THE SOCIETY OF WIRELESS PIONEERS ARCHIVES
REMEMBER: You can search for anything in this website by clicking on the little triangle with the “+” at the bottom of this page, typing in your search term, and hitting ENTER. There’s much more available than just the items shown below. Green font indicates items mentioned in the AWA Journal.
SoWP Image Challenge: Be the first to correctly answer 3 questions on the image above and win a free Society of Wireless Pioneers Titanic pin. #1) Who is the man in the photo? #2) Where did he reside in late 1913? #3) What was the strangest material he ever tried to use as a radio signal detector? Send your answers to Bob via the link at the bottom of this page. Contest ending soon. Get your entry in today!
Yes, it was the communications station of the U.S.S. Altair, but it wasn’t Star Fleet. See this and other newly posted photos of classic spark and arc shipboard stations.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: There’s a lot more in the SoWP archives than we can post on this website. To give you an idea of just what we have, we’re categorizing and indexing files. You can now view alphabetical lists of hardcopy holdings on: 48 Companies from Alaska Packers Association to Western Electric, 102 Non-members from Ernst Alexanderson to William Winner III, 263 Historic commercial, government, and military stations from “A” (Avalon, CA) to WYC (Langley, VA). An index of >500 members is coming early next year. We encourage anyone researching and/or writing about radio, maritime, aviation, or US history to search these lists and contact us with requests.
Archivist Bart Lee describes the radio-direction finding (RDF) and communications equipment aboard Amelia Earhart‘s ill-fated Lockheed Electra, complete with photos.
What happened if you were on a US merchant ship mid-Pacific on December 7, 1941? A gripping first-hand account by an unidentified radioman describes the confusion, mistakes, and the terror of the Japanese attacks.
Radio Officer and talented cartoonist Al Merrikin‘s take on ships and shipping like the one above will make you laugh. But a very somber note that follows in the link reminds us of the price many a “Sparks” was called upon to pay.
BREAKING NEWS (in 1918)! US invades Siberia and Navy sets up station NPH to aid American Expeditionary Force. Bart Lee reminds us of this long forgotten episode of military communications history.
See hi-definition photos of Marconi models 102A/103 and 106, and equipment and operators of United Wireless Station “NY” on Broadway in 1911.
Buck Williford, 2114-V, a radiotelegrapher attached to the OSS, directed German troops to their doom and was the first to receive the Wehrmacht’s offer to surrender 2 million troops in Italy. Was he some kind of one-man army?
Which wireless company built Interference Machines that operators were ordered to use to keep their competitors from getting a single word through? And what happened when they QRM’d an SOS call?
Unlicensed “bootleg” stations once sent out spark signals throughout Alaska, some of which saved lives. What to do when ordered to shut them down?
See photos of early military wireless equipment manufactured by DeForest and Western Electric from the collection of August J. Link, TA-82. Complete with notes.
In 1992 SoWP member Hans Buehler, 3028-M, was arrested in Iran, taken to a military prison, charged with espionage, and interrogated almost daily. He spent the next 9-1/2 months there, often in solitary confinement, before being released. He credited his Radio Officer’s training with helping him stay alive and sane. Read this fascinating story in his own words.
A radioman sentenced to be executed as a spy in Germany who was also a confidante of Guglielmo Marconi? That would be Arthur Ericson, 70-SGP.
A rarely seen 50-page history of Western Electric prepared by the company in 1944 tells their story from the days of Elisha Gray down to WW II, with many photos. A copy turned up in the Society’s archives and we’re happy to share it with you.
Ever wonder what it was like to send messages with an arc transmitter? Louis Mateo 878-V shows instructions, schematics of keying, and rare photos of a Federal 2 kW arc converter.
Ever try to clean or service an arc transmitter without getting yourself killed? In The Arc Engineer, Marlo Abernathy 1610-SGP saved us a little ditty about some unfortunate experiences with that. Author anonymous.
Trying to decide which Radiola to buy for Christmas? This RCA catalog, circa 1926, can help.
Noted radioman, SoWP officer and prolific author Don de Neuf, 117-SGP tells the story of the NORGE, a hydrogen-filled dirigible that flew over the North Pole in 1926. Complete with a photo of it upon landing in Alaska.
NEW MCCARTY WIRELESS DISCOVERIES – Recently we unearthed some files from SoWP member Tim Christen (TA-14) from 1972. He’d located and bought original McCarty Wireless equipment at “a hippie store” in San Francisco. He included 5 photos and a letter from Francis McCarty to his brother Ignatius that have probably not been seen for over half a century.
