Category Archives: Iowa History

Archie Banks, 9AGD, Radio Amateur & Beekeeper

1917 Archie Banks 9AGD

A hundred years ago, American amateur radio operators were off the air for the duration of the war. All stations, both receiving and transmitting, had to be dismantled, and antennas lowered to the ground. But the July 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter detailed the activities of 24 year old Archie Banks of rural Delmar, Iowa. Banks lived on a farm about a mile out of town, and when he was sixteen, he developed an interest in electricity. He had the house wired with electric lights powered by batteries, and within two years, he was dabbling in wireless. He reported that his first set didn’t work well, and he could only communicate the one mile to Delmar.

But his second station was considerably more successful. He was licensed as 9AGD, and among other things was able to reliably copy the twice daily news and weather reports sent by the stations at the Illinois State Agricultural College in Springfield, and the Iowa State Agricultural College at Ames.

Rather than keep these important bulletins to himself, Banks took it upon himself to share the information with neighbors. Initially, he shared the information with anyone who desired to phone him, and the service was popular. Area farmers had access to immediate weather reports, rather than having to wait for the daily nespaper to be delivered by the R.F.D. carrier.

But Banks decided to carry it a step further, as shown by the sign here. In addition to his labor on the family farm, Banks had a side business consisting of about a hundred hives which he used to raise honey. The honey was advertised by a roadside sign. He added this sign, encouraging passers by to stop and read the news and weather reports. Initially, the sign was placed as a public service. But Banks soon noticed that those stopping to read the weather would be in a good position to buy some honey.

Banks had his beekeeping-wireless enterprise in operation as early as 1913. In that year, he had a paper read at the state bee convention, published in the Report of the State Bee Inspector, an essay entitled, “The Art of Selling Honey From a Producer’s and Retailer’s Point of View.” This paper reveals that the wireless was but one advertising mechanism he employed. He recommended advertising which included a few recipes. “This will make the housewife anxious to try them out just the same as one is to try a new car.” He recommended giving out samples, since they “create an appetite for more and the neighbor or friend will probably purchase a case or more the next time he sees you.”

His main sign (not shown in the Electrical Experimenter article” was eight feet by two feet and “hung across the road,” which was a main highway. It read, in large red letters, “Eat Honey,” with the phrase “for sale here by the section or wagon load” in large black letters. He states that he also had “a large signboard on which is printed the weather report which I receive daily by wireless. Passerby stopping to read this report get a view of the honey sign also–thus killing two birds with one stone.”

Banks is also described in an article in this 1917 issue of The Country Gentleman.

According to this link, Banks was born in 1892, the son of B.D. Banks and Hannah E. Banks. According to this 2016 obituary of his son Harlan Banks, he later married Edna Bowman and had multiple children. At some point, he moved to California, since the son’s obituary shows him graduating from high school in Santa Barbara.

Archie Banks Santa BarbaraAccording to this site, in 1925, Banks was one of five hams in Santa Barbara when an earthquake struck the town on June 29, 1925. The city was completely cut off from the outside world, prompting the hams to patch together a CW station to send out an SOS. Help was summoned when an operator aboard a Standard Oil Tanker heard the SoS and summoned help. This photo, appearing in a Russian language book, shows Banks operating from Santa Barbara after the earthquake.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Banks died in October 1984 in Santa Barbara. According to his gravestone, he served in the U.S. Navy both World War I and World War II.

Banks is listed as 9AGD in the 1916 callbook with an address of R.F.D. 2, Delmar, Iowa. He doesn’t appear to have a listing, either in California or Iowa, in the 1922 call book.

DelmarIowaStreetViewInterestingly, I think I found the location of Banks’ 1917 honey sign, which would be this Google street view.  According to the Electrical Experimenter article, Banks’ station was about one mile from Delmar and eight miles from Maquoketa.  This farm house is about that distance from the two towns, and seems to match the house shown in the article, assuming the magazine photo below was taken from the rear of the house.  The location is on Iowa Highway 136, just west of US Highway 61.

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Highland Park College, Des Moines, IA

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A hundred years ago, magazines devoted to electricity or mechanics were full of ads for learning radio.  A large number of these focused on training ship wireless operators.  There were other exceptions, but most such schools were located near the sea, in locations such as New York.

