UNITED STATES EARLY RADIO HISTORY
THOMAS H. WHITE
| s e c t i o n
Pioneering U.S. Radio Activities (1897-1917)
Marconi's demonstration of a practical system for generating and receiving long-range radio signals sparked interest worldwide. It also resulted in numerous competing experimenters and companies throughout the industrialized world, including a number of important figures in the United States, led by Reginald Fessenden and Lee DeForest.
FIRST DECADE OVERVIEW
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States Navy was the largest potential customer for the fledgling radio industry. The Navy initially sought to buy equipment from the Marconi companies, but was unable to agree on terms, so instead made purchases from an assortment of German and U.S. firms, thereby helping to finance numerous competitors to Marconi. Linwood S. Howeth's 1963 book, History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, includes detailed information about this period in the chapters The Unhurried Search for Radio Equipment, Early Expansion of Naval Radio Communications, and The Early Radio Industry and the United States Navy.
WILLIAM J. CLARKE AND THE UNITED STATES ELECTRICAL SUPPLY COMPANY
One of the first U.S. firms to sell radio equipment was the United States Electrical Supply Company, located in New York City -- in the December 29, 1897 Electrical Review, Commercial Wireless Telegraphy quoted the company's general manager, William J. Clarke, as saying the company was now selling apparatus capable of transmitting signals for 10 miles (16 kilometers). The April 2, 1898 Scientific American, in Wireless Telegraphy, featured a favorable review of Clarke's offerings, claiming that, in spite of Marconi's advances, "It has been left, however, for the American inventor to design apparatus suitable to the requirements of wireless telegraphy in this country". Actually, Clarke's equipment had a decided similarity to Marconi's, although it apparently did not work as well. In a public demonstration that actually showed more showmanship than technical prowess, New Way to Fire Mines in the May 7, 1898 New York Times reviewed how Clarke's apparatus had been employed to ring bells and blow up model ships over short distances, and (very optimistically) suggested that the equipment had progressed to the point that "he is now prepared to send messages between New York and Chicago". In the May 24, 1898 edition of the same paper, Accident in the Garden reported that an unsuccessful test had managed to blow up a desk being used by Thomas Edison, Jr., son of the famous inventor, who was working with Clarke. A year later, the May 27, 1899 Scientific American, reported in Wireless Telegraphy that Army Signal Corps tests in Washington, D.C. had produced only limited success, and the Corps were planning further tests in New York, using Clarke equipment. The October 4, 1899 San Francisco Call reported that Clarke, On Board Steamer Grande Duchesse, had successfully picked up Marconi's transmissions during the international yacht race, while the June 17, 1901 issue of the same newspaper reported on Clarke's New York City demonstration of a wireless facsimile system that Wafts Pictures Through Space, with "your physiogonomy hurled through an eight-inch brick wall with the speed of a series of lightning flashes".
The May 20, 1901 New York World described, in Preacher With Battery Paraded Church Aisle, a sermon by the Reverand C. H. Tyndall which used Clarke-supplied equipment to demonstrate "Spiritual Similitudes". However, overall the firm would have only a very small role in early radio development, although years later, Application of Wireless Telegraphy for Domestic Purposes in the February 25, 1905 Electrical Review reported that the author was using a small transmitter "built for me by Mr. W. J. Clarke of the United States Electrical Company, of Mt. Vernon, N. Y."
In late 1899, Fred J. Cross contacted Guglielmo Marconi, and convinced the inventor to have the British firm partner with him in one of its first commercial efforts: an ambitious plan to build radiotelegraph stations on five of the Hawaiian islands -- then a U.S. territory -- to provide inter-island communication. There was a period of struggle to get the chain of stations built and operating, but eventually Marconis System in Hawaiian Islands was reported to be in operation, as announced in the February 2, 1901 Honolulu Republican and reprinted in the Los Angeles Times -- one unusual feature of the installation was that four of the fourteen operators were women. Advertisements, like the one appearing in the May 22, 1901 Honolulu Independent, informed readers that "Telegrams can now be sent from Honolulu to any place on the Islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lanai and Molokai, by Wireless Telegraph". In an 1901 overview, Wireless Telegraphy Established in Hawaii from the Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1902, W. R. Farrington recounted the problems -- which he thought were partly the responsibility of the Marconi company -- that had been encountered in the long process of getting the system functional. But after a promising start, operations were suspended, although Marconi sought to distance his company from the failure, claiming it "was wholly due to the inferior class of operators whom the Hawaiian company was ill-advised enough to employ", as quoted in one of the selections from Marconi Hawaiian Installations: 1899-1902. The opening sections of the John Balch Statement, included in the 1917 hearings on a proposed radio bill, H.R. 19350, reviewed the technical and financial setbacks that had been encountered in setting up effective radio links within the islands, starting with the difficulties encountered with the original Marconi effort, followed by the eventual successful reorganization of the service.
The U.S. Navy was an obvious potential customer for radio equipment, and in 1899 negotiations were held about purchasing a large number of installations. However, Marconi refused to sell its equipment outright, preferring to lease it, and the company also wanted to prohibit the Navy from communicating with stations using competitor's systems, except during emergencies. Neither of these conditions was acceptable, and, according to the Negotiations with the British Marconi Company chapter of Linwood S. Howeth's 1963 book, History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, this "nonacceptance of unwarranted, dictatorial authority led to a wider search, the exercise of ingenuity, and the rapid development of a competing market which benefited the Navy and the rest of the world" as the Navy turned to other companies for its radio equipment purchases.
