Heathkit is the brand name of kits and other electronic products produced and marketed by the Heath Company. The products over the decades have included electronic test equipment, high fidelity home audio equipment, television receivers, amateur radio equipment, robots, electronic ignition conversion modules for early model cars with point style ignitions, and the influential Heath H-8, H-89, and H-11 hobbyist computers, which were sold in kit form for assembly by the purchaser.

Heath Company
IndustryAviation, electronics
Founded1911; 113 years ago (1911) in Saint Joseph, Michigan, United States
Key people
Will Cromarty, CEO
1947 Heathkit ad featuring the 5-inch oscilloscope.
Oscilloscope OL-1 from 1954, the company's first with a relatively small 3-inch CRT which allowed for a highly competitive price of US$ 29.50 (equivalent to $335 in 2023) for the DIY kit.[1]

Heathkit manufactured electronic kits from 1947 until 1992. After closing that business, the Heath Company continued with its products for education, and motion-sensor lighting controls. The lighting control business was sold around 2000. The company announced in 2011 that they were reentering the kit business after a 20-year hiatus but then filed for bankruptcy in 2012,[2] and under new ownership began restructuring in 2013. As of 2022, the company has a live website with newly designed products, services, vintage kits, and replacement parts for sale.[3] In August 2023 Heath Company announced its acquisition by Kirkwall (company) as part of a planned expansion in North Dakota, and named former CIA officer and entrepreneur Will Cromarty as President and Chief Executive Officer.[4]



The Heath Company was founded as an aircraft company in 1911[5] by Edward Bayard Heath with the purchase of Bates Aeroplane Co, soon renamed to E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Co. Starting in 1926 it sold a light aircraft, the Heath Parasol, in kit form.[6] Heath died during a 1931 test flight.[7] The company reorganized and moved from Chicago to Niles, Michigan.[8]

In 1935, Howard Anthony purchased the then-bankrupt Heath Company, and focused on selling accessories for small aircraft. After World War II, Anthony decided that entering the electronics industry was a good idea, and bought a large stock of surplus wartime electronic parts with the intention of building kits with them. In 1947, Heath introduced its first electronic kit, the O1 oscilloscope with 5 inch diameter cathode ray tube display (CRT) that sold for US$39.50 (equivalent to $539 in 2023) – the price was unbeatable at the time, and the oscilloscope went on to be a huge seller.[9]

Heathkit product concept

Heathkit stereo tuner (AJ-43D) and amplifier (AA-21D) (1972)
Heathkit stereo preamplifier (AA-141) (1962)
Point-to-point construction of a Heathkit stereo preamplifier (AA-141) (1962)

After the success of the oscilloscope kit, Heath went on to produce dozens of Heathkit products. Heathkits were influential in shaping two generations of electronic hobbyists. The Heathkit sales premise was that by investing the time to assemble a Heathkit, the purchasers could build something comparable to a factory-built product at a significantly lower cash cost and, if it malfunctioned, could repair it themselves. During those decades, the premise was basically valid.[10]: 141 

Commercial factory-built electronic products were constructed from generic, discrete components such as vacuum tubes, tube sockets, capacitors, inductors, and resistors, mostly hand-wired and assembled using point-to-point construction technology. The home kit-builder could perform these labor-intensive assembly tasks himself, and if careful, attain at least the same standard of quality. In the case of Heathkit's most expensive product at the time, the Thomas electronic organ, building the kit version represented substantial savings.

One category in which Heathkit enjoyed great popularity was amateur radio. Ham radio operators had frequently been forced to build their equipment from scratch before the advent of kits, with the difficulty of procuring all the parts separately and relying on often-experimental designs. Kits brought the convenience of all parts being supplied together, with the assurance of a predictable finished product; many Heathkit model numbers became well known in the ham radio community. The HW-101 HF transceiver became so ubiquitous that even today the "Hot Water One-Oh-One" can be found in use, or purchased as used equipment at hamfests, decades after it went out of production.

