Born in December
1896 in Flushing, N.Y., Corbett was the son of a wine merchant.
He attended Dwight Preparatory School, where he sang in the choir,
and later was a scholarship student at New York Law School, working
as an advertising agency mail clerk during the day while taking
classes at night.
His first job
as a lawyer was as private secretary to an attorney who assisted
Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial. To supplement his income, he
began writing radio scripts, and by the mid-1920s had his own marketing
and radio production agency. One of his clients, from 1932-37, was
Cincinnati's WLW. While working here, Corbett and his wife decided
to make Cincinnati their home.
At WLW, Corbett
produced a number of radio series, including ''Famous Jury Trials''
and ''Life of Mary Southern,'' which ran for 10 years.
During the Depression,
WLW founder Powel Crosley suggested that Corbett produce a show
to ''buoy up courage.'' The result was ''Notes on Business,'' a
show hosted by Corbett that dramatized business opportunities, inventions
and other upbeat business news recited against a musical background. After one broadcast,
a Dayton man approached Corbett with his idea for a musical chime
to replace then-popular doorbell buzzers. Corbett loaned him $5,000,
but the inventor went bust. In 1936 Corbett took over what was left
of the operation and moved it to Cincinnati. He continued to operate
his consulting agency but also founded, in partnership with wife,
Patricia, a new company called NuTone Chimes Inc. The company employed
only four people and operated in a one-room building downtown.
As his investment
soared over $50,000, Corbett realized that he had to narrow the
wide price gap separating the chimes - which, under the Dayton man's
plans, cost from $16.50 to $125 - and conventional door buzzers,
which cost only about 25 cents. With help from an acoustics expert
from the University of Cincinnati, a new line of chimes costing
$1 to $19.50 was produced by a workforce of four at a 600-square-foot
factory. It did not move formally to a more extensive facility until
1940, when it opened manufacturing operations at Third Street and
By Pearl Harbor,
NuTone had grown to more than 400 workers - one-fifth its size when
Corbett sold the firm a quarter century later - and its sales had
surpassed $1 million. But the wartime conversion of his factory
to anti-aircraft fuse production presented several problems: losing
about one-fourth of his workers to military service, and searching
for a product that could be made from non-essential materials to
keep his sales staff occupied.
He solved the
latter problem by manufacturing about 1.5 million hardboard mailboxes,
and addressed the former by writing 50 letters weekly to NuTone
workers in uniform in the hope that they would return after the
war. More than three-quarters did.
eventually become one of the nation's most recognizable product
names, with its doorbells chiming in more than 50 million U.S. homes.
The company also expanded into a wide range of other consumer products
such as chiming Westminster clocks, intercoms, built-in stereos,
electric ranges, kitchen exhaust fans and bathroom ceiling heaters
- an idea inspired by the time Corbett bumped into his wall heater
while shaving, burning two holes in his robe.
marketing, NuTone products that started out as luxuries came to
be seen by many Americans as household necessities - particularly
in new homes. After initially selling his products in department
stores, Corbett later concentrated on wholesalers who dealt with
builders and contractors.
By 1967, when
Nutone's annual sales had reached $60 million, with 14 plants in
the U.S. and Canada, Corbett sold the company for $30 million to
Scovill Manufacturing Co. of Connecticut.
changed hands again in 1998, as it was absorbed by Broan, and again
by Nortek in 2000
are any of those early pre-Nutone chimes still around? What was
the brand name? What was so different about them that made them
so expensive? Anybody know? See my speculation on this question
at the Telechime topic.
The fact is
that the "the Dayton Man" already had a company, probably
founded in 1929 and had been making a line of fancy chimes for years
when he met Corbett in 1934 or 1935. What is not at all clear is
why he contacted Corbett. Possibly for financial support of his
flagging company, or maybe for marketing help. Still seeking to
uncover that story. In any case "the Dayton Man's" company
continued on through 1939 regardless of how the NuTone story is
As for the suggestion
of "invention" of musical chimes, given the solid evidence
of patent records, neither NuTone, Corbett nor the “Dayton
Man” were the original inventor of musical door chimes.