Monthly Archives: September 2015

1915 CO2 Scrubber Technology


A hundred years ago this month, Popular Mechanics, September 1915,
covered the experiment shown here, testing a system for purifying air aboard submarines. The inventor is shown in the upper left, but his name is not given. Under supervision of American and Russian naval experts, the inventor was sealed into a small box, which was then submerged into a larger tank. The tank reportedly contained only a 30 minute supply of air, but the test lasted seven hours, after which the tank was drained and the box opened, the inventor suffering no ill effects.

In addition to food, reading material, and a bench and table, the inventor entered the experiment with an unnamed chemical. He periodically tested the air, and if he discovered the carbon dioxide level was too high or the oxygen level too low, he released a supply of the chemical. The unnamed chemical reportedly absorbed the excess carbon dioxide instantly and released oxygen.

It’s likely that the chemical was Oxylithe, which had been invented in 1907 by Swiss Professor Georges Jaubert. Like the unnamed chemical in the Popular Mechanics experiment, Oxylithe absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen. It was first used by the Royal Navy in 1909 as part of an escape apparatus, but was never used in submarines. Oxylithe was a form of sodium peroxide (Na2O2) or sodium superoxide (NaO2). Similar designs were used through World War 2 in rebreathers.

As shown in the illustrations, the chamber used in the 1915 test contained an electric light and fan, as well as a telephone for communicating. In addition, it was equipped with a glass roof through which the subject could be observed throughout the experiment.

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Julia Sanderson (1888-1975)


Pictured here, on the cover of What’s On The Air, September 1930, is one of the radio stars of 85 years ago, Julia Sanderson, who then appeared on CBS radio with her husband and vaudeville partner Frank Crumit.  They starred in the “Blackstone Plantation” program on CBS, which aired Tuesday evenings at 8:00, sponsored by Blackstone Cigars.  In 1930, the program moved to NBC in the same time slot, as well as on the NBC Blue Network on Thursdays at 9:00.  The program last aired in 1934.  In addition to music, the program consisted of light humor, mostly a vaudevillian give and take between Crumit and Sanderson.  A brief snippet of the program is available online at  (The Crumit and Sanderson segment begins at 07:13.)  In addition, a number of Crumit and Sanderson’s recordings have been released on CD and are available on Amazon.

Crumit was an accomplished ukulele player.  It seems incomprehensible today, but over the course of his career, he had thousands of ukulele recordings.  Crumit, born in 1888, was trained as an engineer, but started in vaudeville at the age of 25.   In this 1925 recording, he performs “I’m Sitting On Top Of the World”:

Julia Sanderson was the stage name of Julia Ellen Sackett, Sanderson being her mother’s maiden name.  She had been a child actor who switched to vaudeville as a teen.  Starting in 1904, she also starred in Broadway productions.  She married Crumit, four years her junior, in 1922, but the two didn’t appear together as the act Crumit and Sanderson until 1928, moving to radio in 1929.

After Blackstone Plantation left the air, Crumit and Sanderson appeared in other programs, including the Bond Bread broadcasts, 1934-36 on CBS, the Norge Musical Kitchen and It’s Florida’s Treat, 1936, The Battle of the Sexes, 1938-42 on NBC, the Crumit and Sanderson Quiz, 1942 on CBS, and Singing Sweethearts, 1943 on CBS.

Crumit died of a heart attack in 1943, and Sanderson continued briefly with Let’s Be Charming, a Thursday afternoon program aimed at women.  Sanderson died in 1975 at the age of 87.



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Elisabeth Lansdale Du Val, Ship Wireless Operator

S.S. Howard, Merchants and Miners Transportation Co.

S.S. Howard, Merchants and Miners Transportation Co.

Elisabeth (sometimes spelled Elizabeth) Lansdale Du Val (Hobleman) (1893-1987) was a ship wireless telegraph operator in the early days of radio, serving on the S.S. Howard of the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company line, in the employ of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.  At the time, she was the only woman serving aboard a ship as wireless operator.

She was the daughter of Edmund Brice Du Val of 2200 North Charles St., Baltimore, and was the great granddaughter of Justice Gabriel Duvall (1752-1844), who was named to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Madison and served from 1811-35.