An announcement that A Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company for America had been formed appeared in the December 2, 1899 Electrical World and Engineer, as an official predicted that "There is an immense field before us, and the system is as yet in its infancy." Initially the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America had very limited operations, and a Statement From Marconi, appearing in the April 21, 1901 Brooklyn Eagle, announced that the inventor "wishes it to be distinctly understood, that he is associated in no way whatever with any American company having for its object the development of wireless telegraphy in this country." A year later a $6,000,000 expansion, funded by a group affiliated with J. Pierpont Morgan, was reported on April 6, 1902 by Morgan in the Wireless in the New-York Daily Tribune and Financiers Aid Signor Marconi from the San Francisco Call. The company continued to add prominent partners, as the May 28, 1903 New York World announced a "most significant alliance" in Edison Becomes Marconi's Ally, with Thomas Edison -- who received a block of stock for his earlier (pre-radio) wireless patents -- becoming a member of the Wireless Telegraph Company's Board of Technical Directors. The August 31, 1903 New York Sun reported a meeting between Edison and Marconi in Children May Use Wireless, as the two had (unrealized) hopes of making wireless equipment simple enough so that "a child will be able to operate the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy within a year or two".
Always on the lookout for "Publicity, Publicity, Publicity", the August 8, 1897 New York World Sunday Magazine reported it would be sponsoring a test transmission by the 23-year-old Marconi in A Boy Wizard to Flash the World's Motto From London to Paris Without Wires, but there is no evidence that this was actually attempted at this time. Two years later, the New York Herald teamed up with Marconi on a number of highly visible projects. It invited the inventor to provide ongoing reports of the America's Cup international yacht races, with the dispatches telegraphed to its sister newspapers -- in the October 4, 1899 San Francisco Call, Call's Successful Bulletin Service a Triumph in Wireless Telegraphy detailed the "efficacy of wireless telegraphy as an aid to modern journalism". Another, at least initially, successful endeavor occurred when the New York Herald arranged to install Marconi-equipped stations at Sankaty Head and on the U.S. Navy lightships which operated off Nantucket, Massachusetts. Radio communication with the lightship allowed New York City-bound transatlantic passenger ships to announce their impending arrival a good twelve hours before they docked. The Paris edition of the June 9, 1901 New York Herald proudly informed its readers of the plans for The "Herald" to Report Steamships at Sea By Using Marconi's Wireless Telegraph. However, Marconi's continuing policy of communicating only with other Marconi-equipped stations resulted in a formal complaint to the U.S. government by Germany, and, in view of the unwillingness of the company to eliminate the restriction, the government eventually had the Herald stations removed -- a review of the controversy in the July 14, 1904 New York Herald, reprinted in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Wireless Telegraphy Board, documented the removal of the Marconi station from the Nantucket lightship. The Navy soon installed its own station, which was willing to communicate with all vessels, but, as reported by the October 28, 1904 New York Times, the new station found itself Ignored by Marconi shipboard operators, instructed by their employer to boycott the new facility except in emergencies, now that it no longer used Marconi equipment.
The March, 1903 issue of The World's Work included an article reviewing the Marconi company activities, Commercial Wireless Telegraphy by Lawrence Perry, which declared, somewhat optimistically, that "The experimental stage of wireless telegraphy is passed", for "wireless telegraphy is a commercial fact" and "in six months [Marconi's] invention would be on a business footing". Although the main emphasis at this time was developing a transatlantic service, this article also noted that the company was investigating developing general news distribution, where "A message received of an event anywhere could be 'marconied' simultaneously to every newspaper in the land, and household subscribers could receive their news on ticker tapes." In view of the lack of measurable progress, the Current Topics section of the December, 1903 Cassier's Magazine expressed frustration that the long-promised transatlantic service had yet to arrive. Finally, the December, 1907 issue of The World's Work featured Transatlantic Marconigrams Now and Hereafter, as the Marconi Company introduced its long-awaited commercial transatlantic radiotelegraph service. However, even this was only on a limited basis, and although the competition was welcomed, through the start of World War One the transmission of marconigrams across the Atlantic would not match the reliability of the cables.
In 1911, the Wanamaker department stores installed American Marconi radiotelegraph stations atop their New York and Philadelphia buildings. A publication issued by the company, What to See in Philadelphia, included a section, The Installation of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Service, which proudly reviewed the services offered by the Philadelphia facility. And, following years of experience in equipping ships, American Marconi next investigated whether it could also place radiotelegraph equipment on trains, with a test installation on the Lackawanna Limited in the state of New York reported upon in Getting the Wireless on Board Train, from the February, 1914 Technical World Magazine.
Marconi's American company stood out as a well-managed firm, but until its 1912 absorption of the United Wireless assets it had only a fairly small presence in the United States. Following that takeover, United's monthly seagoing publication, The Aerogram, became Ocean Wireless News, and, starting with the August, 1912 issue, the renamed publication began running a series of columns Of Interest to Wireless Shareholders, wherein monied readers were informed by the magazine's new owners that "not only should the name Marconi become immediately synonymous with wireless but the associated companies should be recognized as one of the great combinations of capital and industrial resources of this age". Moreover, "it would seem that there is now nothing in the way of the Marconi becoming the only system of commercial importance in the world." The United acquisition did in fact give American Marconi a tremendous boost, as it became the dominant radio company in the United States, and by 1915 it would report that "The number of ship and shore equipments now operated by your company is approximately twenty times that of three years ago."
