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History - Factory

Company History

The story on Challenge Industries and their attempt trying to capitalize on America's, post World War II, economic expansion, is very complicated.
It all started with William M. Filben (see Filben) who developed a new mechanism for phonographs able to select 30 records, which was new to the coin-op phonograph industry, and this was of course of interest to David Cullen Rockola, when he saw the mechanism able to select each record in 6 seconds at the 1938 coin machine show in Chicago.

The Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp. then signed a license contract with William M. Filben in September 1938 stating that the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp. owned all rights to the mechanism except if William M. Filben himself or his heirs, just in case, would produce and operate the mechanism on the market with the Filben name. Unfortunately, William M. Filben died in his home on the 1st May 1940 from instant coronary closure caused by overwork and worry for several years, and his widow Bernice Filben and his three minor daughters Patricia, Rosemary, and Dolora, owned the rights on the original 30-selection mechanism under the license contract with the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp..

Around 1939-1940 both William M. and Bernice Filben had contact to Leonard E. Baskfield, who moved from his home town St. Paul to San Francisco in California, and in the autumn 1940 Bernice Filben and Leonard E. Baskfield decided to form a company named Filben Manufacturing Co., and the patent rights were assigned to the company by Bernice Filben against 51% of the shares. Leonard E. Baskfield would then own the remaining 49% of the shares, but the company was not incorporated until October 1945 since the coming of the war made a continued production in the Filben company name difficult. Then, at the end of the war Leonard E. Baskfield (1904-1978) contacted the owners of the Batavia Metal Products Co. to make arrangements for a new production of the automatic changer mechanism.

The Batavia Metal Products Co. was based in the old Challenge Windmill and Feed Co. plant in Batavia, Illinois, and the plant at one time covered more than 165,000 square feet on eight acres. In 1940 the brothers Henry M. and Murray W. Garsson bought the plant to make it a part of the wartime munitions combine of Erie Basin Metal Products Co. and Batavia Metal Products Co., but in 1946 the companies owned by the Garsson brothers ran into serious problems due to the investigations by a Senate committee concerning overpayments during the war and bribery of Andrew J. May, a former chairman of the House Military committee. The investigations showed that Henry M. Garsson and Murray W. Garsson controlled a very complex combine of at least nineteen companies manufacturing munitions during the war, and bribery apparently helped them to obtain influential Washington support for the companies including Batavia Metal Products Co.. Henry M. Garsson sold all the controlling shares in the Batavia Metal Products Co. early in August 1946 in order to make it possible for the company to operate.

The U.S. Challenge Co. was incoporated on June 22, 1945 by the Batavia Metal Products Inc. to act as sales representative for Batativa Metal Products. As coin-operated equipment was a very big market a new sales division for coin-operated equipment, Challenge Industries, was incorporated on the 2nd March 1946. However, the complex bribery case and pending bankruptcy actions against both the Batavia Metal Products Co. and the subsidiary U. S. Challenge Co. held up the reconversion to peacetime activities, and also the production of the new coin-op phonographs. The capital stock of the Batavia Metal Products Co. was acquired with a government stamp of approval by two industrial investors, James Stein of the Metalplast Co. and Herman Starr of the Diamond Production Co., both companies based in New York, and a new management headed by Isadore G. Grawoig (1891-1960) was appointed.

All this took place while the first new automatic Challenger ’47 phonograph was developed and presented to the trade in the Challenge Industries offices on 15th March 1946. A second introduction to the trade and to the public took place at the Park Central Hotel in New York on the 27th July 1946, but the Challenger ’47 was a stillborn project due to the legal, financial and management problems at both the Batavia Metal Products Co. and the U. S. Challenge Co..

In August 1946 Isadore G. Grawoig still considered the possibility of a continued production of phonographs and vendors, and Leonard E. Baskfield of the Filben Manufacturing Co. indicated his desire for Batavia Metal Products Co. to continue the development of the Challenger’47 jukebox. Early in October 1946 the decision for or against resuming production of the Challenger ’47 was still on hold until a reorganization plan would be accepted for the U. S. Challenge Co. and other factory facilities in the Batavia Metal Products Co. group. The inventory, however, omitted the phonograph and vendor manufacturing equipment, and Isadore G. Grawoig stated that a decision to resume production would depend on the costs only. One of the main problems was, that the parts for the Challenger’47 jukebox were initially produced at different factory units, the U. S. Engine and Pump Co. in Centerville, IIowa, and the Aeroparts Manufacturing Co. in Wichita, Kansas, plus two facilities at the Batavia Metal Products Co.. The final assembly work took place at Batavia Metal Products Co. only.

It is believed that only three Challenger ’47 models were made. One was completely location-finished with removable auxiliary top speaker, and two were only partly assembled, so it seems, to show the mechanism and cabinet construction of the phonograph.

As the Challenger '47 was never produced/sold there was no photograph known until Tom DeCillis (TomsZone) found one on eBay. To this date this is the only known picture of the Challenger '47. (see below)

Most history information credited to: Gert J. Almind (The history of coin-operated phonographs - unpublished manuscript, November 8, 2010)
Challenge Industries Office Location: 135 S LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60604