Monthly Archives: December 2015

QST Turns 100


We can’t let December pass without noting that this month marks the 100th anniversary of the appearance of QST magazine. In honor, the ARRL has posted a high-quality scan of the entire issue, available to members who are logged in to their ARRL account.

The first issue was 28 pages and was financed by Hiram Percy Maxim and Clarence D. Tuska.  A trial subscription for the next three issues was offered for 25 cents, and the issue also carried an application blank for membership in the ARRL.  There was no charge at the time for the membership.

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Sinking of the SS Persia, 1915

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Persia, with the loss of 343 lives among the 519 aboard.  Without warning on December 30, 1915, off the coast of Crete, the ship was torpedoed by Captain Max Valentiner commanding the U-boat SM U-38.

The passenger ship carried no troops or war materiel of any kind. The 499 foot ship went down in about five minutes in 10,000 feet of water.

The captain’s wife was en route to Malta to spend the winter with her husband, and was advised by wireless of his death.

Dewey1916Among the dead was Marconi wireless operator George Henry Dewey, shown here. After finishing his education, he had initially entered the post office as a telegrapher and clerk, and then studied at the British School of Telegraphy and entered the service of the Marconi company. In his short career, he had served aboard five other ships before his appointment to his position aboard the Persia.

The ship carried a large quantity of gold and jewels belonging to the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh,  who had previously disembarked at Marseilles. Despite the ship being located in 2003 and some artifacts being recovered, that treasure still lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

“Spirit of Ecstasy.” Wikipedia image.

Also among the dead was actress and model Eleanor Thornton. While her name might be unfamiliar, she is widely recognized, since she served as the model for the “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament that adorns every Rolls Royce.

U-boat Captain Valentiner was labeled a war criminal for sinking the civilian ship without warning, and between the wars, he lay low under an assumed name. He returned to the Kriegsmarine during World War 2, where he was the group commander of the U-Boots-Abnahmekommision (UAK) in Kiel-Danzig. He died in 1949 of lung disease, probably caused by the inhalation of toxic vapors aboard the U-boats.





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Second Great Fire of London, 1940

Daily Mail showing St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Second Great Fire of London, as the air raid of the night of December 29/30, 1940, came to be known.

Starting at 6 PM, over 24,000 high explosive bombs and 100,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the city. The area of destruction was the largest of the war, and greater than that of the Great Fire of 1666.

Churchill urged that St. Paul’s Cathedral be saved at all costs, and both firefighters and volunteer fire watchers worked through the night to fight fires nearby and put out incendiaries landing on the roof.

Over 160 civilians died during that night, with many more dying of injuries in the following days. Fourteen firemen died and 250 were injured. In a successful effort to make firefighting more difficult, the raid was timed to coincide with particularly low tides in the Thames.

The film below, from the British Ministry of Information, shows the fire as seen from the roof of the Cathedral:

The raid came the same night as FDR gave his “Arsenal of Democracy” Fireside Chat:


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Potter Rug Aerial, 1930


Frankly, I’m a little surprised that this idea from 1930 didn’t get more traction. It probably worked about as well as any other indoor antenna, and it was conveniently out of the way and swept under the rug. The sole reference I’ve ever seen to the “Potter Rug Aerial” was this ad from the December 1930 issue of Radio Retailing.

The antenna was manufactured by the Potter Co. of 1946 Sheridan Road, North Chicago, Illinois. In addition to the antenna, they manufactured replacement condensers. They had common ones in stock, and promised to duplicate special units within 48 hours.

One reason that the rug aerial might not have caught on was the utter simplicity of the idea. Any piece of wire about the same length slipped under the rug would probably pull in the stations just about as well.

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1936 Silvertone Model 1954


80 years ago today, you could get this 6 tube all wave set for $24.95 at Sears, as advertised in the December 27, 1935, edition of the Milwaukee Journal.  The model number isn’t given, but it appears similar to a Silvertone model 1954.  You can see a restored one in action at this video:

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Train Engineer Ejection Seat, 1915


A hundred years ago, Popular Mechanics, December 1915, carried a description of this invention to save the lives of the engineer and fireman of a locomotive that finds itself about to be involved in a head-on collision.  Heretofore, the only options had been to either stay with the train or attempt to jump clear, and hope for the best.  Even though the magazine admitted that there might be some practical problems, it was enough to give the men a fighting chance.

With a few seconds warning, the men could pull a lever on their seat.  This would drop them, seat and all, into this thick cylinder, which would close itself and throw it free of the train.  It was strong enough that it would hold even if the locomotive landed on top.  And if it landed in the water, it would float.

Simultaneously, the lever would pull back the throttle, dump the fire, apply the brakes, and put sand on the tracks, so the departing engineer would be doing all he could for his passengers as well.

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Merry Christmas!

Lighting the Los Angeles Christmas tree, 1940.

Lighting the Los Angeles Christmas tree, 1940.

Merry Christmas from!

We look back to 1940, as America celebrated its last prewar Christmas. The December 23 issue of Life Magazine proclaimed that “forgetting war and stringing holly, U.S. spends to make Christmas jolly.” The magazine reported that despite the clouds of war, American preparations for Christmas “reflected no hint of anything but peace, prosperity and goodwill.”

1940 electrified Santa on the world's second largest sign.

1940 electrified Santa on the world’s second largest sign.

But the magazine also noticed a mood that contrasted significantly with Christmases of other years. Gone were the Yules filled with the fragrance of evergreens, candles, carols, still snows, and silent skies. Instead, it was filled with streamlined, mass-produced mechanical Santas of identical image grinning and nodding in department store windows. Decorators did tricks with electricity and plastics. Comic strip characters and bathing beauties intruded on a show previously dominated by the Magi and the Virgin Mary.

It said that the new mood wasn’t hard to explain, as the nation had lived with the threat of war for fifteen months. “Only in excitement, in spending, could America forget Coventry, Birmingham, and Alolf Hitler.” And there was a lot of money to spend. With war industries gearing up, Americans were flush with cash.

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1955 Photocell Alarm


Sixty years ago, this kid’s electronic expertise was no match for Santa. The cover of the December 1955 issue of Radio Electronics.  The youngster had constructed the transistorized photocell alarm (using a CK722 transistor) from the plans contained in the issue.  But he failed to outwit Santa, as shown in this photo.

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NORAD Santa Tracking Begins, 1955

1955NoradSantaAs you are probably aware, each Christmas, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa Claus as he travels around the world. Obviously, there’s a practical reason for this. If his supersonic travels were mistaken for something else, then the results of the error could be quite dramatic, to say the least.

NORAD first began sharing this information with children 60 years ago, in 1955. Initially, this was the result of another mixup, albeit a less dramatic one. A Sears store in Colorado published the ad shown at the top of the page, purportedly showing Santa’s previously unlisted telephone number. Unfortunately, the ad carried the wrong number. Instead of Santa’s number, the store had listed the number of the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor. Initially baffled, the officer answering the phone ultimately figured out what was going on, and had his men check the radar. He then gave reports of Santa’s current location.

NORAD now uses the Internet to disseminate this information, which is available at

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