Marion Historical Society & Marion Heritage Center

Marion Historical Society & Marion Heritage Center Oldest building in Uptown Marion's square c.1850s, the Marion Heritage Center was a Methodist church until 1875. Today it serves as a center to showcase Marion's history & culture. Public non-profit 501(c)3.

The Marion Heritage Center was originally a church building used by the Methodists from the 1850s until 1875. Today it serves as a community center for educational programs, historical displays, art exhibits, and cultural events for audiences of all ages. Displays showcase the history of Marion and its citizens, while lectures and workshops provide insights into our past.

In 1925 explorers attempted the "moon-shot" of the era, and using the most modern technology available, including shortw...

In 1925 explorers attempted the "moon-shot" of the era, and using the most modern technology available, including shortwave radio and airplanes for the first time, penetrated the last uncharted corners of the High Arctic. The risks were daunting, and the public read the daily newspaper dispatches as avidly as we would follow space launches in the 60's. With their success, the adventurers ended the era of overland dog-sled treks and they demonstrated the effectiveness of aviation and radio-linked systems that would characterize exploration henceforth, and a generation later, the race to the moon. And 15 year-old Arthur Collins was in the thick of it.

The adventure was led by Donald B. MacMillan (1874-1970), famed since 1908 when he accompanied Robert Peary to the North Pole. Lt. Cdr. Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957), U.S. Navy, ret. commanded the aviation wing of the expedition, consisting of three newly designed Loening Amphibian biplanes, plus pilots, mechanics and a bird keeper (yes, carrier pigeons were the USN back-up comm plan). Eugene F. McDonald (1886-1958), co-founder of Zenith Radio, oversaw communications aboard the two vessels that carried the party northward.

In the early days of radio, long-distance radio communication used long wave (LW) frequencies (15-300 kHz). The short wave (SW) frequencies above 1,500 kHz were thought useless for long-distance communication and were allocated to the "hams" for experimenting. Even LW frequencies were useless beyond the Arctic Circle due to magnetic storms. In 1923-24 MacMillan had tried using a medium wave (MW) radio in the AM band. It was useless in daylight, but in the long winter darkness, it became a life-line, relieving the men's isolation and keeping them in the public eye--vital for fund-raising. And it showed engineers the potential of SW.

MacMillan returned to the North in 1925, as America, England and Norway all raced to find a "lost" continent believed to be located near the Pole. He carried a SW radio operating in the 20 meter band. Few ham radio operators had experience operating there, but one of them was Arthur Collins. He had been in regular contact with John Reinartz, the expedition's chief radio operator, for about a year. Before Reinartz sailed they met and reviewed his transmission schedule. Throughout the summer and until MacMillan arrived home in Maine on Oct. 9, while the regular USN comm system faltered, Collins relayed messages from Reinartz to expedition headquarters in Washington. He made headlines all over the country as one of just a handful of radiomen communicating steadily with the explorers. He cemented his role as an authority in SW circuitry at age 15 with several publications in leading amateur radio magazines offering circuit diagrams and advice for "hams" eager to duplicate his feat.

The effect on the Navy was profound. Demonstrating the ability of the two vessels to communicate easily with each other over thousands of miles via SW was a breakthrough. Captains were freed from the delays of using LW telegraph signals and specialist radio operators. Now they could talk by voice, as easily as picking up the phone. The advantages were beyond measure when sailing through dangerous ice, in bad weather or war. Navy leaders decided to learn more about SW, and they looked to Art Collins for advice. Lt. Cdr. Richard Byrd needed no convincing--in a long exploring career that stretched for 40 years and earned him the title of "the greatest explorer of modern times," he never left home again without a Collins SW radio.

Almost everyone who participated in the exhibition came back to wild public acclaim. Donald MacMillan, seeking funds for a return trip, went on a national speaking tour. He came to Iowa in April 1926 and spoke to large crowds in several cities including at the UI on Apr. 6 and Coe College on Apr. 7. He was hosted here at a pre-lecture dinner by a committee of local dignitaries that included Arthur. But his long-suffering parents probably banned him from the after-lecture "smoker" in the Charles W. Bingham home--brandy and cigars after 10 PM, on a school night, was likely too much, even for them.

