I have geek in my blood. My grandfather, Gus Hahn, opened an electronics store in 1929 with his former high school physics teacher, Ralph Coe, and for some 80 years – passing on to my uncle after my grandfather’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease left him unable to work – it serviced the south suburbs of Chicago. They sold record players and radios, installed PAs and police radios, and showcased fancy new technology like televisions in color.
The story of Hahn & Coe is the story of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship through generations. It tells of burgeoning opportunity, economic and technological changes, and the struggles of a family to make it through on their own despite obstacles I can hardly fathom. But the story has reached its end. Sadly, the continuing poor economy in a long-downtrodden suburban area of Chicago has finally taken too much a toll. The family business has closed its doors.
I keep a few of my grandfather’s things near my desk. His old, wooden level looks almost comical in the bright glow of my dual monitors, and his cracked, yellowing slide-rule is painfully low-tech next to my sleek, black iPhone. But they remind me of how far I am from vacuum tubes and CB radios, and yet how not very far at all. There was geek in his blood, too.