Some of the big guns of early radio lived long enough to join SoWP and provided us with their own biographical information. We’ve now added member applications for No. 1 DXer Don Wallace, 659-SSGP and radio legend Lloyd Espenschied, 462-SSGP.
Speaking of guns, check out “Asleep on the deck of the USS Idaho – Gitmo 1919″ with massive deck guns and birdcage antenna in the background. Courtesy of Joe C. James, 2904-SGP.
A titanic vessel strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinks, with the loss of more than 1000 lives. The only wireless operator on the rescue ship works tirelessly through nights and days to keep the survivor list and vital information flowing but is rewarded only with criticism and demotion. Read “The Loner,” fiction by Ray Green. Or is it?
See noted Australian old-time “Sparks” Ellis Smellie, 2650-SSGP, in uniform and in his prime.
The Imperial Japanese Navy used VLF to communicate with their strike force approaching Pearl Harbor in 1941. CHRS Archivist Bart Lee gives details, with color photos of the Telefunken alternators they used, which still exist!
A ham radio operator who was the only link between San Francisco and the rest of the world after the 1906 earthquake… A teenager pretending to be a Rear Admiral… Another whose SOS saved hundreds from a watery death… And all from CHRS’s hometown. Read about the Radio Boys of Alameda. (Our thanks to the Alameda Museum for permission to reprint their quarterly)
Radio in the Philippines: Who was the first amateur radio operator in the Philippines? Who loaded up the roof of General MacArthur’s hotel with 2 kV worth of lead-acid batteries? Who was arrested as a spy and then sent to see the Pope? Read Henry Dickow’s account of the remarkable life of Fred Johnson Elser.
What kind of love poetry did radiomen write to woo their sweethearts? You can bet it involved an Infatuation with EMF! From Wireless Age in 1915.
Some original Alexanderson alternators were in regular use through the 1950s, including one in occupied Poland used by the Nazis to communicate with their U-boats. Thorn Mayes explains.
When Pancho Villa had Mexican radio operators lined up and shot, a call went out for replacements. Gordon Pascoe, 33-P, volunteered and ended up having to dodge a few bullets himself. Read about it in “South of the Border”
Tales of gunfights between rum runners and the US Coast Guard during prohibition caused radioman Hubert Allen, 578-P to enlist in 1927. What were his experiences really like? RDF, codebreaking, speakeasies and more in Echoes of Prohibition.
Could the senior pest exterminator from the Pied Piper’s town of Hamelin, Germany be the key to ridding this British ship of rats? Find out in Rodent Revels, a tale of ingenuity and ecosystems by John Sykes, 2431-SGP.
A recent trip to Colorado Springs turned up a Nikola Tesla plaque, which is, sadly, all that remains to remind one of his 1899-1900 experimental station there
At the Radio Materiel School (RMS) in Bellevue, District of Columbia, the US Navy took some of the best and the brightest and taught them radio theory and operations. Thanks to a donation by Jacqui Bally from her grandfather, Lt. CMDR John W Trott, historian of the Old Time Communicators, you can learn what these students went through and what they thought about it. Fascinating reading!
What was the most embarrassing moment of your life? Whatever it was, Gilson V. “Radio Rex” Willets 22-SGP has got you beat. Find out what it was, and about his many careers (brasspounder, janitor, encyclopedia salesman, cryptographer, radio engineer, etc.) Truly one of the greats.
Gallied when asked to give a shake of your starboard fore lift by a bakehead? Take a dekko at these Nautical Phrases and the next time you anchor with an old salt you’ll be on the high ropes for a full due. (See document for English translation)
The Wireless Specialty Apparatus IP-501 was a classic set used at naval station NDB to monitor for distress messages in the Atlantic in WW I. See the set now in the collection of CHRS and read about Lt. Fabbri and Station NDB in this article by Archivist Bart Lee.
SoWP Member E.D. Stevens was a very early radio operator assigned to the flagship U.S.S. Chicago. On April 18, 1906 he received a wireless message from the mayor of San Diego advising Admiral Goodrich of the calamitous earthquake in San Francisco. Find out what it said in this century-old document.
Did FDR really know in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack and let it happen anyway? This anonymous “orphan” document (other pages not found) likely by Don De Neuf addresses that theory and what a personal friend of the president (and SoWP member), Dr. Stuart E. Davis, had told FDR about Japanese communications activities.
Wilmer Giese, 1569-P, tells us more about arc transmitter operations, and provides some beautiful hand drawn diagrams.
