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TV commercials with wacky personalities like Crazy Eddie or Mad Mike, who pitch “outrageously low prices” and wear tacky costumes while pitching deals that just can’t be missed. You’ve seen them before, but did you ever wonder where they started? These oddball marketing personas can all be traced back to one American inventor and businessman of the mid-20th century: Earl “Madman” Muntz.
“Madman” Muntz was born in 1914 in Elgin, Illinois to parents in the hardware store profession. Muntz was fascinated by electronics from a young age and dropped out of high school during the Great Depression to work at the family store. By age 20, with his mother signing legal papers, he opened his first used car lot, starting his rise to business fame.
Muntz moved to California at the age of 26, finding the market there much more lucrative. Muntz didn’t agree with the current ideas regarding used car advertising, deciding instead to use off the wall techniques. One of his famous lines was “I buy ‘em retail and sell ‘em wholesale… it’s more fun that way!” His commercials become so popular that even famous comedians of the day like Steve Allen and Bob Hope tried to outdo each other on television with jokes about “Madman Muntz.”
In addition to inventing the “hype man” craze, Muntz also started the world of portable car stereo when he invented the Muntz Stereo-Pak, a 4-track cartridge which was the direct predecessor to the world famous 8-track cassette. He also produced and marketed the first blank and white TV sets that sold for under $100 opening the world to the affordable television set.
Speaking of TV, Muntz is also remembered as the person who coined the abbreviate “TV” which up to that time had consistently been referred to as the television.
Though few of us remember him today, Muntz was an interesting character in American history, a child prodigy, a high school dropout, a marketing maverick, and a technological innovator.