AMERICAN WIRELESS TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY / CONSOLIDATED WIRELESS / INTERNATIONAL WIRELESS
The first radio firm incorporated in the United States appears to have been the American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company, in November, 1899. With principals including stock promoter Dr. Gustav P. Gehring and electrical engineer A. F. Collins, its creation was reported in a short notice appearing in the December, 1899 Electrical Engineering and Telephone Magazine. Gustav soon became disenchanted with Collins' technical skills, and turned to another talented electrical engineer, Harry Shoemaker. The company was organized with a number of subsidiary companies, which carved up the United States into geographic regions.
American Wireless gained control of Amos Dolbear's 1886 United States patent 350,299 for ground-transmission telephony, which it claimed gave it complete priority in the United States over all wireless communication. Marvelous Work of Wireless Telegraphy, from the October 4, 1899 San Francisco Call, reviewed Marconi's successful coverage of the America's Cup international yacht races, but in closing included a somewhat ominous threat by American Wireless to instigate legal action based on the Dolbear patent, reporting that "an official letter stating that they were the owners of the Dolbear patents, covering, they claimed, all rights to wireless telegraphs and telephones in the United States, and that they formally protested against the use of the Marconi system in reporting the cup events. The letter further stated that while reserving all rights to take, in the immediate future, such legal action in the matter as they might decide upon, they did not propose to interfere with and stop the Herald and The Call Marconi reports, but desired it distinctly understood that they made such temporary waive solely in the interest of science and because of the great public interest in this important demonstration of practical wireless telegraphy." Despite the threatened legal action, a confident Guglielmo Marconi was quoted as saying "Nothing would please me better than to have Mr. Dolbear begin legal proceedings against me" in Who Invented Wireless Telegraphy? from the November 4, 1899 The Literary Digest. Shortly after the end of the yacht races, American Wireless' New England subsidiary filed A Suit Against Marconi for infringment of the Dolbear patent, as reported by the October 18, 1899 Washington Times, with additional information appearing in Wireless Telegraphy Suit in the next day's edition. However, the U. S. Circuit Court ruled the complaint unfounded, resulting in the Suit Against Marconi Dismissed, from the March 23, 1901 New-York Daily Tribune.
American Wireless continued to operate for a while in a limited fashion. An October 6, 1901 advertisement in the Washington Globe noted that the company was planning to report The Yacht Races for that year's America's Cup, still claiming that Dolbear's recently discredited patent was in fact the "basic patent of transmission of electrical communication without wires", while proclaiming that American Wireless stock was destined to "become the most valuable and profitable security in the world, in the near future". The company did manage to make a nuisance of itself at the yacht races, when its stations severely interfered with attempts by the Marconi company to transmit results from the race site. The New York Herald, which had partnered with Marconi, decided to look into the business practices of the organization which had caused the disruption, and, in Wireless Telegraphy That Sends No Messages Except by Wire, from its October 28, 1901 issue, charged that the company combined questionable business practices with limited technical advances. American Wireless provided its own detailed -- and highly exaggerated -- account of the recent events in Wireless Telegraphy!, from the November 10, 1901 Washington Globe, which declared the company's virtues as compared to "the Herald-Marconi-London Combination". In a companion article in the same edition, operator Bertrand Royal provided A True Statement recounting additional details about the negotiations that had taken place between American Wireless and the Associated Press, which had been provided race information by Marconi. And for good measure, the November 17, 1901 issue of same newspaper ran a fawning sketch of President Gehring, the "controlling spirit" of the parent company, a Napoleonic figure who was "king of wireless telegraphy" and "a giant in conception, untiring in action and invariably successful in result". Actually, this company and its numerous subsidiaries served almost exclusively as a stock promotion scheme, and would eventually be prominently featured in Frank Fayant's industry exposé.
An article in the October 20, 1901 Philadelphia Inquirer recounted the Great Strides Made in Wireless Telegraphy that were claimed by the company with respect to ocean-going communication. In addition, in the November 24, 1901 Boston Globe, the Federal Wireless subsidiary of American Wireless announced An Event That Makes History, as the company began building what would have been the world's first overland radiotelegraph line, proposed to eventually run from Washington to New York City. Greenleaf W. Pickard, Chief Engineer of Federal Wireless, was in charge, and information about the constuction of a station in western Baltimore To Send Wireless Messages appeared in the December 19, 1901 Baltimore Sun. In the January 5, 1902 Washington Times, a reporter inspected a Station for Wireless Telegraph, located in the Metropolis View section of the District of Columbia, which was intended to be the southern terminal for the Washington-Baltimore link. However, even this short distance proved impossible to bridge, and although stock-selling advertisements promoted the supposed imminent opening of the line, the plans were quietly abandoned, in part due to that fact that the tower for the Baltimore station collapsed in a windstorm in early February.
