The life and works of Robert G. Metzner

I want to tell you about my father, Robert Gerson Metzner, who died peacefully at home in Beverly Hills, California on December 21, 2014. He was a very special man.

Dad was born on February 11,1917 in Detroit, Michigan. His father Abraham Metzner was a pediatrician. His mother Vera Pollasky Metzner was a nutritional specialist. He had an older sister Maxine. The family moved to Los Angeles when Dad was 4. He was a smart boy, who showed an early aptitude for science and technology. He built his first crystal radio set at age 9, got his ham radio license and later acquired his First Class Radio Telephone license at age 16.

Dad earned a degree in electrical engineering at Caltech, class of 1938. He worked to pay for his education. Robert Metzner at Caltech

When he graduated, he started his first company. There would be more. His career spanned the growth of the audio industry, and he played a significant role in it. He patented numerous inventions in many audio formats, disk and tape. His first big company Pacific Sound made transcription players for the army in World War Two. Then he founded Califone (“CALIFornia PHONograph”) Corporation, which still serves the audiovisual needs of educators and many other professionals, just as it did when he placed some of the first record players, tape recorders and learning laboratories in American schools. Califone unit Califone learning labHe started Roberts Recorders with Robert Craig, and formed one of the earliest successful partnerships between an American and Japanese (Akai) electronics company. (See detailed history and videos at the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording website.) Roberts333XAd3 MetznerTapeMechPatent3 His Metzner Starlight Turntable is still praised and collected by audiophiles.Metzner starlite turntable

He retired from business at age 42, but was far from finished with inventing and creating. He had studied sculpting in his spare time and was now able to pursue a new career as a sculptor.

After many years of unstinting creativity his works are on display at UCLA, Caltech and in private collections. 

He also invented the first modern gas/electric hybrid automobile with Gerald Fields. Hybrid patentTheir prototype is now in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Hybrid with  inventors Fields and Metzner

Dad’s favorite pastime for most of his adult life was sailing. Dad in Commodore Cap He owned many boats and won innumerable prizes and trophies racing on the Pacific Ocean. Sailboat As with all of the other activities mentioned above, he attributed much of his success on land and sea to his engineering training at Caltech.

Unlike Thomas Edison, on whose 70th birthday he was born, Dad was an inventor and businessman whose family was an important part of his life. He and my mother Esther were happily married for 74 years. Dad and Mom Mom worked as his secretary in the early days and never stopped being a valued sounding board for him. He always credited her for keeping his work life balanced with family and feelings. Mom died on July 21, 2016 — exactly 19 months after Dad. My sister Carolee and I have many fond memories of time spent with them, later including their four grandchildren, Jeff, Dave, Jamie and Katie, their nine great-grandchildren, Jacob, Jake, Will, Noah, Kiley, Nick, Mirabelle, Zack and Lexy,  and the loved ones who joined our family as spouses, co-parents and partners, Linda, Eddie, Leila, Elise, Charles, Ariane and Judy.

.Greatgrandchildren

There is much more to tell, but I’ll stop here. I think Dad’s greatest accomplishment was that he did all that I’ve just described and yet never stopped being a kind, humble, loving human being with a great sense of humor. I’m sure you can understand why we all loved him and miss him so much.

Dad at 96

15 thoughts on “The life and works of Robert G. Metzner

  1. what a great men your dad is.an amazing story.I’m trying to find one of his great turn tables.
    no luck thus far, but I will. .

      • Wow what a life. I just purchased a Metzner Starlight Turntable and was looking up some I for on it when I came across this page. I buy and sell electronics and hadn’t come across one before. Just had it serviced and it works amazing. Great piece of engineering. The guy who worked on it was very impressed with it. After hearing about his life it makes me want to hold onto this one. Well hope your Dad is still doing well. Take care and Happy Holidays. Steve.

  2. Brilliant Dad. Brilliant and authentic tribute from the son! I had the pleasure of spending a good bit of time with Bob and Gerry back in the day while at Califone and with an R&D Partnership that invested in their hybrid car. That car was way ahead of its time and thrilling to hear it’s now at the Peterson. My passion and business roots were also in audio, so you can imagine how enlightening it was to chat with your Dad on that subject. So happy to have run across this post. All the best to you and your family. Mike

  3. Very interesting. I have one of the Starlight turntables and use it often. It is the only turntable I know of that can tune 78rpm records back to correct pitch. I was not aware he was so involved with other audio — Rheem, Califone, Roberts, and Akai.

  4. What a great life your father had. I saw him many years ago. We certainly had a great family. Too bad we saw each other so rarely.

  5. Dear Dr. Metzner,

    Recently I bought a tape recorder, Roberts 1055 model, manufactured in 1963. I’ll start restoring it. I am very happy because now I have a Roberts. I love the tape recorders made by your father.

    Hug,
    Paulo (From Brazil).

    • Dear Paulo,

      Thank you for your message. My father would have been glad to know that Roberts recorders were bringing happiness to you in Brazil. Good luck with your restoration!

      Best wishes,
      Richard

  6. Hello, Richard,

    I have just won the bid on an interesting Roberts tape recorder that I’d never come across before. We had late-1950s Roberts recorders at San Jose State when I was a student there in the early ’60s. But the Ampex/Roberts 5050XD that I am picking up locally this evening is, of course, a much later model and apparently quite rare.

    In searching the Web for info on this machine, I came across the tribute to your dad and his work on the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording site, a very comprehensive resource on a subject dear to my own heart. Your dad was obviously a bright, innovative and fascinating fellow; it would have been an honor to have met him.

    • Dear James,

      I appreciate your reaching out to us on this exciting occasion! It would be great to put a picture of you and your new Roberts heirloom on this site, if you are willing. My father would have enjoyed meeting you too.

      All the best,
      Richard

  7. Hello, Richard. I just looked up your father when I saw a notice about his estate sale. I was so enthralled by his sculpture and artwork. Reading even more about him, I wish I could have met him. What a fascinating, interested, curious, talented man. My best to you and your family. I imagine this was quite a loss. It’s nice to see that you still get “fan mail” and I hope that it brings you and your family joy.

    • Thank you, Judy. Dad was amazing, and our family members are all grateful he was in our lives and that he was with us for so long. My mother’s recent passing is the end of an era for us, but Dad will once again have her where he always wanted her — at his side.

      Best wishes to you and yours,
      Richard

  8. Aloha Richard, I live in Hawaii, I picked up an old Roberts 997 reel to reel, I have been looking for an Akai or a Teac. I did not know anything about the Roberts recorders. I came across your page about your father, sounds like he was a fascinating man, very sorry to hear he passed,I would have loved to have met him. I lost my dad 3 years ago. I am inspired to restore it and now that I know a little about its history I’m proud to have it. I appreciate things that were made well and designed to last a lifetime. I am very tired of all the throw away junk that is produced today. best wishes to you
    Jac

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