One of the exceptions that caught my eye was this ad for the “very thoro” wireless training program offered by Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa, shown here as it appeared in the March 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter.

The ad promised the opportunity to see the world and draw a big salary as a wireless operator.  And the first stop in seeing the world was Des Moines.  This is actually not surprising, since the Hawkeye State was a hotbed of early wireless activity, with more than its fair share of amateur operators, and later, broadcast stations and companies involved in radio.

The college offering this course, Highland Park College, is no longer in existence, but had its own colorful history.  The school’s Wireless Building, apparently the location where students would be trained to see the world, is pictured here in the school’s 1914 yearbook.

According to the yearbook, the college had a wireless club which had been organized in April 1913, and had a complete sending and receiving set. The book boasted that the station’s large aerial allowed reception of the Arlington, VA, and Key West, FL, stations on a regular basis.

HighlandParkWirelessBuilding

The college was established in 1889 and operated under that name until 1918.  It was apparently independent when founded, and in 1911 was transferred to the Presbyterian church.

1915MarPMWireless telegraphy was only one trade that could be acquired at Highland Park College, as shown by this ad in the March 1915 issue of Popular Mechanics.  The school also offered courses in machinist, automobile machinist, and chauffeur.  The machinist courses ran 48 weeks, whereas the chauffeur course of study could be completed in 12 weeks.  The school also offered a “special 6 weeks driving course.”

In 1918, the college was acquired by the Baptist church and renamed Des Moines University. Things went smoothly until 1927 when a fundamentalist wing known as the Baptist Bible Union of North America, the forerunner of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, took control. The faculty were required to subscribe to eighteen articles of faith. At that time, the University’s school of pharmacy was apparently the strongest department, and the faculty apparently had doctrinal differences to the point where they refused to sign the eighteen articles of faith. They departed and formed the Des Moines College of Pharmacy in downtown Des Moines. All but two of the pharmacy students left to enroll in the new school.

In addition to the doctrinal requirements imposed on the faculty, the students were facing restrictions. Three girls were disciplined for doing cartwheels during a vaudeville skit.

By 1929, the administration had enough, and fired the entire faculty. A riot broke out, and angry students stormed the administration building during a meeting of the board of trustees. Eggs and rocks were thrown, and the angry students attempted to break down the door of the room where the board members were hiding. Police were called, but the school formally closed down in September 1929.

The buildings sat vacant until 1943, when professional baseball player and aviation pioneer Alfred W. Lawson bought the property and founded the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy, Lawsonomy being billed as “the study of everything.” As might be expected for the study of everything, a degree was not something that could be earned quickly. According to Lawson, the students (men only) would need to study for 30 years to get their degree of Knowledgian.”

Enrollment peaked at a hundred students, but dwindled to 20 when the school closed in 1954 (presumably, with none of the students earning the coveted Knowledgian degree).

The property was sold, two weeks before Lawson’s death, and became the site of the Park Fair Shopping Mall.

Highland Park College in 1914. Library of Congress.

Highland Park College in 1914. Library of Congress.

ParkFairStreetView

The school’s location today. Google Maps.

References



Dutch Reagan, WHO 1936

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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.



NPOTA: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

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Preparing to send RF ‘cross the wide Missouri.

During the 2016  ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event,  Amateur Radio operators are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) by setting up their equipment in NPS units  to make contact with other Amateurs around the world.  Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 13,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS and over 700,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 281 different parks and operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

One of the event’s successes has been encouraging visits to the parks.  Until recently, my activations have been confined to the NPS units in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Last week, I had to be in Sioux City, Iowa, for one of my continuing legal education programs.  The city lies along the path taken by Lewis and Clark as the traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, and is therefore part of an NPS unit, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  Because the trail’s sheer length, and because it passes through so many other notable sites, it is the NPOTA’s most popular activation site, with over 13,000 individual contacts made.  Since my son had recently been studying Lewis and Clark in school, I decided to bring him along.

