The company was started as Radio Shack in 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts, by two brothers, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, who wanted to provide equipment for the cutting-edge field of amateur, or ham, radio. Theodore and Milton Deutschmann opened a one-store retail and mail-order operation in the heart of downtown Boston. They chose the name, "Radio Shack", which was a term for the small, wooden structure that housed a ship's radio equipment. The Deutschmanns thought the name was appropriate for a store that would supply the needs of radio officers aboard ships, as well as "ham" radio operators.
The company issued its first catalog in the early 1940s and then entered the high-fidelity music market. In 1954, Radio Shack began selling its own private-label products under the brand name Realist, but was subsequently sued and consequently changed the brand name to Realistic. After expanding to nine stores plus an extensive mail-order business, the company fell on hard times in the 1960s. Radio Shack was essentially bankrupt, but Charles Tandy saw the potential of Radio Shack and retail consumer electronics and bought the company for $300,000.