She passed the Commerce Department examination for a first grade commercial license on September 27, 1917.  On December 4, she began service as wireless operator on the Howard between Baltimore and Jacksonville.  She had sole responsibility for the afternoon shift, and was on watch each night.  Even though approximately fifty women held licenses, Miss Du Val was apparently the only wireless operator serving aboard a ship.

The Commerce Department had received numerous inquiries from women desiring to become wireless operators.  The department advised them that because of housing conditions on shipboard, there was hardly any demand for women as radio operators.  Instead, the department advised them to study American Morse, since there was a great shortage of landline telegraph operators due to the war, and that Western Union was providing instruction and even paying while new operators learned the trade.

On February 19, 1918, she applied to the Secretary of the Navy for a commission and assignment to a war vessel.  According to press accounts, the Navy “took the application under advisement,” but it was apparently never granted.

She married H.A. Hobelman, a 1917 graduate of Johns Hopkins University, on June 14, 1922.  Interestingly, in 1911, young Hobelman had contributed an item to Popular Mechanics for reducing stress on an anchor chain.  Mrs. Hobelman died in Maryland in 1987 at the age of 94.


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Selling Portable Radios in 1939


In 1939, Tom Carmichael, the manager of the radio and home appliance department of the Hopper-Kelly Music Company in Seattle decided that he needed to sell more portable radios. The shop’s window contained a colorful animated miniature circus, but buyers weren’t coming inside to look at radios. So Carmichael hired a pretty girl and sent her out to lure in the customers. He gave eighteen-year-old Ruth Carlyle a portable set to sling over her shoulder and sent her outside. She would inconspicuously appear near likely prospects and tune the radio to a musical program.

RuthCarlyle1939At first, most customers thought the music was coming from inside the store. But when they discovered the source, they “found it easy to learn more about the set from a girl who didn’t strain the eyes, proved pleasant to talk to and seemed just as naturally friendly as if they had known her all their lives.”

In her first three days on the job, Miss Carlyle took 57 customers by the arm and led them into the store, where salesmen on the floor closed the deal.Portable1939

The radio salesgirl appears to be the same Ruth Carlyle Miller shown in this 2010 obituary.  According to this source, the store was located at 1421 3rd Avenue.

The photos here appeared in Radio and Television Retailing magazine, September 1939.

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Ahmed’s Clock

Irving, TX, Police Dept. photo, via NY Daily News.

Irving, TX, Police Dept. photo, via NY Daily News.

Ahmed Mohammed is a bright 14-year-old student in Irving Texas.  He made the digital clock shown above in a pencil case, and this week brought it to school.  He showed it to one teacher who was impressed.  He then put it away in his backpack, but it started beeping during another class.

The other teacher apparently believed that bright kids shouldn’t bring unusual looking things to school.  The principal was called, and then the police were called.  Ahmed was arrested for having what someone believed to be a “hoax bomb.”

Nobody thought it was a real bomb.  Ahmed didn’t think it was a hoax bomb.  It was a clock, and it presumably told time.  He told the police that it was a clock.  He didn’t elaborate any further, because there was nothing to elaborate about.  He could have said that it told time, but presumably the cops in Irving, Texas, already knew that clocks told time.  But because he didn’t elaborate further, he was arrested.

Last month, I posted on this site the digital clock shown below in a 1975 picture.


As you can see, this clock is just like Ahmed’s, just a lot bigger.  As you can see, there are students in the background, and they don’t appear to be freaking out because there’s a big homemade clock in the room.  The teacher wasn’t alarmed.  The principal wasn’t alarmed.  The police weren’t alarmed.  They realized that it was a homemade clock, built from plans in a magazine.  And even though it presumably had a much greater explosive potential than Ahmed’s clock, nobody was concerned.

In 1975, there was nothing wrong with a kid making something unusual and bringing it to school.  Today, a kid might get arrested for doing the same thing.  And it’s a damn shame.

Stop it, people.  Use a little bit of common sense for a change.