Learn more about the famous 1925 MacMillan expedition in the upcoming exhibit: The Collins Story: On the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, coming to the Marion Heritage Center in July, in collaboration with the Arthur A. Collins Legacy Association. Next Time: Collins with Admiral Byrd at the South Pole.

Photo Credit: 1925 expedition photos from Dangerous Crossings by John H.Bryant and Harold N. Cones (2000)

Amazing courage to fly an untried open-cockpit biplane in the Arctic and cold, especially when Byrd had to lean out to navigate and get his bearings. That's expedition leader MacMillan in the furry parka, MacDonald at the microphone during an earlier trip (1923), and Byrd with the aviators' glasses aboard ship.


May is National Preservation Month and the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission invites you to learn more about its work and achievements May 18, 4 to 6 P.M. at the Cedar Rapids History Center, 800 2nd Ave SE. Featured speaker Julie Barnes will talk about the Cornell College King Chapel Clock Restoration Project. Other YR2018-19 grant recipients will also show their off their grant projects. Thank you LCHPC for our Heritage Center grants!

Arthur Collins is almost invisible in his 1927 Washington H. S. yearbook.  He blew off his senior photo and more than a ...

Arthur Collins is almost invisible in his 1927 Washington H. S. yearbook. He blew off his senior photo and more than a few classes too his senior year and instead enrolled at Coe College where he earned 3.6 credits. He is listed however in the fanciful class yearbook Hall of Fame, and prophetic in his prediction for his place in history: "Radio." His indicated occupation: "Studying." His ambition: "To be heard in Mars."

Art's gaze, even at age 17, was already fixed on radio and the heavens, and if he skipped graduation ceremonies he could be forgiven, for just then he was finalizing arrangements to take a big step forward in the direction of the modern communications era. Collins was working non-stop to finish outfitting a delivery van supplied by his father with a new 10W shortwave (SW) radio system operating on 20-40 meters that he had co-designed with a UI physicist and radio colleague, and finalizing arrangements for a 7,000-mile road trip to San Francisco and back testing the practicality of staying in touch via the radio. It was one of the earliest tests of portable SW radio and results showed, as Art predicted, it had some real possibilities.

Collins was accompanied on the trip by Paul Engle, a classmate at Washington H.S., and Winfield W. Salisbury, who had graduated from the University of Iowa in physics the year before but stayed on to continue his studies and work on several lab projects, including this collaboration with Collins. Engle (1908-1991) went on to become a much-celebrated poet and author. He directed the Iowa Writers' Workshop 1941-1965 and co-founded the International Writing Program at the UI in 1966. Salisbury, the "old man" in the group, (1903-1999) left the UI after the road trip to teach physics at UC-Berkeley. He worked as a sound engineer in Hollywood from 1928-1936 and then went back to Berkeley to work on cyclotrons in the Lawrence Radiation Lab. He moved to MIT during WWII where he developed advanced methods to jam German radar. He came to Collins Radio in 1945 and served as Director of Research until 1951, when he returned to Berkeley. He holds over 30 U.S. patents for his wide-ranging work in sound, electronics, radio, lasers, nuclear energy and oil/gas well-drilling. Radio-friend and neighbor Leo J. Hruska (1907-1979) stayed home in Cedar Rapids and oversaw the home-end of Collins' experiment.

The young men started the trip June 18, taking a meandering southern route west through Kansas City and Denver, reaching Los Angeles after about two weeks. They stopped nightly, stretched out their wire antenna and called Hruska home-base with M.H. and Faith Collins hunched over the set eavesdropping. The boys followed the Lincoln Highway home through San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Omaha, arriving back in Cedar Rapids July 29. They received support on the trip from Dr. Albert H. Taylor (1879-1961) head of the Radio Division at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., who believed SW was the military radio technology of the future, and set out to learn more by working with its leading experts. That included Collins by virtue of his experience picking up the signals of the 1925 MacMillan arctic expedition and his subsequent contributions to Radio Age magazine. One Collins article concluded:

"The real thrill in amateur work comes not from talking to stations in distant lands, . . . but from knowing that by careful and painstaking work and by diligent and systematic study you have been able to accomplish some feat or establish some fact that is a new step toward more perfect communication." (Radio Age; May, 1926) That was Art, he wanted it perfect.

