From Digi-Keyer to DigiKey

From Digi-Keyer to DigiKey

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

What can happen if you are interested in HAM Radio

The real beginning of DigiKey was about 1969. Ron Stordahl was a Ham Radio enthusiast and, while a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, he developed an electronic keying device for sending Morse code which utilized integrated circuits and other electronic components. The device could not only smooth out the ham operator’s dits and dahs, but could make them machine perfect.

He decided to sell this device in the form of a kit to other Ham Radio hobbyists. The kit included the components and an etched circuit board on which one could solder the components. He advertised this kit as the “Digi-Keyer.”

The Original Digi-Keyer

The makers of radio transmitters liked digital keying so much, they eventually built it into their own machines. As a result, interest in the Digi-Keyer Kit was short lived. However, Stordahl pivoted quickly to meet the needs of others like him and began selling the components. And he decided to sell them individually, breaking the industry’s pattern of only selling in bulk.

With a desire to provide key components and service tailored to those in the early stages of technology innovation, not just already-established companies, he began by advertising in magazines. What began as a modest inventory began to grow. From a one-page, typewritten and mimeographed “catalog” to becoming a pioneer in direct mail the DigiKey catalog became the holy grail for hobbyists and design engineers alike.

By 2010, the DigiKey catalog had essentially outgrown the capacity of efficient traditional printing, and the internet was robust enough to accommodate a product offering today that exceeds more than 11.7 million unique devices.

Long before buzzwords like Maker, Startup and Unicorn were a thing, a young man pursuing his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Minnesota launched what has since become a $4 billion business that employs more than 4,000 people worldwide.

And it all started with an interest in ham radio.

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