Hand-wired 500’s

The Royal 500 represented Zenith’s initial entry into the transistorized radio market. The very first Royal 500’s were created one by one by craftsmen and were hand-wired pieces of art. Zenith produced somewhere around 100,000 of these and the serial numbers seem to have increased sequentially as they were produced.

Externally, hand-wired models can be distinguished from later non-handwired radios by a bar that goes through the center of their knobs. Hand-wired models were produced in black and maroon cabinets, with a few very early sets produced in a special “see through” translucent maroon cabinet. The translucent radios seem to be quite rare.  (I have devoted a separate page to the translucent models for your viewing pleasure).

The earliest serial numbers reported are #00016 & #00491 by Phil McArthur, #00046 in my collection, and #00506 by Bob McGarra.  They continued to climb to just over 90,000 at which time Zenith started to switched to printed circuit boards.  This allowed them to mass produce them to meet the high demand.

During this transition period, Zenith created some unusual variations “hybrids” such as hand wired chassis inside of radios that appear to be the later B version with the newer knobs.  This transition continued for several weeks with the latest serial number of a hybrid reported being my white one with serial # 121,707.  Imagine my surprise having obtained a white handwired!  I have added photos of this special white HW below.  Other collectors have reported finding similar surprises, so this all just proves that you just never really know what you have until you open them up and look inside.

Serial numbers are stamped into the chassis and located inside the battery door on the post between the batteries in a small cutout area of the battery direction label.  Check yours out and feel free to forward your serial numbers and chassis types (7XT40, 7XT40Z, 7XT40Z1) to me as I am in the process of creating a table to detail this information.

 Black Hand wired Royal 500 from 1956* Featured Radio for March * Maroon Hand-wired Royal 500

 Black Hand-wired 500 Fact Sheet

Radio: Early Royal 500 – Hand-wired
When introduced: November, 1955
Cost New: $75.00
Colors: Black, Maroon
Dimensions: 5.5″ H, 3.25″ W, 1.5″ D
Weight: 15.5 ounces
# of Transistors: 7
Powered by: 4 AA batteries
Undistorted output: 100 Milliwatts

20 thoughts on “Hand-wired 500’s”

  1. Several collectors have on their websites that the Zenith 500 was the longest running transistor radio production. Actually, that title belongs to the (rather undistinguished) Flavoradio from Radio Shack which ran unchanged from 1972 to 1986 and then to 2002 with a couple of redesigns. I hate to put these two radios in the same paragraph since the Zenith 500’s were in a class by themselves. I have one of the translucent Maroon 500’s with serial number 06270 probably from the first month of production and a black sn 02600 from the first week. The lowest sn so far discovered is R McGarrah’s 00509. Wonder where number 00001 is? Thanks for your informative site.

  2. Great site on a great radio! I have five of the early Zenith 500’s: One black hand-wired, serial 55206, TX740Z1 (date625), one black 500D, one black and one two-toned (white/salmon) 500E; one white 500H. My dad purcased a 500 new in early 1956 (when I was three). He loved to show it to and play it for everyone… I wonder where it is now? I really enjoy these radios, use them all regularly and can’t imagine a nicer, all-American-made product. I have Japanese radios also, but the Zeniths really do it for me! My only source of regret is the loss of this great Industry. I am, however, glad to own these pieces of history, from what must surely have been the finest of manufacturers. Thank you for your information, great photos, etc. on Royal 500’s
    Sincerely;
    -Don

  3. I have a Royal 500 chassis 7XT40 serial number 23226. I am I the process of selling it. Very nice site and information- Thank You.

    1. Nice Gilbercy. I am glad you are enjoying my site. If you should ever decide that you want to part with your radio, send me some information on it along with a few pictures and I will make you an offer. My email is ballgandc@hotmail.com

  4. I have a maroon 7XT40 with serial #44760. Your website is very informative. Thank you for providing us with your information.

    1. Thank you Edward. Let me know if you have any questions and I will try to find you the answer. Also, watch for accessories for your nice early hand wired radio that I offer from time to time. Gary

  5. Hi,
    I have a black (ebony?) 500 model with the thin white pointer. The serial no. is 116407. I understand that the thin white pointer means it might be a “transitional” one.

    I don’t know where to find the chassis no. The transistors don’t seem to have any number like 7XT40… on them, assuming the seven silver-capped components are the transistors.

    My circuit board seems to be a brownish material not steel.

    Any help in identifying would be much appreciated.

    1. What you have there is an early printed circuit Royal 500B from mid 1956 with a printed circuit board. The chassis is 7ZT40Z1. There is nothing really special here as the transition models will have a metal chassis and hand wired components.

  6. Hi Gary, I have a black Zenith Royal 500 Handwired with a serial number of 07732. Found it in a box for a buck at a flea market!! Works but needs to be recapped.

  7. BTW the chassis on my Royal 500 is 7XT40…..serial number 07732…..I wonder when it was made from what Ive read this model was introduced in Nov 1955 I wonder how many a month they made? Maybe this one was made within the first month to three months?

    1. That’s a good question. Hard to know for sure, but if they made 100,000 by mid 1956, the next question would be what month did production start? My research suggests September based on date codes on some components. So say they produced the hand wired model for 10 months (thru June), that would be an average of roughly 10,000 per month (once production ramped up). So yours could be from month one! Nothing official, just my thoughts.
      Great find and thanks for sharing. Gary

      1. Thanks again Gary, thats great info to have!!! I’d post a pic here but dont know if I can….sorry so slow getting back was on vacation. As for the production dates, I was sorta thinking the first 30-60 days myself…so i consider myself quite lucky to find it!! It actually seems to be playing stronger now, maybe I had some weak batteries in it. But its still not 100% full volume, but I’d say 60-70% so it needs recapping but I think i might leave it as original….take care BTW Fantastic site you have here!!

      2. I found a date code of June 1955 on one of the components. So probably late summer start up production (Sept 1955 like you said) to produce enough to be distributed nationally starting in Nov 1955 just in time for the Christmas Season….wow good marketing/distribution timing there!! Zenith was just pure quality all the way around, its too bad we just dont have that anymore but at least we have these beautiful Zeniths to enjoy!! They still outlast anything made today!!

        1. I agree Bob. They have definitely passed the test of time. And the amazing part is that most of them still work without having any repairs done to them over the last 5-6 decades! Sure, their performance may be able to be enhanced with a tune up, but Zenith sure believed in using quality components. And they are actually a pleasure to work on due to their simple design. Thanks, Gary

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