Golden era of American technology ends: Quantegy shuts down analog tape facility

The Quantegy plant closing is the end of an era in American recording technology.

Some 250 employees of Quantegy, one of the last of the major analog tape manufacturers, got a post Christmas surprise when they returned to work last week.

“No Trespassing” signs had been erected and security passwords were changed at the Quantegy plant in Opelika, AL.

"Quantegy has ceased operations pending restructuring. This is due to financial issues that have plagued the industry and the company for some time. All employees were laid off pending further notice” a brief press release issued by the company said.

The Opelika plant, which once employed some 1800 workers, could reopen with a reduced product line, according to sources.

End of an era
The plant closing may be the end of a glorious era in American recording technology. Quantegy made what was once Ampex-brand recording tape. The Ampex company name is forever tied to development of American recording technology and to its music.

The story began in World War II. In 1945, after capturing several German “Magnetophon” tape recorders from Radio Luxembourg, the American Signal Corps recorded a speech by General Dwight Eisenhower to be played to the people of occupied Germany.

Due to a shortage of recording tape, the speech had to be recorded on a reel of used German tape. Unfortunately, due to a problem with the German tape recorder, the tape was not completely erased and the voice of Adolph Hitler was intermittently heard along with Eisenhower’s voice. This caused a great deal of fear and confusion among the German people and obviously a great deal of embarrassment for the Allied Signal Corps.

General Eisenhower issued an immediate order that no more captured German tapes were to be used. and assigned Major John Herbert Orr to develop an American magnetic tape manufacturing facility.

Major Orr located a German scientist, Dr. Karl Pfleumer, who gave him a basic formula for magnetic tape. Within two weeks, Major Orr had managed to manufacture his first reels of usable audiotape.

After returning to his home in Opelika, AL, after the war, Orr set up a magnetic tape manufacturing facility and soon began marketing his own tape under the “IRISH” brand name. Orr continued his manufacturing operation and in 1959 Orradio Industries became part of the Ampex Corporation.

Ampex, founded by Alexander M. Poniatoff, had been developing audio tape recorders since the end of WWII starting with their model 200. The company’s first sales of the Model 200 were to Bing Crosby Enterprises and the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). In 1956, Ampex announced an historic breakthrough: the first practical video tape recorder.

Shortly after this introduction, Poniatoff and Orr entered into negotiations and in 1959 Orradio Industries became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division of Ampex Corporation. After a long partnership, the company divested itself of its media division and the Ampex Recording Media Corporation was put up for sale. The sale was completed in November of 1995 and the recording media pioneer became Quantegy.

Quantegy had the number one market share worldwide in professional audio mastering tape products. More albums went gold on Quantegy audiotape than all other brands combined.

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