Monthly Archives: November 2016

Sinking of the Zamzam, 1941


This advertisement for Eveready batteries appeared 75 years ago this month in the November 1936 issue of Popular Science.  I had never heard of the Zamzam, but her last voyage is a fascinating but forgotten story of the Second World War.

I haven’t found any independent verification of the claim in the ad, that the Captain used Eveready batteries to avert disaster.  But whether or not he did, it’s a compelling story.

The Zamzam set sail from New York in the Spring of 1941 under the Egyptian flag, bound for Egypt by way of South America and South Aftica. Built in 1909, she originally bore the name Leicestershire and flew the British flag. She first served as a passenger ship to India, and during the First World War, she served as a troop carrier, carrying troops to Russia and repatriating Australian troops after the war. After the war, she was modernized to burn oil rather than coal, and resumed passenger service to Rangoon until 1930.

In that year, she was sold to the British National Exhibition Ship Company Ltd., and was renamed the British Exhibitor, where she was to serve as a floating expedition showcasing goods throughout the Empire. When that company went into liquidation, the ship was purchased by the Egyptians, where she transported 600 pilgrims at a time from Suez to Mecca for the next eight years.

With the outbreak of war, the Zamzam was pressed into service carrying passengers between Egypt and New York. The first trip to New York was apparently uneventful, but her last voyage was the return trip.

The ship left Hoboken, New Jersey, on March 20, 1941, with 201 passengers aboard. To avoid war zones, the neutral ship would sail to Trinidad, thence to Recife, Brazil, across the Atlantic to Capetown, South Africa, and then up the east coast of Africa to Mombasa, Kenya, and then to Alexandria, Egypt.

The largest contingent of passengers consisted of 144 missionaries, representing both Catholic and Protestant denominations. Interestingly, the contingent of missionaries from the Augustana Lutheran Church were on their way to Tanzania, where they were to replace German Lutheran missionaries interned by the British.

The passengers also included a group of ambulance drivers from the British-American Ambulance Company, en route to North Africa to serve as ambulance drivers for British forces.  There were also a group of American tobacco buyers en route to Rhodesia.  Most passengers were American, but there were a large number of Canadians.  The missionaries in particular included many women and children among their numbers.

Joining the passengers in Brazil were Life magazine photographer David E. Scherman and Fortune magazine editor Charles J.V. Murphy, who documented the later sinking.

A few days after leaving New York, the passengers were startled when the crew began painting over the portals and announcing that the ship would be travelling in strict blackout conditions.  This prompted considerable protest by the passengers, who had believed that they would be traveling openly under the protection of a neutral flag.  The captain, a British officer, insisted that he was acting under orders of the Admiralty, to the great consternation of passengers.  The ship traveled under strict blackout, and no light, not even a lit cigarette, was permitted on deck.

During the early morning hours of April 17, the German raider Atlantis (also known as the Tamesis), a reflagged Norwegian freighter, attacked. The passengers donned life jackets and boarded lifeboats and the ship sunk. Since some of the lifeboats had been damaged, a number of passengers were forced to float in the water.

Just as the raider hoisted its Nazi flag and its crew were stationed at machine guns, a rainbow appeared in the morning sky. Eventually, the survivors signaled (presumably with the captain’s Eveready flashlight) that the ship was neutral. The German ship took the survivors aboard, and the captain discovered to his dismay that many of the passengers were Americans.

By all accounts, the captain, Bernhard Rogge, treated the prisoners humanely, and they were transferred a few days later to another ship which eventually transported them to occupied France. The Americans were repatriated fairly rapidly through Spain and Portugal, but the Canadians were interned.

The Catholic missionaries were American born, but were traveling under Canadian passports to expedite entry into South Africa.  In retrospect, the decision was undoubtedly regretted, since they were interned with the other Canadians.  This turned out to be a fortunate circumstance for the Germans, since the Geneva Convention required them to provide chaplains for POW’s, a role which these prisoners took on.

Eventually, seven of the Canadian women were to be exchanged for German women being held in Canada. At some point, they were placed on a train to Berlin. Unfortunately, nobody had bothered to tell Berlin that they were coming, and they were left to their own devices in the enemy capital. They made contact with American journalists and diplomats, and were eventually returned to Canada.

