Saturday, June 12, 2010


There must be something about Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

I've known for years that modern-as-tomorrow RF switching manufacturer Dow-Key started U.S. operations there, building interesting and unusual semi-automatic telegraph keys, then branched out into coaxial relays, which eventually became the entire business. In 1966, they left Minnesota for California -- but that wasn't the end of the telegraphy connection for Thief River Falls.

In the early 1970s, then college student and amateur radio operator Ron Stordahl began selling an electronic speed-key kit, which he called a "Digi-Keyer." In the process, he found that a lot of hams and others were looking for a source of modern electronic components; in 1972, his home-town smaller-than-garage kit company became a fledgling parts house called Digi-Key and today, Dr. Ronald A. Stordahl is CEO of the fifth-largest electronic distributor in North America, the biggest employer in Thief River Falls.

In my career, I've seen their print catalog grow from a skinny magazine into something the size and heft of a big-city telephone book, small print, thin paper. No tubes but Digi-Key is Retrotechnologist-approved: like the famous mail-order outfits of yore, they carry a huge variety of items and are happy to sell to anyone. Orders go out the door the same day, too.

Both companies have sold parts in use from Kansas City to geosynchronous orbit. And it all started with telegraph keys. Twice!


  1. A variation on Synchronicity? Something in the water? Something in the local culture, started by Dow-Key, that stayed behind when they left? After all, there was no particular reason for, say, Detroit to become the Motor City, yet it did.

  2. Mouser started out small, too, and proved that by offering good quality parts, at reasonable prices, with outstanding customer service, you can make it to the big time.

  3. Strange....that's how I spelled it....

  4. Yes, but you left off the link -- it doesn't change the pronunciation any.