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1917 Life Buoy

1917janpm3A hundred years ago this month, the cover of the January 1917 issue of Popular Mechanics showed this life buoy design for sheltering 40 passengers. According to the manufacturer, the design, made entirely of steel, was unsinkable, noncollapsible, and would ride upright in the roughest sea. The buoy was designed to be kept on deck, and if there were no time to launch it, passengers could simply get inside and wait for it to float free when the ship sunk.

An observer could sit in the conning tower and display lights or other distress signals through the window. A storage battery provided current for lights and fan, and there was space for storing water and provisions for ten days.

The bottom of the buoy was filled with cement for ballast, and the buoy weighed 2000 pounds.

Alien Surrender of Shortwave Radios, Cameras, Guns, 1942



Shown here, in the January 1942 issue of Radio Retailing magazine, are resident aliens in Los Angeles lining up at a police station to turn in their cameras, guns, and radios capable of receiving short wave.

The magazine noted that Attorney General Francis Biddle had issued an order that enemy aliens, that is, citizens of Japan, Germany, and Italy, turn these items in to the nearest police station.  An alternative would be to have receiver rendered incapable of receiving signals other than those in the standard broadcast band.  Therefore, the order “seems to open the way for radio servicemen to render a useful service of eliminating shortwave reception from aliens’ sets–and get paid for it.  In this way, the alien may keep his set for regular broadcast listening to U.S. stations, while the police authorities are spared the storage of hundereds of radio sets which they are poorly equipped to handle.  And the radio man collects $1 to $2 per radio set altered.

Typically, the modification consisted of removing the shortwave coils, and providing the set’s owner with an affidavit documenting the modification.

75 years ago today, the Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1942, carried an article regarding the status of the order.  It reported that local officials found the response so far to be unsatisfactory, since fewer than 2550 cameras, guns, and radios had been surrendered as of the previous night, despite an alien enemy population of more than 50,000 (28,000 Germans, 21,000 Italians, and 250 Japanese).

The Chicago police reported that the items surrendered included several antiques, including an 1878 breach loader. One man was reported to have “embarrassedly handing over a sawed off shotgun, possession of which had been taboo in Chicago ever since the prohibition gang war era. He said that he inherited the weapon from his father.”

One man, not bothering to wait for a receipt, simply drove up to the police station, hurried a radio from his car, and drove away. Another motorist tossed a $100 radio from his car and drove off.

The paper also reported a supplemental order from the Attorney General listing the following prohibited items:

Weapons or implements of war or component parts thereof; ammunition of all kinds; bombs; explosives or material used in the manufacture of explosives; signal devices; codes or ciphers: papers, documents, or books In which there may be invisible writing; photographs, sketches, pictures, drawings, maps, or graphical representation of any military or naval installations or equipment of any army, ammunitions, implements of. device or thing used or intended to be used in the combat equipment of the land or naval forces of the United States or of any military or naval post, camp, or station.


1941 Popular Science “Summer-Winter” Radio


1941JanPS2In January 1941, Popular Science carried the plans for this “summer-winter” receiver. During the summer months, it went in a cabinet “finished in striped airplane-luggage canvas” and was powered by batteries. But in the summer month, the chasis could be slipped into a smaller walnut cabinet powered by household current.

The superhet employed four tubes, two 1A5GT’s, 1H5GT, and 1N5GT. For use in the “winter” mode, it also included a 117Z6GT rectifier. When run on AC power, the filaments were in series with a 2500 ohm, 10 watt, resistor as well as a pilot light. In addition to dropping some of the voltage, the pilot light served as a fuse to protect the filaments.

The article’s author was long time Popular Science radio writer Arthur C. Miller.


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Making Your Own Hardware, 1941

1941decpmSeventy five years ago, if you couldn’t find a nut to fit a bolt, you could just make your own! The Radio department of the December 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics showed how to do it, with this self-explanatory drawing.

You would use the nut to serve as the mold, and cast one yourself using solder. A small container such as a bottle cap served as the other half of the mold. Before pouring the molten solder into the mold, you would coat the container and threads with a layer of shellac.

The magazine noted that this was a temporary solution for use when the mechanical load was light. But in many cases, it would provide a suitable piece of hardware without a trip to the store.

Peace Light and NPOTA: Herbert Hoover National Historic Site



I was recently in Iowa to present some Continuing Legal Education programs in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.  Whenever possible, I like to combine trips, and I used this opportunity to take part in two other events.

Cedar Rapids is close to the birthplace of Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa.  It is the location of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, as well as the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.  I’ve been looking forward to putting this National Park Service (NPS) unit on the air during the NPS Centenial year as part of the  ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  During this event,  Amateur Radio operators are 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.  There have been over 900,000 individual two-way contacts made from the parks, and it appears almost certain that this number will top a million before the end of the year.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with over 300 different parks and operated multiple times from parks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

I was especially eager to operate from President Hoover’s birthplace, since he played such an important role in the history of radio.  Indeed, his son was an avid amateur radio operator, and served in the 1960’s as president of the American Radio Relay League, the national organization sponsoring the event.

img_20161201_164804I didn’t have time for a long operation, but I was able to spend about an hour operating from the parking lot of the historic site’s visitor center, as shown in the photo above.  President Hoover’s birthplace home is barely visible in the photo (just to the left of the larger building in front of the car.  Despite the short time available, I managed to make contact with about 30 stations, all CW (Morse Code), ranging from Alaska to Florida.  After operating, at dusk, I paid my respects at the gravesite of President and Mrs. Hoover, shown here.

img_20161203_145243The next day, I used my drive home to the Twin Cities to transport the Peace Light of Bethlehem from Des Moines to the Twin Cities.

