Often a genius will be described as strange or perhaps a little eccentric, maybe even a little bit mad. And most of the time that description would be an outright falsehood. There are plenty of brilliant people that lead quite normal lives, such that people could comment something like.. “They were just as normal as could be. You would never think that they had just won the Noble Prize in….”
Well, Paul W Klipsch wasn’t one of those people.
He was one that could be classified as… “eccentric”.
One example told is when he attended church, he would often take notes and get into heated debates during the sermons. He was known to wear a long coat while attending and on the inside of this coat, letters spelling out “Bull” were on one side and “Shit” was on the other. When a particular idea was presented that he thought was outrageous, he would stand and flash the inside lapels to the person delivering the sermon.
Paul Klipsch was born in 1904 in Elkhart, Indiana. Growing up he had the same mechnical inclinations that most “engineer” type kids have. Building several contraptions during his childhood, one of them was a loudspeaker made of a cardboard mailing tube. The sound produced by this mailing tube speaker fascinated him, developing interests that would help him define his future.
He went on to college in New Mexico State, getting his EE in electronics in 1926. In 1931, he attended Stanford for his Masters in Engineering. After getting his Masters in Engineering, he started working in the oil fields of Houston but his interests continued in audio.
In 1941, he was drafted into service during WWII and was stationed at the Southwest Proving Grounds in Hope, Arkansas. His contributions to the defense of this country were in the form of ballistics and photography. He was discharged with a rank of major and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the reserves in 1953.
After WWII, he remained in Hope and continued his research and experimentation on audio loudspeakers. He had come up with this design to take a bass horn, normally about 35 foot long, and fold it into itself 3 times over so that the normally huge horn would be small and fit in a corner of the room with the corners of the room acting as the final mouth of the horn.
Working in a tin shack, he eventually perfected this complicated design of his new loudspeaker. Not an easy task considering he worked with hand tools only, no power, and the design had over 100 boards cut at all different angles.
He applied for and was granted patents and trademarks in 1945. The name Klipsch and Associates was registered in 1946, although his first employee wasn’t hired until 1948.
The Klipschorn loudspeaker that Paul Klipsch designed is still being produced today, 65 years later, with minor variations and improvements. Because it is fully horn loaded, the efficiency is incredible. It can fill up a huge room with sound that can only be described as stunning with the smallest of power.
I personally witnessed a demonstration of a pair of Klipschorns being driven by a transistor radio that ran on a tiny 9 volt battery. The sound was louder than any concert that I have been to.
Getting back to some of his eccentric stories, later when his company became successful he purchased a very expensive Mercedes Benz for his transportation. One of the selling points of this Mercedes was how quiet it was on the inside, the rider was alway in complete luxurious silence. Later when his sales staff went out to see him and his new car, they found him drilling a hole in the top of the dashboard of his new car and installing a gauge so he could measure how quiet it was on the road.
Always looking at new technology, he was one of the first to buy a new calculator back in the 60’s. This may not seem like much today, but a calculator back in the 1960’s was a big deal. The manufacturer had several instructions for it’s use and one of the warnings was the calculator would stop working in high temperatures.
He was found stripped down to his skivvies with the temperature in his office to broiling so that he could dissect that calculator to discover why it would quit. He later sent the calculator and explanation to the calculator manufacturer, explaining why it would stop working.
The years 1993,1994 and 1995 saw the dedications of the Paul W. Klipsch Lecture Hall, the Paul W. Klipsch Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and finally the Klipsch School of Electrical Engineering, all at New Mexico State University.
The city of Hope, Arkansas honored him in 1995 with its dedication of the Paul W. Klipsch Municipal Auditorium.
Paul W. Klipsch held 23 patents and was inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame in 1997, putting him in the company of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, among others.
Paul Wilbur Klipsch, a great inventor, engineer, scientist, pilot and legendary eccentric, died May 5, 2002, at the age of 98.
Dedicated to Jess and her “Toys in the Attic”.