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Posted by STEVE M on

Edward Bayard Heath (1888-1931) started his career in the aviation business. He built his first airplane in 1909 based on a Bleriot monoplane design. In 1912 he acquired the Bates Aeroplane Co in Chicago, Illinois, and refloated it in 1913 as the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Co, that was manufacturing and trading aviation parts. 
During WWI the business and  grew and Edward Heath changed the name of his company to Heath Airplane Company and developed i the 'Feather' - his 3rd airplane design, called the "Feather" in 1918.  Production was shelved as  there was no available market due to the market being dominated by a surfeit of cheap ex-military airplanes. 
In 1921 Heath designed the "Favorite". It was another biplane design. and followed this in 1926 with  the famous "Parasol" airplane. He sold blueprints to people who wanted to build the "Parasol" them selves and the first Heath Kit was a fact. For several years the "Parasol" was a popular airplane and improved versions like the "Super Parasol" was designed During a test flight of a new aircraft in 1931 Edward Heath tragically crashed and died.

Following purchase of the Heatch Company assetts, Walter Clinin changedthe company name was changed to the International Aircraft Corporation in 1933 but due to bad marketing decisions, the loss of operating capital again forced closure during 1934.
In 1935 Howard Anthony purchased the bankrupt company with the company name reverting back to Heath Aircraft Company.  The company was moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan adn majored in the supply of aircraft parts until the end of WWII.   Following the fortuitous purchase of a stash of of surplus wartime electronics parts and CRT's an oscilloscope was designed to sell in kit form for less than 50% the cost of a comparable shop bought model. 
In 1947 the O-1 oscilloscope kit was an instant success and the Heath Company changed business direction towards selling electronic kits for test instrumentation,  amateur radio, hi-fi and associated consumer electronics.    In order to make kits a success and avoid costly after sales support,  Howard realized that a detailed instruction manual was important and Heath instruction manuals were easy to follow, step wise for both non-technical beginners and experienced constructors alike.  
In 1954  disaster involving a plane affected the fortunes of the Heatch Company once again.  Howard Anthony  pre purchase test drove a DeHavilland Dove but it encountered a violent storm in which Howard and four other passengers were killed in the crash. 

In 1955 Daystrom Inc acquired the Heath Company and the range of available kits grew.  A new manufacturing facility was built.
in 1958 at Hilltop Road in St. Joseph, the twin city of Benton Harbor.
Daystrom Inc established distribution centers in other countries. A factory in Gloucester made kits for the British market, but also for other European countries. Some, but not all, of the British made kits had a different style than the American counterparts. They also had a U (for United Kingdom) in the designations. The American made kits that was meant for export (i.e. meant for 115V/230V supply voltage) had an E (for Export) in the designations.

In 1962 Schlumberger Ltd bought the Daystrom Inc.. Millions of kits was produced and they introduced more complex products, utilising  integrated circuits and digital techniques.  To keep pace with this progress, the plant at Hilltop Road was successively expanded during 1962, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1974

In 1974 Heathkit started the Heathkit Educational Systems and began developing technical training and educational materials for use in schools, corporations, etc. 

In 1979 the Zenith Radio Company bought the Heath Company from Schlumberger. Unfortunately Zenith was basically only interested in the Heathkit H8/H89 computers, that was an instant success in 1978.

A new building which abutted the main Hilltop Road manufacturing plant was built for the Heath/Zenith Data Systems.  In the 80's the complexity of general electronic products and import of cheap mass produced electronics made it hard to sell kits that costed as much, or even more, as comparable factory built products of other brands. This made it hard for the core Heath Company kit business to remain profitable.

In 1982 the Heath Company launched their last Amateur Radio kit, the SS-9000, but it very difficult  to construct, even for experiemnced constructors, so it came factory assembled. 
By 1985 the Amateur Radio division of the Heath Company had dwindled to insignificance with only the SS-9000, HW-5400 and HW-99, remaining on sale.

In 1989 the Zenith Data Systems was acquired by the French company Groupe Bull. 

In 1990 the Heath Company launched their last PC-kits. It was the HS-3629 and the HS-2862a 80386 Desktop and a 80286 Laptop. 

In 1991 the Heath Company, except Zenith Data Systems, left the Hilltop Road plant and moved to a former K-Mart building at Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor.

In 1992 the death knoll sounded for Heathkit. The kit lines were discontinued with only Lighting, Security and Educational Systems remaining in limited production.. 

In 1995 the HIG Capital Management Inc bought the Heath Company and Packard Bell bought Zenith Data Systems.

In 1998 DESA 
International bought the Lighting and Security business, but also the Heath Company name. Donald Desrochers private investment corporation bought the remaining Heathkit Educational Systems..

In 2002 the HIG Capital Management Inc bought the bankrupt DESA back and became the owner of the Heath/Zenith Co for the 2nd time in 7 years.

In 2007 the Duchossois Group Inc bought the Heath/Zenith Co from HIG and established the HeathCo LLC and built a new corporate facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 2008.

In September 2008, the Heathkit Company moved to Hawthorne Avenue in St. Joseph. The Heathkit Company was located in almost half of the former K-Mart building at Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor. The rest of the building is used by the Benton Harbor Charter School. The school was expanding and need the whole building. The building at Hawthorne Avenue in St. Joseph was used by the Heath/Zenith Data Systems in the 80's and is quite close to the former Heath Company building at Hilltop Road. The Heathkit Company resides in about 10% of the building. The Heathkit Company and the Heathkit Educational Systems of today, is a profitable and wealthy company under the leadership of the owner, Don Desrochers, and the President and CEO, Lori Marciniak.

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