In a refreshing change from the American Wireless's normal activities, Robert H. Marriott, in the May, 1924 issue of Radio Broadcast magazine, reviewed in "As It Was in the Beginning" how in 1902, while working for the company's Pacific subsidiary, he helped establish a legitimate radiotelegraph link in California, between Catalina Island and the mainland, which appears to have been the first permanent commercial radio service in the United States set up by a U.S. firm. The August 24, 1902 issue of the Los Angeles Times carried a first-hand account of the successful opening of the link, First "Gram" to President, while a report of President Roosevelt's congratulatory Message to Catalina, in response to the inaugural telegram, appeared in the August 28, 1902 issue of the New York Times. In the April 25, 1903 Western Electrician, A "Wireless" Newspaper reviewed a daily paper, The Wireless -- "The Only Newspaper in the World Publishing Sure-enough Dispatches Transmitted by Wireless Telegraph" -- which began publication on March 25, 1903, and was made possible by the Avalon radiotelegraph link. In October 15, 1903 issue of The Independent, C. E. Howell, a Pacific Wireless operator, proclaimed, in The Wireless Daily Achieved, that this newspaper marked "the beginning of an epoch in the dissemination of news". A detailed review of the Wireless Communication Between Santa Catalina Island and the Mainland, by Frank C. Perkins, appeared in the June 27, 1903 issue of Western Electrician.
As a result of a reorganization -- driven by stock manipulation -- the original American Wireless was merged with four of its subsidiaries to form the Consolidated Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Company. This in turn was soon transformed into the International Wireless Telegraph Company -- the April 22, 1903 Wall Street Journal provided a financial review of the newly formed International Wireless Co., which "at the present time has no stations in operation". That summer, the international yacht races were held again, and again there was chaos, as International Wireless did its best to disrupt race reports transmitted by both the American DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company and Marconi -- according to Cuss Words in the Wireless from the August 27, 1903 New York Sun, "Instead of receiving reports of the positions of the yachts, they got a lot of meaningless gabble varied by a hash of obscenity, profanity and sentimental poetry.", while an article in the same day's edition of the New-York Tribune about the Rivals in Wireless War noted that the extensive interference meant that the race reports had "melted in air".
With the 1886 Dolbear patent scheduled to expire "on or about the 4th day of October, A. D. 1903", in May, 1902 the company unsuccessfully petitioned "the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled" for a ten year extension. This was followed by a last-gasp effort to obtain monetary damages under Dolbear's already repudiated patent, according to Dolbear Attacks Marconi Patent, from the October 6, 1903 Washington Times. (A year later, Dolbear was quoted as saying "I can wait 150 years for recognition as the discoverer of wireless telegraphy"). A few months later, International Wireless was absorbed by American DeForest, a concern of only slightly better repute, as reported in Wireless Combination from the January 7, 1904 New York Sun and Wireless Companies Merge, from the January 10, 1904 New York Times. However, shortly thereafter, in a development which brings to mind the old saying "honor among thieves", Dr. Gehring was in a legal dispute with Abraham White of American DeForest over a claim of financial manipulation, reported in Wireless Telegraph Mixup in the December 14, 1904 New York Sun.
AMERICAN DEFOREST WIRELESS TELEGRAPH COMPANY / UNITED WIRELESS TELEGRAPH COMPANY
Another person whose early adventures would be reviewed in detail by Frank Fayant's exposé was Lee DeForest, whose entry into the radio field was announced by A New System of Space Telegraphy from the July 27, 1901 Western Electrician, and reviewed, by company-prepared publicity, in DeForest System of Wireless Telegraphy, from the August 16, 1902 Scientific American. He later joined forces with promoter Abraham White, and soon an advertisement selling stock in the newly formed DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company appeared in the August, 1902 National Magazine -- although somewhat exaggerated, this promotion of the "wonderful development of past few months" was positively subdued compared to the gaudy claims that would soon appear. A second company, the American DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company, was quickly organized, nominally as a subsidiary, its formation announced in the Financial Intelligence section of the February 7, 1903 Electrical World and Engineer. However, Abraham White had designed the reorganization to freeze out most of the stockholders of the original company, while profiting himself, which led to a legal battle by a disgruntled shareholder, discussed in Fight Over De Forest Co. from the June 19, 1906 New York Times.
American DeForest was actually more adept at selling stock than at providing commercial radio services, and it excelled with promotional schemes, with one of its most famous exploits being its "Wireless Automobiles", which acted as mobile transmitters for publicity purposes. This innovation merited two reviews in the Electrical World and Engineer -- Wireless Stock Quotations from the February 14, 1903 issue, and two weeks later, A Perambulating Wireless Telegraph Plant, which included a photograph of Wireless Auto No. 1 in action at the Wall Street stock market district. The company established a station on Block Island, Rhode Island, and, in conjunction with the Providence Journal, began publication of a daily newspaper, the Block Island Wireless -- "One of Two Daily Newspapers in the World Whose News Dispatches Come by Wireless Telegraph" -- in July, 1903. During the 1903 international yacht races, American DeForest receieved permission to install its radio equipment aboard Sir Thomas Lipton's personal yacht, and a shipboard group photograph appearing in the September, 1903 Pearson's Magazine featured Lee DeForest Aboard the Erin, prominently seated on the front row. DeForest had earned his doctorate from Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, and in the October, 1903 Yale Scientific Monthly, A. S. McLean reviewed the DeForest System of Wireless Telegraphy, and encouraged potential investors among the inventor's classmates with statements like "The business successes of the De Forest company are already many and important" and "The field for business is practically limitless".