In the case of electronic test equipment, Heathkits often filled a low-end entry-level niche, giving hobbyists access at an affordable price.[citation needed]

The instruction books were regarded as among the best in the kit industry, being models of clarity, beginning with basic lessons on soldering technique, and proceeding with explicit step-by-step directions, illustrated with numerous line drawings; the drawings could be folded out to be visible next to the relevant text (which might be bound several pages away) and were aligned with the assembler's viewpoint. Also in view was a checkbox to mark with a pencil as each task was accomplished.[11][10]: 146–147  The instructions usually included complete schematic diagrams, block diagrams depicting different subsystems and their interconnections, and a "Theory of Operation" section that explained the basic function of each section of the electronics.[10]: 146–147 

Heathkits as education

Heathkit IO12U oscilloscope built in 1967

No knowledge of electronics was needed to assemble a Heathkit. The assembly process itself did not teach much about electronics, but provided a great deal of what could have been called basic "electronics literacy", such as the ability to identify tube pin numbers or to read a resistor color code. Many hobbyists began by assembling Heathkits, became familiar with the appearance of components like capacitors, transformers, resistors, and tubes, and were motivated to understand just what these components actually did. For those builders who had a deeper knowledge of electronics (or for those who wanted to be able to troubleshoot/repair the product in the future), the assembly manuals usually included a detailed "Theory of Operation" chapter, which explained the functioning of the kit's circuitry, section by section.

Heath developed a business relationship with electronics correspondence schools (e.g., NRI and Bell & Howell), and supplied electronic kits to be assembled as part of their courses, with the schools basing their texts and lessons around the kits. In the 1960s, Heathkit marketed a line of its electronic instruments which had been modified for use in teaching physics at the high school (Physical Science Study Committee, PSSC) and college levels (Berkeley Physics Course).[10]: 149 

Heathkits could teach deeper lessons. "The kits taught Steve Jobs that products were manifestations of human ingenuity, not magical objects dropped from the sky", writes a business author, who goes on to quote Jobs as saying "It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment."[12]



Heathkit Aircraft Navigation Computer OC-1401/OCW-1401 (1978)

After the death of Howard Anthony in a 1954 airplane crash, his widow sold the company to Daystrom Company, a management holding company that also owned several other electronics companies.[10]: 147  Daystrom was absorbed by oilfield service company Schlumberger Limited in 1962, and the Daystrom/Schlumberger days were to be among Heathkit's most successful.[10]: 148 

Those years saw some "firsts" in the general consumer market. The early 1960s saw the introduction of the AA-100 integrated amplifier. The early 1970s saw Heath introduce the AJ-1510, an FM tuner using digital synthesis, the GC-1005 digital clock, and the GR-2000 color television set. In 1974, Heathkit started "Heathkit Educational Systems", which expanded their manuals into general electronics and computer training materials. Heathkit also expanded their expertise into digital and, eventually, computerized equipment, producing among other things digital clocks and weather stations with the new technology.[9]

Kits were compiled in small batches mostly by hand, using roller conveyor lines. These lines were put up and taken down as needed. Some kits were sold completely "assembled and tested" in the factory. These models were differentiated with a "W" suffix after the model number, indicating that they were factory-wired.

For much of Heathkit's history, there were competitors. In electronic kits: Allied Radio, an electronic parts supply house, had its KnightKits, Lafayette Radio offered some kits, Radio Shack made a few forays into this market with its Archerkit line, Dynaco made its audio products available in kit form (Dynakits), as did H. H. Scott, Inc., Fisher, and Eico; and later such companies as Southwest Technical Products and the David Hafler Company.

Personal computers

First 8-bit Heathkit H8 computer (1978)

Before entering the burgeoning home computer market, Heathkit marketed and sold microprocessor-based systems aimed at learning about this technology. The ET-3400, for example, was released in 1976 and was based on the Motorola 6800 microprocessor. This system included 256 bytes of RAM, a 1k monitor in ROM, and a keypad for easy entry and modification of programs.[13] Despite being a small trainer kit, it was powerful and flexible enough to be used in rudimentary control systems.[14]

In 1978, Heathkit introduced the Heathkit H8 home computer. The H8 was very successful, as were the H19 and H29 terminals, and the H89 "All in One" computer. The H8 and H89 ran the Heathkit custom operating system HDOS as well as the popular CP/M operating system. The H89 contained two Zilog Z80 8-bit processors, one for the computer and one for the built-in H-19 terminal.[15] The H11, a low-end DEC LSI-11 16-bit computer, was less successful, probably because it was substantially more expensive than the 8-bit computer line.

