Bose founder, Philly rooted, dies at 83

Posted: July 15, 2013

ARGUABLY THE best-known name in consumer electronics, Amar Bose, 83, died in his sleep early yesterday after a long illness, Bose Corp. president Robert Maresca confirmed.

Less well-known, the founder/CEO of Bose Corp. and longtime Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty member was actually born in Philadelphia and earned his first taste of electronics innovation here.

It was a knack that would later flourish (starting in 1964) with Bose-branded breakthroughs such as the first "direct/reflecting" 901 loudspeakers and the first commercially successful (and still industry-standard) Bose noise-reduction headphones. Also big hits were his size-defying small table radios with big-speaker sound (using patented "wave guide" bass funneling technology) and the first audio systems custom tuned for specific cars using computer measurements and the "psychoacoustic" principles that Bose pioneered and some rivals/audio snobs derided.

The son of an (East) Indian political-revolutionary father driven from his homeland in the 1920s and an American school-teaching mother, Bose grew up in one of the white stucco, clay tile-roofed houses of the Abington neighborhood informally dubbed "Little Hollywood" and attended Abington High School.

During World War II, his father's jute-rug importing business "was halted by ship blockades," Bose related in an interview with the Daily News a decade ago, and "due to racial discrimination had difficulty procuring other work." So the teenage Amar, already a tech tinkerer (starting with model trains), became the family's primary breadwinner.

"I came up with a novel way to repair broken radios, setting up a shop in the basement," he said. "I had customers coming to me from all over the city. You couldn't get replacement vacuum tubes because of the war. So I dreamed up a technique for attaching probes to the pins on the bottom of a tube and shooting up a very specific jolt of electricity to reconnect the broken filament. The repair didn't always last for long, but it got the radios going for a while, reconnected people with the world. My customers were always grateful."

The feat impressed MIT sufficiently to grant Bose a scholarship to the engineering school, where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering, then was asked to join the faculty in 1956. While his globally sold consumer and professional products would make the man a billionaire, Bose continued as an enthusiastic and much-beloved professor until 2001. Bose's son Vanu, also an MIT grad, said "he was first and foremost a teacher."

Dr. Bose held onto all the stock in his corporation (until recently gifting it to MIT), giving him "the freedom to continually pour all profits back into research and development and operate on gut instinct," Maresca said. More than 10 years of effort and $50 million was plowed just into noise-cancellation research, for instance, before Bose "saw a dime in profit" from the world-renowned Quiet Comfort line of headphones.

"Dr. Bose often reminded us that if he had to answer to major stockholders and a board of directors, that project would have been shut down and he might have been canned," Maresca noted.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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