After it absorbed the successor to the American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company -- reported by Wireless Combination from the January 7, 1904 New York Sun and Wireless Companies Merge in the January 10, 1904 New York Times -- the American DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company was the largest radio company in the United States. In February, 1904, Syntonic Aerography, by DeForest, whose official title was Scientific Director, appeared in The Electrical Age, and among other things featured photographs of the company's Block Island station. Although the company's legitimate business activities would remain sparse, in early 1904 London Times war correspondent Captain Lionel James arranged to rush two American DeForest transmitters to China, in order to report on a developing conflict between Japan and Russia. A land station was established at Wei-hai-Wei on the Chinese coast, with the second transmitter placed aboard a ship, which allowed James to transmit daily updates directly from the war zone. In the August 31, 1904 New York Times, Wireless Workers Back From the Scene of War, provided a first-hand report from the two DeForest engineers, "Pop" Athearn and Harry Brown, who had operated the stations. At the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis, Missouri, DeForest's Wireless Telegraphy was one of the latest inventions featured in the Exhibit of the Department of Interior Patent Office pamphlet. At the fair, the company set up a prominently located display tower, and put on numerous demonstrations for the crowds, with the company's exaggerated exploits and potential profits "boomed" by publications such as The DeForest Wireless Telegraph Tower: Bulletin No. 1. In September, 1904 The Electrical Age reviewed Wireless Telegraphy at the St. Louis Exposition, which included an extensive and somewhat generous look at American DeForest's activities at the international fair.
Following successful tests at the Fair, the U.S. Navy awarded American DeForest a contract to build five stations in Panama, Pensacola, Key West, Guantanamo, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In the July, 1904 issue of The Electrical Age, Wireless Telegraphy for the Navy included company president Abraham White's proud announcement of the awarding of the contract, although, as usual, his press release also included a number of inflated claims. (In 1924 and 1925, a three article series by Frank E. Butler appeared in Radio Broadcast magazine, covering American DeForest's activities from the 1904 Saint Louis Exposition through the 1906 completion of a U.S. Navy station in Guantanamo, Cuba: Making Wireless History With De Forest, Pioneering With De Forest in Florida, and How Wireless Came to Cuba.) And in the ongoing stock promotion, articles like Spanning the Seas With De Forest Wireless Telegraphy from the July 10, 1904 New York Times vastly exaggerated the company's achievements and future. Meanwhile, on April 8, 1906, American DeForest president Abraham White placed Transatlantic Wireless Announcement advertisements in a number of papers trumpeting the company's -- largely imaginary -- advances, centering on an fake report the DeForest had successfuly received, in Ireland, transmissions from the company's New York City station, proclaiming "transatlantic wireless now assured".
Back in New York City, Lee DeForest's thoughts had turned to romance, and he organized a radiotelegraphic link with an attractive young woman, Lucille (or "Lucile") Sherdowne (or "Sherdown", or "Sheardown" -- the spellings vary), with the eventual outcome of Wireless Wooing Ends in a Wedding, as reported in the New York World of February 17, 1906. However, his marriage to "the wireless bride" proved to be a short-lived disaster, and a review of "the sad ending of last winter's greatest romance", appearing in the October 14, 1906 Washington Times Magazine, queried: Will They Get Their Divorce by Wireless? (Lee DeForest would later marry three more times).
Finally, in late November, 1906, dissatisfied with being on the losing end of patent infringement suits -- particularly Reginald Fessenden's electrolytic detector -- and in the process of a major reorganization, company management gladly accepted DeForest's offer to resign from the corporation that bore his name. And the company was soon reconstructed to operate under a new name, United Wireless. In late 1904, Abraham White had formed Amalgamated Wireless Securities, and the December 9th issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that the new company was designed to secure control of American DeForest. At the time that action would be blocked, but in late 1906 the quiescent Amalgamated was renamed United Wireless, and it went through with the absorption of American DeForest, not coincidentally freezing out the older company's stockholders and creditors. United was also falsely said by White to be taking over Marconi wireless, as reported in Wireless Telegraph Consolidation, from the November 24, 1906 Electrical World, promoted by a United Wireless Telegraph Company advertisement in the December 22, 1906 Cedar Rapids Daily Republican, and strongly denied -- using words like "repugnant" -- by Marconi officials in No Wireless Merger in the November 20, 1906 New-York Tribune and No Consolidation of Wireless Companies, from the April 4, 1908 Electrical Review. A short time later Abraham White was gone, ousted by the former company vice president, Christopher Columbus Wilson, with the result that the New York Times' August 18, 1907 edition reported White is Out of United Wireless. But the company continued to be run by Wilson as a huge stock promotion fraud, and over the next few years absorbed a number of smaller, legitimate, companies which found they could not compete--Wireless Telegraph Companies Unite, from the July 11, 1908 Electrical Review reported United's takeover of the International Telegraph Construction Company, which had the side-effect of its obtaining the patents and technical expertise of International Telegraph's founder, Harry Shoemaker. This also, unsurprisingly, brought a lawsuit, with the September 15, 1909 New-York Daily Tribune reporting United Wireless Sued by an unhappy International Telegraph stockholder.