Sioux City marks the point where the only death during the 1804-06 Corps of Discovery’s expedition took place.  Sgt. Charles Floyd is buried under a prominent obelisk on a bluff overlooking the river.  The Sioux City riverfront contains two museums devoted to Lewis and Clark’s journey.  The first is in a drydocked former riverboat, the M/V Sergeant Floyd.  The ship was an Army Corps of Engineers Inspection Vessel.  Interestingly, the ship contains a ham station, although it’s supposed to be a recreation of the ship’s radio room.  As you can see from the photo below, the radio room is equipped with an E.F. Johnson Viking Valiant and a Hallicrafters S-40.  Even though these amateur rigs appear to be out of place, it was interesting to see this inadvertent ham station set up.

dsc01372

dsc01371The museum also contains the forensic reconstruction of Sgt. Floyd shown here, created from a plaster cast of his skull.

The second museum on the riverfront is the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which includes animatronic versions of Lewis, Clark, President Jefferson. and “Seaman,” the expedition’s Newfoundland dog.

Conditions were relatively poor the day I visited the site, and my initial attempt with a mobile antenna was unsuccessful.  Since the day was nice, I returned and set up a dipole at a picnic shelter overlooking the river and made ten contacts on 20 meter CW.

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“America Asks, Germany Answers,” 1941

19410628RadioGuide

Seventy-five years ago, while it was clearly gearing up for war, the United States was still neutral, and the Nazis wanted to keep it that way. this date’s issue of Radio Guide, June 28, 1941, carried an interesting look at one of the propaganda programs being broadcast to North America by Berlin stations DJB and DJD on 11.77 and 15.20 MHz. The program was “America Asks, Germany Answers.”

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0821-502, Joseph Goebbels.jpg

Goebbels. Wikipedia photo.

As early as 1933, Propaganda Minister Paul Josef Goebbels had set up a North American Service of the German Radio, staffed largely by expatriate American “foreign correspondents.” In February 1941, the station requested American listeners to forward reception reports and questions about Germany by means of collect telegrams of up to 25 words. By the end of February, over 10,000 telegrams had been received, despite criticism in the American press and deliberate attempts to clog the German end of the circuit. In March, the “America Asks, Germany Answers” program was on the air to answer these questions.

Among the American reporters was Frederick W. Kaltenbach (1895-1945), who had formerly been an Iowa teacher. In 1935, while teaching in Dubuque, he had started the “Militant Order of Spartan Knights,” a club for boys based on the Hitler Youth. Concerned parents saw to it that his teaching contract was terminated, and he left for Germany. He worked as a freelance writer and translator until landing his radio job in 1940. Many of his broadcasts began with “Greetings to my old friend, Harry in Iowa.” He was indicted for treason in 1943, but was arrested by Soviet troops and died in a detention camp in October 1945.

The “America Asks, Germany Answers” program was read by two announcers, “Democ” and “Nazi.” Democ would pose questions from American listeners, and Nazi would provide the answers.

According to the Radio Guide editor, the cost of these telegrams (about $10,000) amounted to “the cheapest imaginable form of advertising for the station, since the whole proposition was widely publicized in the American press and thousands of listeners who were only dimly aware of even the existence of a German short-wave station found themselves listening to it nightly, at first to see if their cables would be answered over the air, subsequently because, once the habit of listening to a certain program is formed, it is not easily discarded. Thus by a clever artifice the German short-wave station gained thousands of new listeners not only to the comparitively innocent program, “America Asks, Germany Answers,” but to the more deadly blasts from Goebbels’ master propagandists in their nightly bombardments on the democratic way of life.”

The magazine did note that a certain number of questions were sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and “quite likely, the names and addresses of these pro-Nazis were promptly garnered by the secret police, who in turn passed them along to the American Nazi organization for investigation so that eventually the fifth column in this country will receive additional recruits.”

However, as might be expected, most questioners were anything but sympathetic, but Democ and Nazi were still eager to tackle them, often by dismissing them with humor.

For example, one Harry Hoffman of Brooklyn asked in his cable, “how do you like your diet of horse meat and dog meat in Berlin these days?” Nazi answered, “my dear Hoffman, we like our diet just fine. It’s excellent. In fact, it’s good. Since we can no longer get giraffe tails or nightingale tongues, we must now be content with veal cutlets, lamb chops or T-bone steaks.” He then added sarcastically, “I suppose you also believe German tanks are made of paper.”

A more serious reply came in response to the question of one Mr. Fletcher of New York who asked about German plans for expansion in the western hemisphere.” Nazi replied that “Germany has NO plans whatsoever against any part of South, Central, or North America. Our campaign is directed solely against England.”

