Arthur Collins was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma on September 9, 1909. His father, Merle, moved the family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa shortly after to start The Collins Farm Company. The company was profitable and devised more efficient means for farm and crop management, eventually operating 60,000 acres of farmland.
At the age of nine, Arthur developed an interest in radios, a relatively new innovation. Arthur and his friend Merrill Lund, began making simple crystal receivers in Lund's home using variable condensers inside of a tube. The radios were crude, with wire wrapped around cardboard tubes from Quaker oats for a tuning coil, thumb tacks for contact points, and a sixty foot tall spark antenna. Eventually, lightning struck the antenna and destroyed it, and Merrill's dad asked them to move it out of his house.
Arthur hauled over two wagons and they moved what was left of the equipment to Arthur's house, sneaking it up to his room. They were able to fix it up with parts found laying around, utilizing pieces of coal for rectification and glass towel racks for insulators. Soon his reputation as a boy radio wizard grew throughout town, with one neighbor quoted as saying, "We sensed that Arthur was different, but we did not know that he was a genius. When the rest of us were out playing cowboy and Indian, Arthur was in the house working on his radios."
When the Federal Radio Commission, which later became the FCC, passed a radio act that allowed amateur radio operators to get licenses, Arthur took the test and received his license in 1923. His father, who initially didn't like the mess in his house, began buying Arthur expensive parts for his radios, such as a new tube that was on the market for $135. Arthur also found friends to talk with about radios, including Henry Nemec. When Nemec became a police officer, he would often stop by the Collins home in a squad car, leaving neighbors to wonder if Arthur was in trouble with the police.
Arthur was a very active "ham" and his wall was covered with postcards from hams in other countries. In 1924, he met a man named John Reinartz, who had developed a new type of radio tuner. Reinartz was later chosen to serve as the radio operator for the MacMillan Expedition to Greenland, which was led by Richard Byrd. However, the land station in Washington D.C. was unable to consistently communicate with the expedition due to atmospheric problems.
Arthur soon came to the rescue by making contant with the expedition with his self-built ham radio in 1925. He communicated with Reinartz in code throughout the expedition and sent telegrams to Washington D.C. detailing the expedition's progress and findings. the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the story as follows on August 4, 1925:
"The mysterious forces of air leaped the boundary of thousands of miles to bring Cedar Rapids in touch with the celebrated MacMillan scientific expedition at Etah, Greenland, and wrote a new chapter into the history of radio. Sunday, Arthur Collins, 514 Fairview Drive, 15-year-old radio wizard, picked up the message from the expedition's ship Bowdoin, at twenty meters (wavelength), at about 3 o'clock and conversed in continental code for more than one hour. It was the first time the expedition and any United States radio station had communicated at that wavelength. Messages were received by Collins for the National Geographic Society, which is sponsoring the expedition, and for others, and were sent out from here by telegraph. Arthur Collins is the son of Mr. and Mrs. M. H. Collins and is a student at Washington High School. He has been a radio fan for years, and has himself constructed most of his apparatus. His equipment is in a small room on the third floor of the Collins home. His station is known as 9CXX. The local boy told a Gazette reporter today that although he had been in wireless communication with Australia, Scotland, England, India, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Mexico, he never had received a greater thrill than when he talked to his friend on the famous expedition bound northward to explore a mystic continent."
In 1925, he wrote an article that was published in Radio Age magazine's May 1925 issue regarding short wave radios. In 1927, he and two friends, Paul Engle and Winfield Salisbury, installed short wave radio equipment on a trcuk and drove to the southwestern United States to perform experiments while talking to a ground station in Cedar Rapids. In 1930, Arthur married a woman named Margaret Van Dyke and they moved into a home at 1620 6th Avenue SE.
Over the depression years, he began selling radio equipment in modular packages using standardized components. His products were highly reliable since they were precisely engineered and not thrown together with random components. While his father's farming business failed, Arthur's radio business kept growing as the popularity of radios increased. His first employee was Clair Miller, followed soon after by others, including a number from his father's farm company. In 1933, the company moved out of his basement into leased space at 2920 1st Ave in Cedar Rapids.
On September 22, 1933, Collins Radio Company became a corporation in the State of Delaware, with eight employees and $29,000 in capital. The business took off, eventually shifting from ham radios to military radios and avionics equipment. When man first landed on the moon during the Apollo Program, it was a Collins Radio that transmitted the audio and video back to Earth so people worldwide could see it.
In 1955, his wife Margaret died, but he later remarried to a woman named Mary Margaret Meis. He had a total of four children.
In 1972, he left Collins Radio to found a new firm, Arthur A. Collins, Inc. in the city of Dallas. The company worked on systems engineering research for communication and computers. Collins Radio was acquired by Rockwell International, but later separated as Rockwell Collins. Today Rockwell Collins continues to produce cutting edge avionics, radio, and satellite equipment for military and commercial markets.