From their conception to the 1950’s, automobiles were strictly pieces of analog machinery. It seemed they were able to connect people physically by transporting them from place to place, but failed to connect with them at an emotional level. But as the automobile matured, so did its ability to connect with its drivers and passengers. In 1953, HARMAN Becker introduced the first FM car radio, allowing occupants to hear music while they drove.
Quickly, automobiles earned their place in culture, starring in rock songs and movies. Now, “being handed the aux cord” is a punchline online, and high tech audio systems are key in the car buying process.
In the current era, as car companies show off their latest models at the world's largest trade shows, it’s evident that in-car entertainment has gone through a remarkable transformation in the last 100 years. The high-tech digital cockpits and next generation car audio systems of today make the in-cabin technology of 1914 look pretty archaic. But, those older systems paved the way, and created the technological basis for the incredible solutions that cars feature today.
So, in honor of Collector Car Appreciation Day, an annual day to raise awareness of the vital role automotive restoration and collection plays in American society, we dug through HARMAN’s photo archives to help illustrate the phenomenal evolution of automotive infotainment systems and in-car radios since the early 1940‘s.
1940’s – 1950’s
The World War II era was a tumultuous time for car manufacturers, yet many produced some truly exemplary models with the industry's first sound systems. HARMAN Becker Automotive Systems, commonly known as Becker, was one of the first pioneers to bring car infotainment and audio solution to the market. Founded by Max Egon Becker, Becker Radio started offering repair services for automobile radios.
1949: The birth of Becker's first in-car radio, called 'Autophon.' The Autophon was created with various spare parts and old American radio units. Interestingly, Becker employees wrote the text on the rasio's setting scale by hand since printing presses weren't available in this timeframe.
1951: Radio model ‘Nuerburg’ was introduced as a special product for the Mercedes 300 SL. The radio‘s wooden screen is delivered as a raw wood screen and can be dyed suitably to the vehicle wood.
1953: The year Becker launched Becker Mexico, the first in-car radio with fully automatic FM station scan. The radio might look old-fashioned from the outside, but it’s packed with modern hi-tech equipment.
1958: The Becker facility in Karlsbad, Germany was in full swing! Five decades later, HARMAN is still in the same building with nearly 950 employees.
1962: Pope Saint John XIII drove a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with a Becker Mexico in-car radio.
1969: The year Becker Mexico Olympia made an appearance in cars. In the same year, car radios became more sophisticated, with larger bandwidth and a cassette drive.
1993: Porsche starts integrating Becker radios for their series production cars.
1995: HARMAN International acquires Becker Radio. Harman Becker prepares for its debut in the digital future of the broadcast, radio and communication industry.
1997: Becker's 'Traffic Star' marks the merger of car radio, CD player and navigation.
1998: In close collaboration with Porsche's design department, Harman Becker supplies a special version of the 'TrafficPro,' a GPS solution that supports navigation in 17 European countries. Traffic Message Channel integration (TMC) provides passengers with sophisticated and precise route planning.
2001: The start of Harman Becker’s collaboration with Audi in the deployment of the first infotainment head unit combined with display and navigation. At this time, the automotive industry started to transition to fully integrated built-in infotainment systems
2006: Almost 50 years after the first Becker Mexico, Harman Becker introduces the limited edition Becker 'Mexico Retro' with a vintage design of the 60's combined with the latest technologies.
Whether you own a vintage vehicle or a modern day automobile, Collector Car Appreciation Day is a great time for car enthusiasts to reflect on the joys they experience when they are cruising in their vehicles. A pioneer in the connected car space, HARMAN continues to drive the future of in-vehicle experiences. From built-in infotainment and communication solutions to a range of connected safety offerings and in-car audio systems, HARMAN’s end-to-end solutions provide advanced connectivity to usher in a new era of driving. We hope you enjoyed traveling back in time with us to see how far in-car technologies have come.