Seeing the potential in personal computers, Zenith Radio Company bought Heath Company from Schlumberger in 1979 for $63 million,[16][17] renaming the computer division Zenith Data Systems (ZDS). Zenith purchased Heath for the flexible assembly line infrastructure at the nearby St. Joseph facility as well as the R&D assets.[10]: 151 

Heath/Zenith was in the vanguard of companies to start selling personal computers to small businesses. The H-89 kit was re-branded as the Zenith Z-89/Z-90, an assembled all in one system with a monitor and a floppy disk drive. They had agreements with Peachtree Software to sell a customized "turn-key" version of their accounting, CPA, and real estate management software. Shortly after the release of the Z-90, they released a 5MB hard disk unit and double-density external floppy disk drives, which were much more practical for business data storage than punched paper tapes.

While the H11 was popular with hard-core hobbyists, Heath engineers realized that DEC's low-end PDP-11 microprocessors would not be able to get Heath up the road to more powerful systems at an affordable price. Heath/Zenith then designed a dual Intel 8085/8088-based system dubbed the H100 (or Z-100, in preassembled form, sold by ZDS). The machine featured advanced (for the day) bit mapped video that allowed up to 640 x 225 pixels of 8 color graphics. The H100 was interesting in that it could run either the CP/M operating system, or their OEM version of MS-DOS named Z-DOS, which were the two leading business PC operating systems at the time. Although the machine had to be rebooted to change modes, the competing operating systems could read each other's disks.

In 1982 Heath introduced the Hero-1 robot kit to teach principles of industrial robotics.[18] The robot included a Motorola 6808 processor, ultrasonic sensor, and optionally a manipulator arm; the complete robot could be purchased assembled for $2495 or a basic kit without the arm purchased for $999. This was the first in a popular series of HeathKit robot kits sold to educational and hobbyist users.

Kit era comes to a close


While Heath/Zenith's computer business was successful, the growing popularity of home computers as a hobby hurt the company because many customers began writing computer programs instead of assembling Heathkits.[17] Also, while their assembly was still an interesting and educational hobby, kits were no longer less expensive than preassembled products;[19] BYTE reported in 1984 that the kit version of the Z-150 IBM PC compatible cost $100 more than the preassembled computer from some dealers, but needed about 20 hours and soldering skills to assemble.[20][21] The continuation of the integration trend (printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, etc.), and mass production of electronics (especially computer manufacturing overseas and plug-in modules) eroded the basic Heathkit business model. Assembling a kit might still be fun, but it could no longer save much money. The switch to surface mount components and LSI ICs finally made it impossible for the home assembler to construct an electronic device for significantly less money than assembly line factory products.[10]: 152–153 

As sales of its kits dwindled during the decade, Heath relied on its training materials and a new venture in home automation and lighting products to stay afloat. When Zenith eventually sold ZDS to Groupe Bull in 1989, Heathkit was included in the deal.[10]: 153 

In March 1992, Heath announced that it was discontinuing electronic kits after 45 years. The company had been the last sizable survivor of a dozen kit manufacturers from the 1960s.[17] In 1995, Bull sold Heathkit to a private investor group called HIG, which then sold it to another investment group in 1998. Wanting to only concentrate on the educational products, this group sold the Heath/Zenith name and products to DESA International,[10]: 154  a maker of specialty tools and heaters. In late 2008, Heathkit Educational Systems sold a large portion of its physical collection of legacy kit schematics and manuals along with permission to make reproductions to Don Peterson,[22] though it still retained the copyrights and trademarks, and had pointers to people that could help with the older equipment.

DESA filed bankruptcy in December 2008.[23] The Heathkit company existed for a few years as Heathkit Educational Systems located in Saint Joseph, Michigan, concentrating on the educational market. The Heathkit company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.[2][24]



In May 2013, Heathkit's corporate restructuring was announced on their website.[25] An extensive FAQ accessible from their homepage stated clearly that Heathkit was back, and that they would resume electronic kit production and sales.[26]

On October 8, 2015, Heathkit circulated an email to its "insiders", who had indicated an interest in the company's progress by completing its online marketing survey. It had now secured the rights to all Heathkit designs and trademarks; secured several new patents; established new offices, warehouse space, and a factory in Santa Cruz, California; and had introduced the renewed company's first new electronic kit in decades.[27] Since then, Heathkit has announced and sold further kits in its new lineup of products.[3] In addition, limited repair service on vintage products, reprints of manuals and schematics, remaining inventories of original parts, and upgrades of some vintage models are available.[26]