The only question which provoked some showing of anger was that of one Mr. Lehe of New York who opined that “neither England nor Germany but America will win the war.” To this, Mr. Nazi bitterly replied, “this is England’s war, not yours. It’s absolutely none of your business and America should keep its nose out of the affairs that do not concern it in the least.”

References

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Distance Education for Disabled Students, 1941

1946JuneService

Shown here is Mary Ellen Lydon, a teacher at Monroe Junior High School in Mason City, Iowa, instructing her class 75 years ago. In addition to teaching the students in the classroom, you will notice an intercom sitting on her desk. With this device, she was able to bring instruction to shut-in students at home, as described in the June 1941 issue of Service magazine.

Mason City student Mary Brown receiving her instruction at home.

Mason City student Mary Brown receiving her instruction at home.

The article reported on the experiences of fifteen rural Iowa school districts which, mindful of their responsibility to furnish education to physically handicapped children, relied upon this method. The program began in Newton, Iowa, in 1939, when the school was unable to provide teaching facilities to a disabled student. The experiment proved a success. In particular, there was such a benefit to her morale and physical condition that she was able to return to school before the end of the semester, despite an earlier prognosis that she would be disabled for an entire year. In many cases, the shut-in students excelled academically, and in one cases, the shut-in was elected class president.  In total, over a hundred sets were in use in Iowa classrooms.

The equipment consisted of standard commerical intercoms, along with transformers to allow their use over standard leased telephone lines. At school, as the students went from class to class, the intercom was brought to the next teacher’s room to allow the student to attend the full schedule of classes.  The cost of equipment was about $40 per pupil served, and the phone lines were leased at a monthly rate of $1.25 for the first quarter mile, and 75 cents per each additional quarter mile. The longest distance served was about five miles.

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9KT, St. Anthony, Iowa, 1916

1916Mar28A century ago today, the novelty of having received a wireless message from an amateur radio operator prompted an Iowa newspaper editor to investigate. The following item appeared in the Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican, March 28, 1916.

“Via Wireless” Talks With Distant Places

At a wireless station In St. Anthony, the only one In the county, are being received dally aero messages from distant places In the United States from ships on the great lakes and Gulf of Mexico. G. L. LaPlant, an amateur but a licensed radio operator, spends his odd moments day and night catching and sending radio messages. When not operating his “set” LaPlant is a member of the firm of LaPlant Bros., garage owners and druggists.

The receiving of messages from as far away points as Key West, LaPlant says, is an every day occurrence. He also receives from gulf and fruit boats at sea. from shlps on the great lakes, the national station at Arlington, Va., and Washington, D. C., the Lake Bluff station, and others as for distant as Lewlston, Mont., Dallas, Tex., and Shreveport, La. LaPlant is a member of the Radio League of America, whose members promise to give thetr services as radio operators or their station to the government whenever the government wants either.

A good roads wireless telegram, sent out to all commercial clubs In Iowa by Charles Van Vlecli, of the Waterloo Commercial Club, was received here this morning, having been relayed by mail from the St. Anthony wireless station.

The message was sent out Saturday night and reads:

“There Is a general demand for good roads in Iowa now, so pull her out of the mud this year.”

The message Was started at Waterloo at 11 o’clock Saturday night, and reached St. Anthony at ll:ll. St. Anthony station Is 9KT and Waterloo is 9QF in the Amateur Wireless Association. The messages were sent under the auspices of the Hawkeye Radio Association.

Mr. LaPlant has offered to send a message from here to any part of the state, if arrangements can be made. He suggests that the Y. M. C. A. of this city should install a set for the entertainment as well as instruction of young men who would be Interested.

9kt1916As the article notes, LaPlant’s call sign was 9KT.  According to the 1915 Call Book, his station put out a respectable 990 watt signal from St. Anthony.  The photo of the station shown here appeared in the April 1916 issue of QST.  This illustration shows the receiving station, and the caption notes that since the picture was taken, and RJ8 audion and an ultraudion hook-up had been added.  The transmitting station, not shown, is described as “well-equipped.”

The station was shown again in QST the next year, in the April 1917 issue, with the photo shown below.  The caption notes that “we have been able to follow the improvement of his set and now it has reached a very high state of development.”