During their stay, however, they were forced to obtain food in the local economy along with the Germans. One butcher, recalling his humane treatment by the allies as a prisoner in the previous war, greeted them in English each time they entered his shop, and allowed them to the front of the line, somewhat to their embarrassment.

This video, prepared by one of the predecessors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is a fascinating look at the bizarre odyssey of these missionaries.




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WLS Chicago, 1946


In this ad from the November 1946 issue of Sponsor magazine, WLS Radio in Chicago reminds its potential advertisers that it is the radio home of tomorrow’s friendly audience.

In July of that year, 2000 boys and girls from every county in Indiana were in the studio audience of the WLS Dinner Bell Time broadcast, “a program familiar in their homes from babyhood.” They were attending the annual 4-H Round-Up being held on the campus of Purdue University.

WLS presented the plaques for outstanding 4-H achievement, all broadcast live over the station’s 50,000 watt Chicago blowtorch. People in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin considered the station “one of the family,” and its complete weather, market reports, news, and down-to-earth entertainment expemplified the quiet neighborly way that WLS served both today’s and the future’s friendly audience.

RCA Victrola Model V-215, 1941


This ad appeared in Life Magazine 75 years ago today, November 17. 1941. Victor Record recording artist Rose Bampton is listening to records on the RCA Victrola Model V-215 radio-phonograph console.  The nine-tube set provided 12 watts to the 12 inch speaker. In addition to the standard broadcast band, it tuned two shortwave bands, 2.3-6 MHz and 9.3-15 MHz. You can view a nicely preserved example of the set at this link.  The set had an original retail price of $214.95.

As the ad points out, the set features the “Magic Brain” automatic changer, and points out that the Magic Brain does all the work–you just sit back and listen. It also points out that the changer has “no needles,” meaning that it had a sapphire stylus and ceramic cartridge rather than “old-fashioned needles,” and that the total weight of all moving parts on the tone arm was “less than the weight of a postage stamp.”

Mezzo-soprano Rose Bampton performed with the Metropolitan Opera from 1932-1950. She died in 2007 at the age of 99.

Emerson Model 330, 1941

1941nov16pghThis ad for a 5-tube supereheterodyne broadcast radio appeared 75 years ago today in the November 16, 1941, issue of the Pittsburgh Press.

The set sold for $14.95 (complete, no extras), or could be bought on time for a quarter down and fifty cents a week.

The set appears to be model 330, which can be seen at the Radio Attic Archives.  It was a standard “All American Five,” with a tube lineup of 12SA7GT, 12SK7GT, 12SQ7GT, 50L6GT, and 35Z5GT. A schematic and more photos are available at the Radio Museum.  While the set’s tuning range didn’t extend much above the broadcast band, it was billed as easily receiving police calls, as well as distant stations.

1926 Popular Science Crystal Set


Ninety years ago this month, the November 1926 issue of Popular Science showed how to assemble this crystal set for the radio beginner, and offered a number of possible variations depending on the listener’s location and available stations.

The article noted that millions of Americans lived within five miles of powerful stations, but a surprisingly large number had not yet taken an interest in radio. But this simple receiver was billed as a mighty good way to get started, and predicted that many builders would eventually decide to upgrade and build a vacuum tube set. Parts selection kept in mind that many of the components, such as the variable condenser, could be used in the new set.

The author remarked that he had a friend who had a good five-tube set, but kept the old crystal set around for times when he wanted to listen to the radio alone. The headphones masked outside sounds, and he didn’t have to worry about wear and tear on his tubes.

The article suggested modifications of the antenna coil depending on the location and number of stations. It gave instructions on tuning. While moving the dial, you would adjust the crystal for the first hint of sound. When that was found, you would tune the dial for maximum sound, and then adjust the crystal for maximum volume. The crystal position could usually stay put for weeks. To prevent vibrations, the author suggested placing the set on a piece of cloth.

Dutch Reagan, WHO 1936


Eighty years ago today, the November 14, 1936 issue of Radio Guide carried a profile of the man who would, 44 years later, be elected President of the United States, Dutch Reagan.