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September 16, 1940: First Peacetime Draft


Seventy-five years ago, Pearl Harbor was still more than a year away.  But it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the United States was at war.  And the clearest sign came 75 years ago today, when President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which put into place the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. Initially, all men between 21 and 35 were required to register. If drafted, a man would serve for twelve months, with the service to be limited to the Western Hemisphere or U.S. possessions. Under the act, up to 900,000 men would be undergoing training at any given time.

The term of service was extended beyond twelve months in August 1941, and a handful of desertions occurred when the initial one-year obligation had expired. The age limits for registration were also subsequently extended, and by the end of the war, all men between the ages of 18 and 65 were required to register.


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September 15 1945 Florida Hurricane

Miami Daily News, Sept. 16, 1945.

Miami Daily News, Sept. 16, 1945.

Seventy years ago today, September 15, 1945, a hurricane made landfall in Key Largo and then swept across Miami and Homestead, Florida. It was a Category 4 storm, and winds of 145 mph were clocked at Homestead Army Air Corps Base. Most of the city of Homestead was destroyed, and at Richmond Naval Air Station, a fire ignited during the storm burned down three hangars. 1632 homes were destroyed in Florida, and there were four deaths.

Amateur radio had not yet returned to the air after V-J Day, but hams were still available to help, since they formed the core of the War Emergency Radio Service, which had been formed during the War to allow hams to provide emergency communications for both civil defense and during natural disasters.

The November 1945 issue of QST reported “September Hurricane Finds Miami WERS Ready.” The Dade County civil defense operated under the call sign of WKNW, which used hams to link ten district headquarters stations to the main control station on the roof of the fifteen-story Technical Vocational Building. A Red Cross mobile disaster unit was also equipped with radio, as were a number of privately owned mobile units. Operations began as soon as the wind subsided enough for operators to get to their designated stations.

At the peak of the storm, all lines to the civil defense headquarters were down, and the WERS station, manned by hams and powered by an emergency generator, was the only link. When the phone line to Jackson Memorial Hospital went out, one of the mobiles was dispatched to that location, and contact was re-established in fifteen minutes.

When it was clear that Homestead had suffered damage, a convoy of vehicles set out from civil defense headquartrs. The antenna at headquarters had been repeatedly destroyed, and a temporary antenna was set up inside, with only limited range. Since it couldn’t reach Homestead, one of the mobile hams in the convoy backtracked until reliable communications was established. However, with the 2-1/2 meter equipment in use, it was not possible for that station to reach all the way to Homestead. It wasn’t until the third day that a reliable link was established between Miami and Homestead, after which a considerable amount of traffic flowed.

Singled out for praise were W4NB, W4AFF, W1KVB, W4CFC, w1JMT, and W4ANP, along with two other hams who were licensed after Pearl Harbor and hence had no amateur call sign.  Of those calls, the only one where I could find any later reference was Francis W. Jenard, W1JMT, who died in 1999, according to a QST Silent Key listing.  He was a member of the ARRL A-1 Operators Club, and you can see his 1963 QSL card at this link.



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Radio Goes to School, 1925


Ninety years ago, radio went to school, and these Kansas schoolchildren were starting their day by doing their morning calisthenics under the direction of Mike Ahearn, athletic director of the Kansas State Agricultural College. (Ahearn carefully avoided the word “exercise,” since he knew the children had been up for hours and had walked a mile or more to school.)  The same scene could be played out in any of the state’s 9000 country schools, but Ahearn was behind the microphone of the college’s radio station, KSAC in Manhattan.

RadioSchool1925bBy September 1925, when these pictures appeared in Radio in the Home magazine, a good percentage of those schools had already been equipped with receivers, and plans were in place to add a radio set to all of them.  In the photo shown here, the antenna is mounted to the school’s belfry, and it is powered by the teacher’s Model T parked outside.

The college’s director of radio extension, Sam Pickard, was doing more with radio than just morning calistenics. The sets would be in place for Kansas farmers to attend statewide radio meetings of farm organizations, and they could be used on Sundays to receive church service broadcasts.  Pickard’s vision for radio saw him appointed two years later by President Coolidge as one of the first five commissioners of the Federal Radio Commission.

