Bing Crosby was a savvy businessman who became one of the first entertainers to form his own companies. In addition to Bing Crosby Enterprises,
which oversaw his various projects and investments, Bing also formed Project Records and Bing Crosby Productions.
But some of the businesses Bing became involved with outside of the entertainment world would become as associated with him as anything he did as an entertainer.
Bing’s 1948 investment in “fast freezing” technology led to a huge success in what became Minute Maid frozen orange juice. As part of the transaction, Bing got stock in the company and became the sole distributor of the product for the entire West Coast. He was also named Minute Maid’s Chairman of the Board. His production company created a 15-minute morning radio program that featured Bing as a disc jockey, playing popular records of the day, including his own. The show was sponsored by Minute Maid.
When the company went public in 1956, Bing was invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. He began appearing in Minute Maid television commercials in the early 1950s and became synonymous with frozen orange juice for generations of viewers.
Bing’s desire to record his radio programs and not do them live was the inspiration for his investment in the development of magnetic recording tape technology during its infancy. During World War II, radio programs were recorded onto 16-inch disks and shipped overseas for delayed listening by soldiers. Radio executives, however, felt that transcribed (recorded) programs would not be as interesting to a mass audience as a live broadcast. Bing moved his radio show to the new ABC network 1946 because they agreed to not only provide his production company with the most modern technology for his programs but they allowed him to record his programs for airing later. This, of course, freed him up for golfing, hunting and fishing when he wasn’t filming a movie. The earliest recorded shows were assembled by editing from one disc recording to another. Editing was very challenging and the fidelity of the finished product was compromised severely in the process. But German technology developed during the war was brought to the United States and although the German Magnetophone machine had several issues that made it impossible to use for broadcast, Bing invested in the research and development aimed at solving the problems. The company that solved the problems and developed the first magnetic tape recorder was the Ampex Corporation. Bing’s investment not only got him the first machines off the production line for use in recording and editing his radio show, but also made Bing Crosby Enterprises the west coast distributor of the machines. Bing also gave the new machines to his musician friends Les Paul and Buddy Cole, both of whom would become pioneers in the use of overdubbing – or adding tracks to previously recorded music. Les Paul achieved great notoriety for his use of overdubbing in his popular commercial recordings with Mary Ford, while Buddy Cole’s efforts were mostly confined to Bing’s pre-recorded radio shows.
Once Bing was able to record and edit radio programs that sounded as good a live broadcast he immediately asked his engineers and the people at Ampex to see what they could do about making the technology work for video. He made another investment in Ampex for the development of the video tape recorder while also having his own engineering staff at Bing Crosby Enterprises develop a video tape recorder. Two different technologies were being developed and Bing was involved in both of them. When the Ampex technology won the race, the Bing Crosby Enterprises video tape recorder was sold to the government and became the basis for flight data recorders in military aircraft. But Bing’s Ampex investment paid off when his 1957 television special for Edsel became the first network television program broadcast on video tape.
Another of Bing’s investments that became closely associated with him was his 25% share in the ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. Bing was always an avid baseball fan and was an owner of the team from 1946 until the end of his life. The Crosby family maintained Bing’s stake in the Pirates for several years after his death. Bing got to see his team win the World Series in 1960 and 1971. The family was still a part owner when the Pirates won the series in 1979.
Horse racing was another of Bing’s passions and he was active in the business side of it. He became a founding partner of the Del Mar Turf Club and Del Mar Racetrack in 1937.
Bing served on the Del Mar board of directors with Charles Howard, the owner of a successful racing stable. Among Howard’s horses was Seabiscuit.
Bing went into the stable business with Howard’s son Lindsay, forming Binglin Stable. They had operations in California and Argentina until 1953, when Bing was forced to sell off several of his assets – including his interest in Binglin Stable – in order to pay the substantial estate taxes due after Dixie Lee’s death. Bing continued to own horses and in 1965, Meadow Court, a horse he owned in partnership with Canadian newspaper publisher Max Bell, won the Irish Derby. Bing’s other business ventures included the purchase of several television stations in the early 1950s, numerous real estate investments and oil exploration. One of Bing’s more unusual real estate projects was the Blue Skies Trailer Park in Palm Springs, California, which opened in 1955. Described as a place for “gypsies in ermine,” Blue Skies featured deluxe mobile homes as large as twenty feet wide, sheltered by palm trees and surrounded by gardens and white picket fences. Each unit had an enclosed patio, a plush cabana and air conditioning. Paramount executive Don Hartman’s unit, with built in television and hi-fi system was one of the show places of Blue Skies. Bing’s partners in the venture included Phil Harris, Claudette Colbert, Danny Kaye and Jack Benny. Blue Skies was sold in 1965.
Bing’s partners in his oil drilling operations were a couple of experienced oil men, W.A. Moncrief and C.E. Hyde and fellow investor Bob Hope. On August 15, 1949, Variety reported that, “Bob Hope made a 24-hour roundtrip…to Midland Odessa, Texas. The comic wanted to ogle an oil well, jointly owned by himself and Bing Crosby, which was brought in late last week.” The Hope – Crosby oil partnership hit again in 1954, when Variety wrote that, “Bing Crosby and Bob Hope have fallen into a pool of Texas oil millions” and when oil was discovered on the Crosby ranch property in Elko, Nevada in 1957, Dean Martin quipped, “I’ll bet even Crosby’s cattle have oil.”