For at least the past several hundred years, and possibly more than a thousand, a lamp has continuously burned at the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditionally accepted location of Christ’s birth.  Since 1989, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Austria have annually sent a child to Bethlehem, who lights a lamp from the light and returns it to Austria.  From there, it is passed on around Europe during the Advent season.  Since 2000, the Peace Light has been delivered to North America where volunteers, most of whom are connected with Scouting, deliver it around the country.

This year, there was a gap in the distribution, and it wasn’t making it to the northern tier of states.  I coordinated with members of the Peace Light North America Facebook group, and made arrangements to meet with an Iowa Scouter in the parking lot of a Des Moines coffee shop.  From his kerosene lantern, we lit my lanterns, shown here, and I took the burning lanterns home.

From there, others have come to light their candles and lanterns, and the same ancient flame is burning in lamps in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Another volunteer from North Dakota is on the way here, and within a few days, the Peace Light will be burning in North Dakota, Manitoba, Montana, Washington, and probably other places along the way.

Many are curious as to how the Peace Light crosses the Atlantic.  It is transported by Austrian Airlines in the passenger cabin of an aircraft.  The ailine transports the flame from Israel to Austria, and then to New York and Toronto.  The flame is held within a blastproof miner’s lamp, which allows the open flame to be transported safely by air.  At Kennedy Airport, it’s walked through customs by an airline employee to the airport chapel, where a ceremony is held attended by those who fan out around the country to transport it.  Among those were one or more volunteers who transported it to Chicago.  From there, it went to Davenport, Iowa, where it was picked up by the person who gave it to me.


WWV Moves to Colorado: 1966


Today marks the 50th anniversary of WWV’s move to its current location in Fort Collins, Colorado. At 0000 hours GMT on December 1, 1966 (5:00 Mountain Standard Time on November 30), the station began its transmissions from the new location on the familiar internationally allocated standard carrier frequencies of 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 megacycles.

The move was announced in the November 1966 issue of Electronics Illustrated, which contained the photograph shown above. At the center of the photo is the station’s 10 MHz dipole antenna. The 3-1/8 inch diameter transmission line can be seen snaking off to the right. In the background to the left is the WWVB transmitter building (WWVB and WWVL had previously been located at Ft. Collins). The antennas in the background are, at the left, a backup 88 foot monopole, and at the right, the 400 foot WWVL tower.

To celebrate the move, the station issued a special first-day QSL card for reception reports on the first day. To ensure that SWL’s had really picked up the station, the voice identifcation used a special message on the first day, which had to be copied exactly to receive the special QSL, which is shown here.

According to the accompanying note on the card, WWV had apparently planned to award a photograph of the new station to the first three reception reports. However, it proved impossible to determine which were the first three, and three were selected from the batch. One of those went to long time ARRL staffer Lewis “Mac” McCoy, W1ICP.

The station had previously been located at Greenbelt, Maryland. The move was designed to give better coverage and to move the station closer to the National Bureau of Standards’ frequency standard lab in Boulder, Colorado.


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:

Happy Halloween!


Happy Halloween from!

The illustration above is from a Halloween a century ago, taken from the 1916 book “Handicraft for Handy Girls: Practical Plans for Work and Play.” The book describes how to construct this “Witch’s wigwam,” complete with caldron, harvest moon, and make-believe fire.

Kids a century ago were thoroughly modern, so the make-believe fire is electrical, consisting of an electric light beneath a few sticks, with a piece of red tissue paper covering the lamp. The moonlight effect is created by placing another electric lamp behind the moon. The book suggests that the room can be lighted entirely by the moonlight and firelight thus produced.


No Serviceman Would Sneer at an Extra $5: 1936


The 1936 radio serviceman shown here is netting an extra five dollars is netting an extra five dollars for the service call, simply because he uttered the words, “any other electrical appliances in your home need repairing?”

The accompanying article, in the October 1936 issue of Radio News points out that no serviceman would sneer at an extra $5, but these words often reminded customers of other repair needs that had slipped their mind.

One serviceman noted that during a recent call, he was delivering a midget radio decorated with Mother Goose characters for the customer’s nursery. After installing the set, he replaced a belt on a vacuum cleaner, repaired a few frayed electrical cords and damaged outlets, and replaced an old iron with a new automatic model. “Most people prefer to have radiomen repair their vacuum cleaners and other appliances since dealers too often send out high-pressur salesmen to attempt to sell new apparatus when only the simplest repair is required.”

1936 “Wrist Watch” Radio

1936octoberpsYou can probably barely see it, but this gentleman is listening to an ultra-compact radio, as described 80 years ago in the October 1936 issue of Popular Science.

This “wrist-watch” radio is crammed into a chassis measuring two and a half inches square.  It’s a two-tube circuit, but uses a dual 6A8 tube, with one half serving as regenerative detector and the other half as audio amplifier to drive the headphones.  The set is powered by batteries around the gentleman’s waist.  If you look very carefully at the photo, you might see them.

The set called for a fifteen foot antenna, which he is presumably dragging along.

So even in 1936, if you wanted an ultra-discrete method to listen to the radio, you could put together one of these, and nobody would even notice that you had a radio with you.