Learn more about Arthur Collins and his 1927 transcontinental radio trip in the upcoming exhibit: The Collins Story: On the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, coming to the Marion Heritage Center in July, in collaboration with the Arthur A. Collins Legacy Association.

Paul Hamilton Engle (1908-1991) is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. See him at Find a Grave memorial #15177110

Leo J. Hruska (1907-1979) attended Coe College. He was one of the first two employees to work at Collins Radio (part time) in the the first days of the company (c.a. 1932). He went on to become an engineer at Bendix and RCA where he earned five patents from the U.S. Patent Office. [no Find a Grave record]

Winfield W. Salisbury (1903-1999) is at Find a Grave memorial #195190569

Cdr. Albert Hoyt Taylor (1879-1961) is at Find a Grave memorial #49322891

Van and van interior from Collins Column; May, 1946, courtesy of the Collins Aerospace Museum. Figures left to right: Salisbury, Engle and Arthur (on the end) looking jaunty.

If you didn't get to see Moon Talk at the Collins Road Theaters this winter or the recent Cedar Rapids Independent Film ...

If you didn't get to see Moon Talk at the Collins Road Theaters this winter or the recent Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, we'll be showing it again here at the Heritage Center in the fall. It's fabulous! Better yet, support the production of the next episode and buy your own copy. Go to the Arthur A. Collins Legacy Assoc. site to see the trailer.

Arthur Collins is a mysterious figure to most people because unlike so many of today's leading business captains, he avo...

Arthur Collins is a mysterious figure to most people because unlike so many of today's leading business captains, he avoided the spotlight. His success was a team effort, not his alone, he insisted, and that attitude was an important factor that enabled him to attract some of the finest minds in the industry. He even turned down an interview with Walter Cronkite after the Apollo 11 moon landing-- let others enjoy the glamor and credit, they had earned it, was his attitude. In that spirit we offer these brief biographies of the early Collins radio-colleagues mentioned in Thursday's post. Just four out of the thousands of workers, suppliers and families that made Collins Radio Co. a success he would say.

Merrill R. Lund (1905-1982) Art's first childhood radio-buddy worked at Collins Radio for 30 years, mostly in sales and marketing. He retired in 1971. Lund spend his spare time boating on the Cedar River, and he was a charter member of the Cedar Boat Club and its first Commodore. He's buried in Cedar Memorial. See him at Find a Grave memorial #180764894.

Henry J. Nemec (1902-1992), a prominant early CR ham operator, sold Art Collins one of his first radios. He served as the radio engineer for the Cedar Rapids Police Department for 22 years. He installed and maintained their first 2-way car radio-system. After retiring from the police department he worked for the Cedar Rapids Building Department for 12 years. He's also buried in Cedar Memorial. See him at Find a Grave memorial #71730721.

Clark W. Chandler (1906-1977), a early CR ham operator, was the first airport manager for Collins Radio before leaving in 1946 to work for Chandler Co., a Cedar Rapids manufacturer of pumps and distributer of heating and plumbing supplies, founded by his great-grandfather after the Civil War. He became its president in 1952. He's buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. See him at Find a Grave memorial #198440687. Chandler Co. was bought out by the Plumb Supply Co. in 1979.

John L. Reinartz (1894-1964) was born in Germany but came to this country in 1904 when his family settled in Manchester, CT. He caught the radio "bug" in 1908, reading magazines in the racks of his local candy store. When the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) was formed in Hartford, CT in 1915 he became one of its first members. Reinartz gained world-wide fame in 1923 for becoming the first person to achieve two-way trans-Atlantic communication. He dropped out of public view after the 1925 MacMillan Arctic expedition, under a cloud of charges that he had endangered the lives of others on the trip by neglecting his official radio duties in favor of communicating with amateur colleagues (like Arthur), falsified records and possibly sabotaged the radio on a sister ship. (Dangerous Crossings, Bryant and Cones, 2000) See him at Find a Grave memorial #74113306.

Photo Credits:
Commodore Lund on the Cedar River from Collins Column; July, 1946, courtesy of the Collins Aerospace Museum. Nemec at the CRPD microphone from the Cedar Rapids Gazette; April 23, 1978. Reinartz (in shirtsleeves) Radio World; December 15, 1923.

History doesn't explain the origin of Arthur Collins' fascination with radio but we know he was captured by 1919 when he...