Would you consider a prestigious job as an operator at one of the new high power Marconi stations where you could play billiards, sports, and make as much as $90 per month? This rare 1913 pamphlet is for you.
Did United Wireless commit MONUMENTAL FRAUD? Did the person making the accusation do so too?
Find out more about Portland radio pioneer Charles Austin in his short autobiography.
Out of a basement in Cedar Rapids, Iowa came the first Collins Radio Transmitter. See it and its creator here.
Preeminent scientific journals once predicted that wireless could never compete with cables. See why Marconi should have just given up in this 1902 Science article.
How much did Dr. Lee DeForest really get from AT&T for his triode patents? You might be surprised, according to historian Thorn Mayes and pioneer Lloyd Espenschied.
Unscrupulous stock jobbers gave early wireless companies a bad name. But did they also do some good? See what Peter Jensen, co-founder of Magnavox, thought in this short extract from his great book, “The Great Voice“
And here’s an example of that kind of wireless stock salesmanship, in this case for Collins Wireless Telephone.
Ship radio cabins have been used to sneak in everything from bootleg alcohol to opium, and one well-known SoWP member was even arrested, charged with the latter. Read The Smugglers by the grand old man of SoWP, Henry Dickow.
Adventures of the pioneer Charlie Maass, 580-P, are related by his friend Al Johnson in “I Remember Charlie Maass“
In 2001 the founder and driving force behind the Society of Wireless Pioneers, Bill Breniman passed away at the age of 100. His obituary gives a capsule summary of his life and times.
What exactly is a Radioman? Find out from this anonymous document.
Newly posted member applications: Bill Vetter who built equipment for United Wireless, Marconi, and RCA; Stuart Davis, codebreaker and personal friend of FDR; Brenneman Quereau – How many times was he confused with Bill Breniman?; and Leroy Watson, with the US Navy at Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941.
You know Armstrong and Conrad, DeForest and Pupin, Sarnoff and Tesla and Kolster and Fessenden. But do you recall the other 1920s radiomen who enthrall? Alexanderson, Batsel, Bucher, Bullard, Chaffee, Clark, Cohen, Cummings, De Sousa, Dubilier, Eaton, Espenschied, Goldsmith, Hammond, Hanson, Hazeltine, Heising, Hogan, Hooper, Hull, Jones, Krumm, Langmuir, Miller, Nally, Payne, Pickard, Russell, Rypinski, Sadenwater, Squire, Stein, Stone, Taylor, Taylor, Taylor, Van Dyke, Weagant, and White. Who’s Who in Radio from The Complete Radio Book by Francis Yates & Louis Pacent, 1922
Lewis M. Clement’s first electronics project was a “straight spark gap” station before WW I. He would go on to develop radios and military equipment like the proximity fuse and blind landing localizer. Alexander Seidl gives us a short biography of this pioneer’s eventful life.
In 1903, long before Ray Stannard Baker became President Woodrow Wilson’s press secretary he wrote stories of “the wonders of modern science” in The Boy’s Book of Inventions. In his chapter “Telegraphing Without Wires” he describes the exciting experiments of young Guglielmo Marconi in crossing the English Channel via ether waves (his signal, at least…)
Who was Paul Seiler and why did he look for “Wireless Fiends” in San Francisco circa 1909? Archivist Bart Lee gives us this fascinating glimpse of Seiler’s business, which included everything from quake (seismographs) to quack (bogus medical devices).
A 1904 report from the Royal Navy Signal School compares DeForest and other systems with theirs (Marconi). Did they pass inspection? Read “Various Systems of Wireless Telegraphy” and find out. Our thanks to Shane Joyce for unearthing this.
A QSL card from Siberia? In Esperanto? No, we’re not making this up. Archivist Bart Lee highlights some interesting old Russian radio ephemera with illustrations.
Reginald Fessenden summarized the history and state-of-the-art of wireless telephony for the Smithsonian Institution in 1908. Well written and illustrated, it’s probably the best single article explaining the incredible ingenuity that went into radio transmission, reception, and amplification before the advent of the triode.
The Marconi high power station at Bolinas, California was a wonder of its age. Archivist Bart Lee takes us on a tour of the station then and now.
Through the generosity of Craig Pitcher, the CHRS Museum in Alameda, California has acquired a variety of early spark equipment including some classic Halcun (George Haller and Elmer Cunningham) and Marconi items. Archivist Bart Lee has made it possible to see and read about it here.
Do you wish to send a Marconigram and perhaps make reservations for dinner and a room at the Savoy in London? Simply complete this form and return it to your ship’s Radio Officer at your convenience.