9kt1917
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Amateur Station 9CXX, 1925

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Ninety years ago this month, in an article entitled “Riding the Shortwaves,” Radio Age (November 1925) carried this photo of the efficient, but surprisingly simple, amateur station of 16 year old 9CXX, located at 514 Fairview Drive, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The article was an introduction to amateur radio, and pointed out that stations such as the one shown here could pull in stations from around the world with a three-tube receiver, “while broadcast listeners are using receivers with five to nine tubes.”

The article focused on the station of young 9CXX because in the summer of 1925, the then-15-year-old amateur had come to prominence by being the only station who managed to keep in touch with WNP, the station of the MacMillan Arctic expedition aboard the Bowdoin.

9cxxRxA schematic of the 9CXX receiver is shown here.  It was also followed by two stages of audio amplification, which are not shown.  As can be seen, the circuit is very simple.  While the receiver is regenerative, it has no regeneration control.  Instead, the regeneration was adjusted by reaching in and carefully moving the two coils.  And in order to avoid capacity effects, the tuning condenser (which had to be of the highest quality, according to the article) had no type of vernier dial.  Instead, the shaft had an eraser mounted at the end which was used to carefully tune the set.  With the two stages of audio, it was reported that the Arctic expedition had come in loud and clear to the point that the operator could remove the headphones and hear the voices of the crew throughout the room.

9cxxTx

9CXX had two transmitters, shown here.  The one on the right put out 50 watts, and the one on the left 1000 watts.  The high power transmitter used 4000 volts on the plate.  When the power supply caused the house lights to dim, the 15 year old installed a new 20 amp circuit, running a heavy cable up from the house’s service box.  The contacts with the Arctic were made on 15, 16, and 21 meters.  He routinely made contact with Australia, usually on 40 meters.

When the young ham made his contacts with the Arctic, it was with antennas installed in a tree.  “Having built a dream house, on Colonial lines, his parents were thinking more of architectural beauty than of scientific achievement, and poles are likely to be unsightly.  But since their son established his remarkable record there have been erected on the roof two thirty-foot masts.”

If the call sign looks vaguely familiar, that’s because it was held by someone who went on to continued prominence in radio, Arthur A. “Art” Collins, who later held the calls W9CXX and W0CXX.  Collins built is first radio, a crystal set using a Quaker Oats box, at age 9.  By 1923, after attending a two-day radio course at Iowa State University in Ames, he had his amateur license.  In 1931, then married, he decided to turn his hobby into a business and started Collins Radio in his basement at 1620 Sixth Ave. S.E., Cedar Rapids.

He formally incorporated the company in 1933, and by 1954, the company, now Rockwell-Collins, had sales of $80 million. The company remained a leading producer of broadcast transmitters until the 1970’s, and also produced amateur equipment most of that time.  Along with fellow  amateur General Curtis LeMay, Collins played a large role in the adoption of SSB voice by the U.S. military.

A good biography of Art Collins can be found at WA3KEY’s site.

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WOI, Ames, Iowa, 1925

WOI operating room, 1925.

WOI operating room, 1925.

Ninety years ago, the September 1925 issue of Radio Age carried a profile of radio station WOI, at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa. In 1925, the station’s focus was clearly on the farmer, and the article notes that the station was “maintained for the farmer by men who have practical farm experience.” The station began operating as WOI in May 1922. Programming included market reports, seasonal lectures of interest to farmers, and weather reports. Entertainment programs included both classical and popular music.

Even prior to the station being licensed as WOI, Iowa State College was a hotbed of radio activity. Even before World War I, weather reports had been broadcast by station 9YI, the predecessor of W0YI, the University’s Amateur Radio club station.

The article notes that the college offered an annual course in radio construction “which has enabled the farmer and especially the boys and girls on the farm to build their own sets.” At one such course, held annually in April, more than 500, from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska, descended on the campus to take part in the free course. In addition to the construction of broadcast sets, there was instruction in Amateur Radio, offered by students connected with Amateur station 9LC.

The station then operated on 270 meters (1111 kHz) with a power of 500 watts. The antenna consisted of wire aerials connected to a water tank and massive smoke stack 150 yards apart.

WOI is currently the flagship station of the Iowa Public Radio network. It’s 640 kHz signal (5000 watts daytime, 1000 watts nighttime) covers most of the state of Iowa during daylight hours, as well as good portions of adjoining states.

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