Amateur radio

Heathkit HW8 amateur transmitter

Heathkit made amateur radio kits almost from the beginning. In addition to their low prices compared with commercially manufactured equipment, Heathkits appealed to amateurs who had an interest in building their own equipment, but did not necessarily have the expertise or desire to design it and obtain all the parts themselves. They expanded and enhanced their line of amateur radio gear through nearly four decades. By the late 1960s, Heathkit had as large a selection of ham equipment as any company in the field.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ Bob Eckweiler: Heathkit of the Month #41 - OL-1 Three Inch Oscilloscope, Orange County Amateur Radio Club, 2012
  2. ^ a b Swindwa, Julie, "Disassembly complete: Heathkit is no more", The Herald-Palladium, 19 July 2012
  3. ^ a b "Shop". Heathkit. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  4. ^ "Heath Company posted on LinkedIn".
  5. ^ "Aircraft". Aircraft. 1: 418. June 1911 – via hathitrust.org.
  6. ^ Philip Brown (January 2015). "Two kits still cruise the airwaves and the skies". QST. 99 (1). ARRL: 20. ISSN 0033-4812.
  7. ^ Donald M. Pattillo. A History in the Making: 80 Turbulent Years in the American General Aviation Industry. p. 13.
  8. ^ Joseph P Juptner. U.S. Civil Aircraft: Vol. 5 (ATC 401 – ATC 501).
  9. ^ a b Rostky, George (2 October 2000). "A Tale Of The Unstoppable Electronic Kit" (PDF). EE Times. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 6, 2007.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Brueschke, Erich E.; Mack, Michael (2019). "The History of the Heath Companies and Heathkits: 1909 to 2019" (PDF). On the Shortwaves. Retrieved 2022-02-25.
  11. ^ "Whatever Happened To Heathkit?". Electronic Design. February 18, 2009. Archived from the original on December 29, 2012.
  12. ^ Leander Kahney (2008). Inside Steve's Brain. Portfolio. ISBN 978-1-59184-198-2., p. 196. Leander cites an oral history audio recording by the Smithsonian Institution as his source for the quotation.
  13. ^ "Heathkit ET-3400 Trainer - Computer - Computing History". www.computinghistory.org.uk. Retrieved 2022-12-14.
  14. ^ Milligan, W. Lloyd; Richardson, Anthony (1979-03-01). "A microprocessor-(Heath ET-3400) based backup control system for laboratory experiments". Behavior Research Methods & Instrumentation. 11 (2): 314–315. doi:10.3758/BF03205668. ISSN 1554-3528.
  15. ^ Williams, Tom (1979-06-11). "Heathkit to Market Computer Products Through Distributors". The Intelligent Machines Journal. No. 9. Woodside, CA: Jim C. Warren, Jr. p. 7. Retrieved 2010-02-19. The new terminal, the H19, is also built around a Z80 microprocessor,...
  16. ^ Sol Libes BYTE News... in BYTE, ISSN 0360-5280, Volume 4 No. 11, November 1979 p. 81
  17. ^ a b c Fisher, Lawrence (30 March 1992). "Plug Is Pulled on Heathkits, Ending a Do-It-Yourself Era". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Steven Leininger Heath's HERO-1 Robot, BYTE, January 1983 pp. 86–96
  19. ^ Pease, Bob (1992-07-23). "What's All This Muntzing Stuff, Anyhow?". Electronic Design.
  20. ^ Rash, Wayne Jr. (December 1984). "The Zenith Z-150 PC". BYTE. pp. 252–259.
  21. ^ Cohen, Henry B. (December 1984). "Building the H-150 Computer Kit". BYTE. p. 258.
  22. ^ Don Peterson. "Data Professionals Heathkit Page".
  23. ^ Chelsea Emery (December 29, 2008). "Desa Heating parent files for bankruptcy". Reuters.
  24. ^ "Heathkit Educational Systems Closes Up Shop". The National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL). May 9, 2012.
  25. ^ "Spring 2013 Heathkit ® Survey". www.heathkit.com. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  26. ^ a b "Heathkit® FAQ". www.heathkit.com. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  27. ^ Karplus, Kevin, "Heathkit Moves to Santa Cruz", Santa Cruz Tech Beat, 8 October 2015

Further reading