KSAC had first come on the air on December 1, 1924, broadcasting with 500 watts on 880 kHz. In 1928, it moved to 580 kHz. In 1929, the Topeka Daily Capital wanted to start a radio station, and asked the college whether it could share the frequency. Since the college couldn’t afford to keep its station on the air 24 hours a day, it quickly came to terms, and was able to boost its power to 5000 watts to match the new station, WIBW.

By the 1980’s, the college had been known as Kansas State University for 30 years, and KSAC got around to requesting call letters that would match the University’s name. However, the call letters KKSU had been assigned to a ship, and even though the ship was mothballed, the owner wasn’t willing to relinquish them. So the station became KEXT (Kansas Extension) for a time until finally getting the KKSU call letters.

Over the years, the commercial station, had tried to buy out the college station, but the college refused. It wasn’t until 2001 that they had relented. WIBW had carried Wildcat football, and the University was planning on moving it to another station. WIBW used the opportunity to point out a clause its 1969 contract with the University. In exchange for allowing WIBW to carry the games, the college had been allowed to extend its operating hours by an additional 15 minutes each weekday. Finally, the University agreed to sell out for $1.5 million. The games would go to the other station, and KKSU would sign off for the last time in November, 2002,

Kansas wasn’t alone in putting radio receivers in the schools. Radio was already installed in schools in Cleveland, Ohio, and the superintendant predicted that within a few years, American schoolchildren would be receiving ten percent of their lessons by radio. Some of the big stations were involved. For example, KGO was broadcasting to the schools in Oakland, California, and WLS in Chicago was broadcasting “Uncle Ben” Darrow’s Little Red Schoolhouse into 150 schools in Cook County, Illinois, and was also popular at schools in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

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Allied “Tiny Knight” Model B10509 & B10510, 1941


1941Allied4TubeIn an earlier post, we showed an inexpensive 1940 four-tube broadcast radio for $7.95 available at Walgreen’s. A modest radio such as this one would probably stay in service until the end of the War, because on April 22, 1942, the War Production board ended the production of civilian radio receivers. So if you had a radio, that’s the one you would have for the duration.

Shown here is probably one of the least expensive prewar receivers of all. This model, the “Tiny Knight” from Allied Radio is shown here in the 1941 Allied catalog, and had a catalog price starting at $5.30. It measured 6-1/2 by 4-1/4 by 4-1/2 inches and weighed four pounds, and was billed as being something that you could hold in the “palm of your hand.” It was marketed as a second radio, or for travel: “It’s so small you can pack it into any size suit-case or overnight bag and take it along when you travel.” But it was also billed as being “so low-priced that anyone can afford it.” At the tail end of the depression, it’s likely that more than a few households had a set similar to this one as their only radio. And with the ban on the manufacture of new radios, quite a few of these sets were what many families depended upon for war news.

The set’s four tubes consisted of a 12K7GT RF amplifier, 12J7GT detector, and 50L6GT audio amplifier, with a 35Z5GT serving as the rectifier. It tuned as high as 1720 kHz, making it capable of picking up police calls in many areas.

This set was a TRF (tuned radio frequency) receiver. On the same page, Allied showed its least expensive superhet, a five-tube model starting at $8.30.

The four-tube set was Allied model B10509 or B10510, depending on the cabinet.

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Cave Paintings of Lascaux, 1940


220px-Lascaux_01Seventy-five years ago today,  September 12, 1940, eighteen-year-old apprentice mechanic Marcel Ravidat was exploring the caves near his home in Lascaux, France. The war was over in the “Free Zone” of Vichy France, and young Marcel went exploring a hole he had discovered a few days earlier, opened the prior winter as an oak tree had been uprooted by a storm.

What Marcel saw hadn’t been seen in over 15,000 years. He had 220px-Lascaus,_Megalocerosstumbled upon the entrance of a cave containing some of the most spectacular cave paintings ever found. He and his friends kept the cave a secret until finally revealing its location to a teacher known to be a scholar of the other less spectacular paintings in the area. During the war, the cave was used by resistance fighters to store weapons. In 1948, the cave was opened to the public. But the breath of the constant stream of visitors, along with exposure to the atmosphere, began to take a toll. The cave was finally closed to the public in 1963.

220px-Lascaux_IIAll images here are from Wikipedia.




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