History doesn't explain the origin of Arthur Collins' fascination with radio but we know he was captured by 1919 when he was just nine or ten. It might have occurred sooner had the government not banned amateur radio operation during WWI and ordered all equipment to be dismantled fearing German spies. Imagine a young Steve Jobs at the dawn of the electronics age and you'll have a picture of Arthur Andrews Collins. The media dubbed amateurs like Art, "Wizards," and magic it was, grasping invisible waves from the air and, abracadabra, turning them into intelligible messages, spanning oceans and continents! Commercial broadcasts wouldn't start until 1920; off-the-shelf radios weren't available either--equipment was assembled from parts and hand-built.

We can only speculate about the direction Art Collins' life might have taken had his parents not moved to Cedar Rapids in 1916. Kingfisher, OK, Art's birthplace, had a population of just 2,500; its claim to fame: a large flour mill and Kingfisher College, est. 1895, a bastion of liberal arts and religious instruction. The closest ham radio operators were in Oklahoma City, 50 miles away--an ocean's gulf for a 9 year-old. Fortunately for us, Merle and Faith Collins relocated to a hotbed of radio interest and engineering expertise, on the Iowa "tech corridor" even then, where hams would soon number more than 5X the national average per capita and the industrial base included an abundance of machine shops willing to admit precocious adolescents to scrounge for parts and even use the power tools in exchange for free labor.

Art's parents weren't thrilled by his hobby at first, but quickly saw the writing on the wall and supported his passion fully, including buying him expensive tubes, taking him to meet fellow hams and consult with other radio experts (including a few UI professors) and planning family vacations around his hobby. They ran out of teachers very quickly. . . there was very little Art didn't already know about radio circuits. He built his first radio in the basement of the home of neighborhood friend and fellow radio-fanatic, Merrill Lund. They were forced to shift locations, however, when lightning struck the antenna and the receiver exploded. They moved into Art's bedroom when his father's back was turned.

Art got his amateur ("ham") radio license in 1923 when he turned 14, the earliest allowed under the law. He was one of a score of Cedar Rapids residents to have a license at the time, and the youngest. He and another neighborhood radio-friend, Leo Hruska, considered it a major achievement when they picked up the signals from Henry Nemec and Clark Chandler. They were the most experienced radio-men in Cedar Rapids at the time and their contacts stretched all over the globe. Nemec was 21, a ham for 7 years (minus the war time); Chandler, just 17. Art acquired one of his early transmitters from Nemec and used it for about a year before determining he could do better.

In the winter of 1924-25 Art gained the acquaintance of John L. Reinartz, a 31 year-old German immigrant living in Manchester, CT who was well-known in amateur radio circles for his many articles and circuit-designs published in the leading radio magazines. The year before he had become the first person to achieve two-way trans-Atlantic communication. Together, Reinartz and Collins experimented with maintaining contact on select short wavelengths. In 1925 Reinartz was recruited to serve as the radio operator on an expedition led by Donald MacMillan searching for a "lost" continent believed to be located near the North pole. It was the first time radio would be used systematically on an Arctic expedition; ditto airplanes. Collins made headlines nationally when he proved to be one of just a handful of radio operators in the U.S. who could stay in regular contact with the explorers. Heady stuff for a 15 year-old and an important lesson to the U.S. Navy, one of the sponsors, which would have important repercussions for the future of military communications and one day the Collins Radio Co.

Learn more about young Art Collins and his ham-friends, and the famous MacMillan expedition in the upcoming exhibit: The Collins Story: On the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, coming to the Marion Heritage Center in July, in collaboration with the Arthur A. Collins Legacy Association.

Photo of Faith Andrews Collins, M. H. Collins with Arthur, and Collins home on Fairview Dr. from Arthur Collins: Radio Wizard, by Ben W. Stearns. Photo of 15 year-old Art Collins from Rockwell-Collins: 75 Years of Innovation by Kennard C. Braband & Bernard J. Smith. Kingfisher, OK c.a. 1910 from Wikipedia.


590 10th St
Marion, IA

General information

Open Wed. through Sun. from 1:00-4:00 p.m. See website for more details;

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Wednesday 13:00 - 16:00
Thursday 13:00 - 16:00
Friday 13:00 - 16:00
Saturday 13:00 - 16:00
Sunday 13:00 - 16:00


(319) 447-6376


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