What was it like to go to U.S. Naval Radio School at Harvard in 1919? Gob news, gob sports, gob humor, gob photos and more. Read The Oscillator, donated by SoWP member Luther B Grove 155-P, who went there.
Are earthquakes caused by disturbances in the Earth’s electrical field? This old, anonymous document notes that 17-year-old wireless genius Francis J. McCarty was working on this theory before his untimely death in 1906.
As a boy, Haraden Pratt listened for wireless signals from Major Squiers’ tree wireless experiments. As a man, he advised Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. His “Sixty Years of Wireless and Radio Reminiscences” presented here is a unique, first person account of West Coast wireless history from the age of spark to the age of computers.
Old-time engineer Alexander Seidl talks about the early Marconi stations at Bolinas/Marshall in California and Kahuku/Koko Head in Hawaii along with photos and commentary by CHRS Archivist Bart Lee
Decades before parents warned their children that sitting too close to the TV screen would ruin their eyes, people wondered if Mr. Marconi’s invisible rays might do the same if left to “roam about London at their own sweet will.” Read about The Dangers of the New Telegraphy from 1897, a clipping by the late SoWP historian Ed Marriner.
Read how W.G. Houskeeper’s quest to make cheaper little light bulbs at Bell Labs led to the evolution of 100-kW, water-cooled monster vacuum tubes. From Pacific Telephone Magazine for November, 1922 and donated by Archivist Bart Lee.
The first strike by wireless operators (radiomen) was against the Marconi Company on the Pacific Coast back in 1913. But not all of them were eager to join in. Read about the experiences of one such person here. And for more context about the difference between former landline telegraphers and young former hams, read Henry Dickow’s Revolt of the Wireless Operators.
Archivist Bart Lee reports on the state of the CHRS library and archives, highlighting some resources unlikely to be found anywhere else.
The Pacific Radio News for February 1917, edited by Grand Old SoWP member Henry Dickow brings news of the Marconi lawsuit against Kilbourne & Clark (victory for the latter!) and reminiscences of still earlier days for pioneering commercial station PH. Warning: Contains references to much cursing and drug abuse! Our thanks to David Gleason and worldradiohistory.com for making this available.
Mignon radios are considered by many to have been the best of the best in the early days of radio. Archivist Bart Lee shows exactly what went into them in X-Ray Radios
Alexanderson alternators, once anticipated to be the preferred method of long distance radio communications, are now rare as hens’ teeth. A small one, however, exists in the collection of the Antique Wireless Association, and it was meant to be used for a surprising purpose. Archivist Bart Lee tells the story, with photos and original documentation.
Meet the most beautiful radio artist in America! Hear the voice of Radium! See Babe Ruth on the Tel-Audio-Visor! Experience ship-to-shore wireless telegraphy! Ask John F. Rider your most difficult radio questions! Come to the Sixth Radio World’s Fair at Madison Square Garden and bring some cash. It’s September of 1929, so what could possibly go wrong?
In the early 1920s the Leo J. Meyberg company sold radio parts and put out a whopping 10-watt broadcast signal from the Fairmont Hotel in SF. Archivist Bart Lee documents this pioneering shop complete with a catalog and photos.
The 1980 SoWP Wireless Register published a list of all known members who had completed “crossing the bar” and become Silent Keys, along with memorial poems of the same names. View the Necrology here.
In 1920 radio engineer Robert Gowen, who worked for Lee DeForest, set new distance records for radio telephony from station 2XX in Ossining, New York. Read how DeForest compared this with Marconi accomplishments in his letter to New York newspapers on “An American Invention Which Marconi is Using” from the files of the Ossining Historical Society Museum.
Bernard Linden was among the earliest radio amateurs and professionals on the West Coast, with a station in Oakland in 1909 and a radio store on Market Street in SF. He received his Certificate of Skill in 1912, was appointed head of the Sixth Radio district, and nearly became the president of the Federal Radio Commission. Read his historical document ON THE PACIFIC COAST, view his photo with other District 6 “radio police,” and discover the story of his life as given in his member application.
A mutiny, a knife fight, firing at whales, radio operators lined up and shot, a junkie ship officer in need of a fix… Gordon Pascoe, 33-P, tells all in this fascinating account of his early adventures.
SoWP member Marlo Abernathy, 1610-P, put together a list of Marconi wireless operators in 1914-5, their ships or shore stations, and where more information can be found.