As recounted by the magazine, Ronald Reagan walked into WOC radio in Davenport, Iowa, in 1932, looking for a job. The station was at the time synchronized with WHO Des Moines. The program director, Peter MacArthur, asked if he knew anything about football. When Reagan answered in the affirmative, MacArthur told him to stand by a microphone and imagine that he was at a game. The program director listened amazed for fifteen minutes before telling Reagan, “you’re broadcasting the Iowa-Minnesota game!”

When WOC and WHO split in 1932, Reagan went with WHO, where he broadcast the Chicago games by telegraphic report.

The article describes the future president:

He is over six feet tall with the pro- verbial Greek -god physique: broad – shouldered, slim-waisted and a face that would make Venus look twice before running to her man Zeus! And then he can talk, too.  Dutch has a smooth -running “gift o’ gab” which never seems to falter, never is at loss for the right word. In short, he has quick wit and a nimble vocabulary, and large, too.

It noted that during his days at Eureka College, where he lettered in several sports, he never allowed anyone to call him Ronald, even though it was his name.  The magazine also seemed to think that the young announcer had a future:

But there are new things beckoning. One is a career with the networks.
Like any ambitious announcer, Dutch, who never uses quotation marks about his name, has high hopes toward becoming the Husing or the McNamee of the airwaves, 1937 style. Watch him; he’s stream-lined. He might do it.

WGEA and WGEO, Schenectady, NY, 1941


Shown here as it appeared 75 years ago is a view of 100 kW shortwave stations WGEA and WGEO, the General Electric station at Schenectady, New York.  The picture appears in the November 1941 of FM Magazine, along with an extensive look at the technical details of the stations, as well as those of GE’s sister station in San Francisco, KGEI (about which we wrote earlier).

The station had its start in 1925 with an experimental license under the call sign W2XAD. When the FCC deemed shortwave broadcasting to be sufficiently developed for commercial service in 1939, the station went on the air commercially.

GE received over 30,000 pieces of mail per year, and prepared its programs based on listener preferences. In addition to English, the stations had regular programs in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Czech, and Chinese.

Frequencies used at the time were 6190, 9530, 9550, 9670, 15330, and 21590 kHz. Directional antennas beamed programs from Schenectady to Central America, Brazil, Europe, Argentina, and North Africa, and from San Francisco to South America and Asia.

Philco Model 1013, 1941


Seventy-five years ago this month, Radio Retailing magazine, November 1941, carried this ad showing the Phiclo model 1013 (42-1013) radio phono console. The set retailed for $230 in mahogany or $225 in walnut. In addition to the automatic phonograph, the set covered the broadcast band, the prewar FM band, and 9-15.5 MHz shortwave.

This ad reminded retailers that there would be considerable advertising support for the set during the Christmas season, including a window display and special rotogravature ads.

3986 were manufactured in walnut, 1755 in mahogany.  You can see a nice example of the set at this site, and a video of a nicely restored model can be seen playing here:

Armistice Day: America’s Obligation and Opportunity To Serve Stricken Humanity

free-vector-poppy-remembrance-day-clip-art_106032_Poppy_Remembrance_Day_clip_art_smallNinety-eight years ago today, the First World War ended with the signing of the Armistice, with hostilities to cease at 11:00 AM, November 11, 1918.

The next day’s newspaper carried the plea of Food Administrator Herbert Hoover with respect to America’s duty: “The nation’s obligation and opportunity to serve stricken humanity in war-torn Europe by helping to provide sustenance until the next harvest will demand further sacrifices of the American people.” He pointed out that North America would need to furnish 60% of the world’s supply of food, and to forestall starvation, would need to export 20 million tons, as compared with the prewar normal of 5 million.

“The group of gamblers in human life who have done this thing are now in cowardly flight, leaving anarchy and famine to millions of helpless people.”

Canada Carries On: 1941


Seventy-five years ago, the United States was less than a month away from entering the war, but Canada had been at war with Germany since 1939.  In this ad from this date’s issue of Broadcasting magazine, November 10, 1941, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reminded potential American advertisers that Canada was carrying on.  Despite wartime conditions, industry was at capacity, new factories were coming online, employment was at a peak, and most important for advertisers, retail sales were showing gains.

The CBC was serving wartime duties, and it reminded advertisers that it provided complete broadcast services to reach the Canadian market.