United would be the dominant radio company in the United States from its formation until its bankruptcy and takeover by Marconi in 1912, and although it was often characterized as "that company selling worthless stock to widows and orphans", it did operate many important shore stations from coast-to-coast, and also staffed hundreds of ship stations, so it wasn't completely inaccurate to also describe it as "a great commercial company with its powerful land stations and great fleet", as Frank Doig does in his review of activity in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, Struggling for the Air, from the August, 1909 Technical World Magazine. Manufacturing Wireless Telegraph Apparatus from the May, 1909 issue of Wireless, issued by The New York Selling Agency, proclaimed that "The manufacture of wireless telegraph instruments, in America, is embraced in three factories owned and controlled by the United Wireless Telegraph Company, two of which are located in Jersey City, N. J., and one at Seattle, Washington. In these factories everything which enters into the transmission and receiving of wireless telegraph messages, except motor generators, is produced." Commercial Wireless Telegraph Operations Begun on the Great Lakes, from the May 1, 1909 Electrical Review and Western Electrician, reported on United Wireless' expansion into the midwest. The 1909 meeting of the New York Electrical Society was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, which was the site of a major United Wireless facility. The get-together included a tour of the rooftop station, plus a presentation by a United employee, Cloyd Marshall, who reported that the company was now operating 70 shore and 163 shipboard installations, with a new station being added daily, according to The Commercial Development of Wireless Telegraphy from the July 3, 1909 Electrical Review and Western Electrician. (Photographs of United Wireless' Waldorf-Astoria station appeared in the September, 1909 Modern Electrics, in Station at the Waldorf-Astoria.) In the September 6, 1909 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, the newspaper proudly announced that a United Wireless station had been installed on the roof of its headquarters building, in "Chronicle" First Paper on Coast to Install Wireless Apparatus.
REGINALD FESSENDEN AND THE NATIONAL ELECTRIC SIGNALING COMPANY
In contrast to the sometimes dubious activities of the above companies, Canadian-born Reginald A. Fessenden avoided becoming involved in any stock market scandals, although he did manage to get into a number of personal disputes with his backers. Fessenden began his investigations while a professor at Western University in Pennsylvania, and a short report that appeared in a number of newspapers, including the December 18, 1899 San Francisco Call, stated that "bold researches by Professor Reginald Fessenden and his assistant, Professor Kitner" had resulted in a Big Improvement in Wireless Telegraphy, with the claim that by employing his improved radio detector, it now "should be possible to send messages across the Atlantic with poles less than 200 feet high". From 1900 to 1902 Fessenden did experimental radio work along the mid-Atlantic coast, financed by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Weather Bureau. In the April 27, 1902 New York Times, Government Test of Wireless Telegraphy provided a glowing synopsis of the advances accomplished to date, with Fessenden's electrolytic receiver accurately hailed as "vastly more sensitive than the coherer", while the inventor optimistically declared that "As regards wireless telephony, it can be stated definitely that telephoning up to at least 200 miles is absolutely certain of accomplishment." In an account in the same day's issue of the Richmond Dispatch, the inventor also proclaimed that the existing trans-oceanic telegraph Cables Will be Good Only as Copper, as he incorrectly predicted that within five years radio transmissions would replace the existing international web of undersea cables.
One of Fessenden's assistants, Alfred C. Pickells, used his experience along the North Carolina Outer Banks and Virginia's Hampton Roads region to write a short story about the misadventures of the Flight of the Pup Shea, which appeared in the Cass City Chronicle, July 1, 1910. Of more historical interest, Pickells' memoir of this pioneering period, Early Experiences In Wireless Telegraphy, appeared in the December, 1913 Modern Electrics -- although the summers along the North Carolina Outer Banks weren't quite as bad as what Frank Butler had endured working for DeForest at Guantanamo, Cuba, the winters were much rougher and colder, and just as much difficult outside work was required. In 1902, Fessenden broke off his research with the U.S. government, and two Pittsburgh millionaires, Hay Walker, Jr. and Thomas H. Given, founded the National Electric Signaling Company (NESCO) in order to promote the inventor's efforts. In late 1903, NESCO signed a contract with the General Electric Company to build a radiotelegraph link between G.E.'s Schenectady, New York and Lynn, Massachusetts plants, but in the November, 1904 issue of The Electrical Age the magazine's editors, in Overland Wireless Telegraphy, wondered why this link had not yet gone into service. The next month's issue brought another short article with the same name, and in this Overland Wireless Telegraphy Reginald Fessenden personally responded that there was nothing to worry about, and that communication would be readily established. In truth, however, the radiotelegraph link never could be made operational, and the contract was quietly canceled the next year.
In spite of this lack of success, NESCO next made the bold decision to try to directly compete with Marconi, by setting up a transatlantic radiotelegraph service, operating between Brant Rock, Massachusetts and Machrihanish, Scotland. Although Fessenden did achieve some initial success, including the first two-way transatlantic communication by radio, the effort abruptly ended in December, 1906, when the Machrihanish antenna collapsed -- Helen Fessenden reviewed these early Brant Rock activities in a 1940 biography of her husband, Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows (Brant Rock extracts). W. A. S. Douglas provided a local report, in the December, 1906 issue of Symons's Meteorological Magazine, about the unfortunate Fall of a Wireless Telegraphy Tower in a Gale. A detailed two-part analysis of the Machrihanish tower collapse, Trans-Atlantic Wireless Telegraphy, which appeared beginning in the January 18th, 1907 issue of Engineering, blamed the accident on the improper "way in which the joints were made by the man employed for the purpose by the sub-contractors", which resulted in such a poor installation that "The only wonder is that the tower did not fall before."