Need to buy a telegraph key, spark gap, motor, X-ray tube, or model railroad? Want to explore the effect of Fuld currents on the body with a variety of interesting electrodes? This 1915 catalog from VoltAmp of Baltimore is just what the doctor ordered. (You can read more about VoltAmp founder Manes Fuld on this external model railroad website.)
See and hear legendary wireless pioneer Elmo Pickerill discuss his career on land, at sea, and in the air in conversation with AWA co-founder Bruce Kelley in this historic YouTube video. If you’re SoWP afficianado, you’ll find it a treat! And you can find more about Pickerill right here on our site.
Even in 1925 old-timers were bemoaning the modern young “Romeo” ship radio operators who couldn’t be bothered to send and receive messages and who had never been taught how to handle traffic in radio school. Normally we don’t reprint Radio News articles, but this one, The Old Chief Speaks, by Howard Pyle, 50-P, is particularly relevant to SoWP. WARNING – Contains offensive language
What was the first US Navy West Coast radio installation in 1908 like? See and read about it here thanks to our Archivist, Bart Lee.
From winding coils on an oatmeal box in Iowa to intercepting enemy communications in WW II to listening in as part of the CIA, Conan Barger, 2941-P had a long and eventful radio career. Thanks to Archivist Bart Lee, you can read about it here.
More historic photos of the High Power Kuhuku, Hawaii station from 1927 including parts of the Alexanderson alternator, shortwave tube set KIE, KET and JAA. Are they really magnetic amplifier tanks, or moonshine stills?
He promised to blow up a ship anchored off the coast of New Jersey from his safe location in New York, and almost assassinated inventor Thomas Edison. Who was he? An anarchist? A terrorist? No, he was William J Clarke, who experimented with wireless before Marconi and founded USESCO, the first U.S. radio manufacturer. H.L. Chadbourne, 5309-TA tells the story of this long-forgotten figure in American wireless history, with notes by Archivist Bart Lee.
The Marconi wireless set above was state-of-the-art according to the 1915 Year Book of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. A copy from SK Paul Nesbit’s collection was recently donated to the Society by his granddaughter. We’ve begun scanning and posting some fascinating articles from this, which you can find here.
He first worked the airwaves in 1906 and managed Marconi station MCY/WCY Cape May, NJ. Read about wireless history by a man who helped pioneer it, William H. Shaw, 371-SGP.
Capt. Hedley Morris, 195-P, preserved some World War I humor in his General Orders for the Mess Line.
Thanks to Doug Crompton WA3DSP for providing scans of negatives that came from the collection of federal radio inspector Edwin W. Lovejoy. Just now we’ve started posting more of his photos of early radio stations, equipment, and people, as well as historic West Coast photos. Check ’em out!
In “Once Upon a Time There was a Seaport” Old-timer Herbert J. Scott, later an EE Professor at UC Berkeley, reminisces on the ships that used to sail into the port of San Francisco. If anyone can identify “Mr. Uno Who” (the person responsible for the demise of SF as a port – we don’t know who) please let us know.
Want to buy a locally produced three dialer? See “Something New In Radio” to view the Coburn Baby Grand, made in San Leandro, California.
West Coast “Sparks” and later electronics magazine writer Howard S. Pyle, SoWP member 50-P, lists his ships, clubs, and service here.
Flying long distances without radio direction finding (RDF) capabilities was a risky undertaking in early aviation. After being injured in just this kind of crash, ex-RCA engineer Hugo Leuteritz came up with the first reliable RDF system that enabled Pan Am to become the first international American carrier and set standards for aerial navigation and safety ever since. Read Bart Lee’s fascinating story about this and the new PBS documentary Across the Pacific here.
Born into poverty in rural 19th century Australia, Ellis Smellie learned railroad- and later wireless telegraphy, eventually manning 35 stations Downunder. He reminisces about landline versus wireless Morse code, decrypting a German code and identifying German ship operators by their “fists” in World War I, and his role in no fewer than 6 SOS incidents that ranged from comic to tragic. “An Early Australian Radio Telegrapher Rembembers”
In 1914, the schooner Hanalei wrecked on a reef within sight of the Bolinas Marconi station. Attempts to reach the boat failed as did attempts to shoot a line to the boat as it was smashed to pieces by the relentless waves. Two SoWP members were there, Loren Lovejoy, the ship’s RO, and Haraden Pratt at the Marconi station. Read their exciting accounts here.
Ridiculous hours, outrageous responsibilities, miserable pay, bleak employment outlook. Yet radio schools were churning out graduates with promises of lucrative careers! Editor M.R. Rathburne Jr. (later a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee) urged radiomen to organize in the commercial radioman’s magazine CQ for April 1931.