1946, he gave a demonstration of his
Magnetophon to a group of electrical engineers in San Francisco. All of
us, who were present, were amazed at the sound quality of the music Jack
had recorded. Alex Poniatoff did not attend that meeting, but when he
heard about it, he called Jack and arranged a private showing. Jack
demonstrated the Magnetophon to Alex and Ampex’s engineers – Harold
Lindsay and Myron Stolaroff. Shortly after that meeting, Alex, Harold
and Myron decided they could design and manufacture a still better
recorder than the Magnetophon!
Ampex began the new venture: Harold did the mechanical engineering and
Myron, the electrical and electronic engineering. It was long hours and
hard work! Throughout the development process, Jack Mullin was both a
great friend and a great help!
In October 1947, Ampex had a prototype of the Model 200A that
outperformed the Magnetophon, and they were sure it would be a great
success if they had the money to produce it. By that time, Jack Mullin
was using his two Magnetophons to record Bing Crosby’s radio shows at
Bing’s ABC studio in Hollywood. Jack thought if would be good to
demonstrate the Ampex Recorder to Bing.
The bottom line is that Bing Crosby placed an order to Ampex for 20
recorders at $4,000 each with a 60% down payment. In that way, Bing
helped finance Ampex’s first production-run of 20 recorders. In April
1948, Ampex delivered the first production Model 200A to Jack Mullin,
and a few days later, the second. These were serials numbers 1 and 2.
They were used to retire Jack’s two Magnetophons that by that time were
mighty tired and difficult to keep working properly.
When ABC learned how well the Ampex 200A performed, they wanted 10 as
quickly as they could get them. They wanted to use them for recording
broadcasts to the East and then play them back 3 hours later for
broadcasts to the West. Bing Crosby helped ABC by selling 10 of his 20
to them. The Libraries’ Model 200A that Larry Miller restored is serial #
3, and was delivered to ABC in April 1948.
The 200A was the forerunner of a long series of Ampex tape recorders for
recording studio, radio, television, instrumentation, and military
applications. The Ampex Model 200A began it all!