In February, 1909, NESCO won an important Navy contract, to supply a Fessenden-designed 100-kilowatt rotary-spark transmitter for a new high-power station being constructed in Arlington, Virginia, described in The National Electric Signaling Company and the Synchronous Rotary Spark Transmitter section of Linwood S. Howeth's 1963 History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy. The Arlington station was the first in a planned international chain of stations, so NESCO hoped to eventually be awarded a series of contracts. However, NESCO's transmitter failed to fully meet the contract specifications, and even worse, as reviewed in The Radio (Arlington), Virginia, Station section of Howeth's book, in 1913 the Navy determined that Federal Telegraph arc-transmitters were clearly superior, so Federal Telegraph ended up getting the transmitter contracts. Meanwhile, Fessenden's relations with NESCO's financial backers were becoming increasingly estranged, until finally, on December 28, 1910, the company's management attempted to seize the Brant Rock office records, while simultaneously enjoining Fessenden from further participation in company activities, as dramatically described in Helen Fessenden's 1940 biography: Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows (rupture extract). Fessenden, who was formally dismissed from the NESCO the following month, sued the company for breach of contract, and the ensuing legal entanglements forced NESCO into receivership. At this point Fessenden permanently left the radio field, while a crippled NESCO struggled on as a minor company through World War One.
CONTINENTAL WIRELESS TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY
Continental Wireless was a short-lived assemblage of four existing regional companies -- the new company's formation was announced in Wireless Companies Consolidate in the May 21, 1910 Electrical Review and Western Electrician, while a glowing review -- including a map showing the proposed transcontinental network of stations -- Merging the Wireless Companies, appeared in the June-July number of National Magazine. The four companies included two legitimate, but struggling, firms -- Massie Wireless Telegraph, based in New England, and Clark Wireless, which had concentrated on the Great Lakes. Also included was Pacific Wireless Telegraph, which originated as a subsidiary of the old American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph, and whose commercial activities amounted to little more than selling worthless stock. The final, and dominant, member firm was Collins Wireless Telephone, which had prominently and fraudulently promoted its radio-telephone work -- an example appearing in the November 28, 1909 Daily Arizona Silver Belt, Promise Wireless Systems For Arizona, claimed that "Within three or four weeks a company will be formed to install a Collins wireless telephone system in every city and town in Arizona" and "all over the country wire 'phones are giving way to the wireless", so that "the Collins 'phone will, within a few short months, be carrying the human voice without wires from the Atlantic to the Pacific." Large advertisements for Continental Wireless stock, offering "a security which embodies all that is conservative, safe, tangible and profitable", appeared in publications such as the July 1, 1910 issue of The Bourbon News of Paris, Kentucky. However, by the end of the year the principal officers of the firm were under arrest for stock fraud, mostly originating from the Collins promotions.
The San Francisco bay area of California was the site of a number of innovative radio activities that were largely overshadowed by better publicized activities on the east coast. In one very early example, in August, 1899 The San Francisco Call newspaper set up a radio transmitter aboard a lightship just past the Golden Gate in order to be the first to announce the arrival of the First California Regiment, returning from the Philippines aboard the Sherman. In its August 24, 1899 edition, the newspaper proudly reported success, making The Call First to Herald the Return of the Troops with the "glad news flashed by wireless telegraphy from behind an ocean-haze curtain". (In the editorial section of the next day's edition, The Wireless Telegraph and The Siren compared the Call's use of the new technology with the competing Examiner's employment of a siren that made "more racket than a pig under a gate", something the Call thought symbolic "of the difference between the swift, silent, scientific methods of legitimate journalism and the noisy and discordant pretensions of yellow journalism".) A more detailed review about how the Call's owner had financed the radio research that led to the chance opportunity to transmit the arrival of the Sherman, written by former Call editor A. J. Moore, appeared in Nevada State Journal is First Paper in State to Use Radio Broadcaster, from the September 10, 1922 Nevada State Journal.
One of the more remarkable, but also saddest, stories about early experimenters also took place in San Francisco. The November 30, 1903 New York Times carried a review of Francis J. McCarty's demonstration of one of the first audio radio transmissions in Boy's Tale of Invention -- amazingly, McCarty was only 15 years old at this time. The September 16, 1905 San Francisco Call reviewed a less successful demonstration in Boy Inventor Gives Lecture. However, a headline in that article, "Instruments at Fault", was replaced by "Experiments Succeed" in a October 5 review by the same newspaper of a later transmission from the Cliff House to the beach below, in Sends Voice Without Wire. The September 24, 1905 issue of The Call featured an interview by Mabel Beeson, as San Francisco's Boy Inventor expressed confidence that despite his youth he would successfully develop a commercial system. But, tragically, within a few months McCarty's promising career and life would end, when he was killed in a buggy accident two weeks before his 18th birthday. McCarty's bother Ignatius tried to carry on the work, with limited success. Test Given McCarty Wireless Telephone, from the September 13, 1908 San Francisco Call, reported on a one mile (1.5 kilometer) test transmission by Cyril Elwell who was evaluating the McCarty system, but he would eventually conclude it was not worth further investment. By 1914 the National Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company had purchased the McCarty patents, and an experimental radiotelephone demonstration was covered by two articles in the June 5th and June 8th Oakland Tribune: Young Inventor's Dream Realized and Mayors Converse Over Wireless. But by now McCarty's system was obsolete.
