Sunday Favorites: Making Radio Waves
Arts & Entertainment
It's no secret that the settlers of the Manatee River section dabbled in a host of different professions, but it seems the Whitaker family in particular had a knack for technology. Not only were they responsible for bringing the first telephone line to present-day Sarasota, they were also seasoned in radio broadcasting.
Anton Kleinoscheg “Klein” Whitaker was the son of Furman Whitaker, Manatee’s first native-born doctor. Klein was born in Bradenton; his childhood home stood at the site of present-day Manatee County Public Library.
Klein’s father was born at Fort Branch, a fortified encampment where settlers sheltered during at the height of the Third Seminole War. His family hailed from Yellow Bluffs, located near Van Wezel in present day Sarasota.
It was Furman who installed Sarasota’s first telephone line before going away to medical school so his wife and mother-in-law could have frequent communication while he was away.
Furman also financed one of the most important inventions in Florida history. The Webb Plow, which changed the landscape of the state, shifting travel from predominately aquatic to land-based. The machine was invented and patented by Henry C. Webb, of Palmetto, in 1917, but largely overlooked because Webb was black.
However, Furman was a progressive thinker whose life had been saved as a child by John Bolding, a black man who worked on his family farm.
The plow prototype was built in the blacksmith and wheelwright shop of A. A. Pickard, according a speech entitled “The Webb Plow and the Velvet Highway,” by Klein Whitaker.
The Webb Plow could cut through saw palmetto roots, which, back then, were almost impenetrable, with thick, circular roots that extended upward. The plow was first tested in Opsrey, Fla. by Klein and his friend Donald Beck. Back then, the terrain in that area was pristine and included some of the thickest undergrowth around.
The boys were only 17-years-old when Furman dropped them off in wilderness with the Webb Plow, a tractor and some survival equipment including a couple of tents, cots, blankets and cooking utensils. They were each paid $3 per day, according to Whitaker’s speech. The land that was cleared by Klein and Donald would eventually become U.S. 41. It was nicknamed The Velvet Highway because of the smoothness of the ride was like nothing anyone had ever experienced.
After all the exposure to cutting-edge technology, it was no surprise that Klein developed a knack for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mechanics). He was accepted at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, after graduating Manatee High School in 1918.
After graduating at MIT, Klein went into the radio industry. In 1929, his business was featured in Radio Broadcast Industry Magazine. The four-page spread analyzed the extent of Klein’s success in a small town. In the article, Klein attributes his accomplishment to four principals: prompt and intelligent service; consistent advertising; outside selling with home demonstrations; and a simple and complete cost system.
Klein was very successful as a ‘manufacturer’s agent’ during his lifetime, but it was what he did with his retirement that created a lasting legacy. He became interested in collecting and preserving photographs of local historical significance. He created an archival system of over 8,000 picture negatives, each of which was carefully copied and made into a negative to be catalogued.
The collection now contains over 20,000 negatives and is available to the public in the Eaton Collection of the Manatee County Library – geographically located at the site of his childhood home.
It’s amazing to think that Klein’s contributions extended from his childhood into his senior days. The man never quit contributing to our community.
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