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From the Shure Archives: In the Army Now

Resident Shure historian Michael Pettersen shares the stories behind some of his favorite archival treasures, including one microphone making a transatlantic journey to Belgium during World War II.
November, 16 2017 |
There are thousands of treasures to choose from in the Shure Archives, and each has its own story. In this series, Shure resident historian Michael Pettersen shares some of his personal favorites. For this installment, he describes how one Model 720A microphone ended up coming home decades after being sent to Europe with the US Army during World War II.

Meet Michael Pettersen, Shure Director of Corporate History

Since 1976, I have worked at Shure on teams from sales to product management to applications engineering. Music performance and history have always been my passions. In 2016, these two worlds coalesced when Shure President and CEO Christine Schyvinck decided the company needed a corporate historian. She asked me if I was interested in the job, and I accepted without hesitation.

My involvement with documenting Shure history dates back to 1995. With the company's 75th anniversary looming in 2000, I suggested a book celebrating the company's history to commemorate the event. Much of the book's content came from a small, crowded archive closet.

Today, the Shure Archives have a well-organized space of their own. Corporate Archivist Julie Snyder maintains the collection. Together, we preserve the history that Mr. Shure and Mrs. Shure held so dear. 

Serving the Country

[caption id="attachment_31587" align="aligncenter" width="898"]Shure Model 720A Tri-Polar Crystal Microphone Shure Model 720A Tri-Polar Crystal Microphone[/caption]

Many American companies played an important role supplying US forces during World War II. Shure officially joined the war effort in 1942 manufacturing the T-17 handheld microphone for military use. Shure retooled to handle higher production requirements and put military specifications in place (with many still remaining today) for what would ultimately become the most widely used microphone in World War II. The T-17  was not, however, the only Shure mic to serve overseas.

 In the fall of 1944, Allied forces entered Belgium in an effort to liberate the country after four years of Nazi occupation. The resulting German counteroffensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge, was the largest ground battle fought by the US Army. Over 80,000 US troops were injured; the Germans, suffering some 100,000 casualties, fared even worse. The fighting subsided just three months before the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

One of the Shure mics likely used by the US Army Radio Services in Belgium during that period was the Shure Model 720A Tri-Polar "Controlled Direction" Crystal Microphone.

View the February-March 1938 Technical Bulletin here.

The Shure Model 720A debuted in 1938 and offered, at the flip of a switch, three polar patterns – unidirectional, omnidirectional and bidirectional. It was designed for public address, recording studio, and broadcast applications.

From Belgium with Love

In October 2001, Shure received an email from Phillippe Vandendriessche, a sound designer and audio educator living in Brussels, Belgium. He had been teaching a class in microphone techniques at the Institute des Arts de Diffusion and in 1986, had been given an "old Shure microphone, a Shure Tri-Polar crystal microphone model 720A" by grateful students who knew he collected vintage sound equipment. They'd found it at a Brussels antique store in a box of WWII-era US Army gear. Now, 15 years later, he wanted to test the microphone and needed a wiring diagram and information about the type of preamp to use.

Shure responded with a two-page data sheet from 1938 and an invitation to exchange his 1938 multiple pattern Shure mic for its modern successor. Surrendering the sentimental gift from his students did not come easily; he called it "an interior conflict with myself," but the fact that the 720A would be returning home and kept safe eventually won him over. He also wrote, "I like the idea that the microphone came to Belgium with the American soldiers who gave us our liberty back."

The 720 series crystal microphones were discontinued after the war, but in 2002, Shure debuted another multi-pattern mic – the KSM44. And that's the one that Phillippe is using to this day.
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