A far more rambunctious radio pioneer was John P. McCarthy, manager of the Universal Wireless Telephone Company. The September 11, 1910 San Francisco Call reviewed McCarthy's run-ins with various stations operated by the U.S. government in With Wireless Twists Tail of Powers That Be. However, he also had commercial aspirations, and Japanese Inspect Wireless 'Phone from the September, 1910 Modern Electrics reported that his equipment "may be installed on Japanese war ships in the near future". McCarthy eventually decided his talents were destined for the motion picture industry, and, in the November, 1914 issue of Popular Electricity and Modern Mechanics, Wireless Telephone in the Movies announced his role in "introducing wireless telephony in an absorbing photoplay". McCarthy enjoyed the effort enough to stay on in Hollywood, and later become a movie director.
A small but innovative firm, Earle Ennis' Western Wireless Equipment Company, was also based in San Francisco, California. According to Jane Morgan's 1967 Electronics in the West (Airplane extract), in mid-1910 Ennis set up what may have been the first radio transmission from an airplane. (However, Ennis' detailed report reviewing another test flight which took place in January, 1911, Wireless Telegraphy From an Aeroplane from the April 1, 1911 Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas, does not mention any earlier tests.) Ennis also made an experimental broadcast, using his station, which had the callsign "TG", to radiotelegraph round-by-round summaries of the July 4, 1910 Jeffries-Johnson heavyweight prizefight to local amateurs and ships, which was reported by Returns from Fight Sent by Wireless from the August, 1910 Modern Electrics. The October 20, 1911 Oakland Tribune reported in New Aeon Relay to Bridge Space that Ennis and H. P. Dwyer were working on an obscure -- and ultimately forgotten -- invention, although at the time it was hoped that "by means of the little aeon relay you will be able to sit comfortably at home and talk over the common, or land variety of telephone, to your friends or family a thousand miles at sea". And around this time Ennis turned to more stable employment, and became a newspaper reporter.
In addition to the better known companies and experimenters, numerous other individuals and smaller companies made contributions. Detroit, Michigan saw the formation of the Thomas E. Clark Wireless Telegraph & Telephone Company -- in its May 23, 1903 issue, Western Electrician began running a Clark Co. Advertisement that proudly announced "We Manufacture Wireless Telegraph Apparatus", and featured a set costing $50. The May 16, 1903 issue of the same magazine carried a short review of the Clark Spark-telegraph System in Detroit, noting that the company offerings included equipment "designed particularly for practical work for service between private houses, islands and the shore, boats and yachts, from a few hundred feet distance to two miles [up to 3 kilometers]." The March, 1907 Popular Mechanics reported in Wireless Telephony in Use that Clark had started to perfect a radiotelephone system that "may eventually include any two points on the earth's surface", and in the September, 1908 issue, Wireless Telephony Operating on the Great Lakes reported that he had begun to establish ship-to-shore communication. However, Clark was unable to compete with United Wireless, and in 1910 his company became part of the doomed Consolidated Wireless.
Another of the lesser-known early radio experimenters was a Roman Catholic priest, Father Josef Murgas, a native of Slovakia who was assigned to a parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Murgas' system used adjustable spark tones for signaling, rather than the short and long dashes of Morse code. (This was similar to a method developed for some early land telegraphs, which used two bells with different pitches, although Murgas hoped to vastly increase the number of pitches, in order to create a sort of audio "short hand"). A early review of his work, Telegraphy by Music, ran in the June 12, 1904 issue of the The Saint Paul Globe. More detailed reviews soon followed, including The Murgas System of Wireless Telegraphy, from the July 11, 1905 issue of Electrical World and Engineer, plus The Murgas System of Wireless Telegraphy, written by Murgas himself, from the December 8, 1905 Electrical Review. In its August 5, 1905 issue, Electrical World and Engineer reported on a successful test transmission between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania -- the first message sent was "Thank God for His blessings" -- as reported in The Murgas Wireless System. In the May, 1906 Technical World, Underground Wireless Telegraphy detailed an ambitious plan to establish a transatlantic service. But although Father Murgas obtained some financial backing from the Universal Aether Company of Philadelphia, his system never went into commercial operation.
|"The electrical-goods industry was expanding rapidly. The largest concern was General Electric. The Westinghouse company was also an important factor in the manufacture of electrical apparatus. The third large manufacturing firm, Western Electric, had been purchased by the American Bell Telephone Company in 1881. None of these concerns, however, was in a strong position to gamble on new frontiers in 1900. For these various reasons the established electrical companies played no part in the earliest developmental phases of the American radio industry. This advance was to come from new concerns and new capital."--W. Rupert MacLaurin, Invention and Innovation in the Radio Industry, 1949.|