A hundred years ago, wartime conditions in England were such that there weren’t sufficient liquid fuels (gasoline or methyl alcohol) to run the buses. Undaunted, they switched to the same gas that was used to run the streetlights, conveniently stored in rooftop bags, as shown on the cover of the October 1917 issue of Popular Mechanics.
Complete information was apparently not available to the editors of the American magazine, since they noted that “the amount of power obtained from the lighting gas depends upon a number of things, and a reliable estimate could not be made without more detailed information thanis at hand. It is also not altogether clear why unwieldly bags are being used instead of compact steel cylinders which could carry gas under high pressure.”
But since the streets were already wired for gas, adding filling stations along the route was a minor matter. Indeed, some of the filling stations consisted merely of existing lamp posts situated near the curb.
A hundred years ago today, the October 16, 1917, edition of the Chicago Tribune carried the story of Walter Smith of Norway, Connecticut. Earlier in the year, Smith, who had worked as a brakeman on the New Haven railroad, signed on as a muleteer on the British Cargo steamer Esmeraldas, which was sailing from Newport News to Liverpool with a cargo of 950 horses. At about 2:00 AM on March 10, the twelfth day of the voyage, the ship was overtaken by the German commerce raider SMS Möwe, shown above.
Smith was awakened by another crew member who announced, “they’ve got us,” to see the Möwe lying astern. Smith reported that the Möwe “looked like a tramp steamer, but it could travel, believe me. It had eight guns forward under a folding deck, and when it fought they raised the ship sides. They lowered them after battle and then it looked harmless.”
Soon, the ship was swarming with Germans, three of whom carried bombs. They took the 350 crew and passengers off and proceeded to blow up the Esmeraldas.
Smith reported that the prisoners were treated well aboard the Möwe, but also served as unwitting participants in five more battles as the Möwe continued her raids. On March 21, the ship reached harbor at Kiel, which was “full of warcraft, battleships, and hydroplanes, and it was a pretty sight to watch the hydroplanes darting down to the water like gulls.” The prisoners remained in Kiel for four days, and then another two weeks in Durmen. From there, they were taken to a prison camp near Brandenburg on April 4, and “we were in that dump until early in May. They pushed us and shoved us a good deal and called us swine and some other things.” Food consisted of “one chunk of bread daily and turnip soup. That turnip soup was good water spoiled.”
At some point in May, Smith and several hundred other prisoners were transferred to Lubeck, where they were put to work on the docks loading ships bound for Sweden. When the German freighter Undine was being loaded, Smith came up with his escape plan.
Prisoners were marched to the deck in groups of twelve at 6:00 AM, but Smith noted that men who had reported sick were not seen until later in the morning. So Smith reported himself sick. When the men were marched to the dock the next morning, he waited until a group had been counted, and then slipped in. The guards didn’t bother counting during the march, and they didn’t expect an extra man. At the dock, he joined in the loading. As soon as he was aboard, he hid himself in the hold along with the load of fertilizer. He remained there from Saturday morning to Friday morning of the next week. “It was dark, but I had a pocket lamp that lasted quite a while.”
Smith had brought some food, some crackers, but didn’t bring any water. Therefore, he was unable to eat “because my mouth and throat got so dry I would not swallow them. I tried to eat them, but they were like sand in my mouth and would not go down. All the time I was afraid and my tongue was getting bigger and bigger. It felt a foot thick.”
A few times, Smith considered going up and turning himself in, but after remembering the conditions at Brandenburg, he decided to wait.
On Thursday night, the ship docked at Norrköping, Sweden. In the morning, “looking like a wildman, a week’s growth of beard on his face, his tongue swolen from six days’ raging thirst, eyes blazing with fever, body shaking with nervous chills, but still full of fight,” Smith made a leap from the deck of the ship into the arms of a Swedish dock policeman. The Swedish stevedores, realizing the situation and manifestly sympathetic, shouted to the policeman to hustle Smith away from the ship.
After Smith’s imploring gestures, he was ushered to a hydrant “where he thinks he must have drunk a gallon of water without stopping, the policeman patting him on the shoulders the while.” He was taken to the police station and a telegram was sent to the U.S. Consulate in Stockholm.
The Chicago Tribune correspondent and a few others chipped in to buy Smith a suit of clothes, after which “Smith began to look really respectable.” The American Vice Consul went to the station to get Smith, saying that “I thought he’d proved himself a good American and deserved welcome,” and the consulate was making arrangements to send him home.
The following German propaganda film shows a number of the exploits of the Möwe, which was the most successful German raider of both wars.
One hundred years ago today, the September 25, 1917, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this headline of a German air raid earlier that day (3:00 AM London time) on London.
The newspaper reported that the first raid was made by airplanes and resulted in six deaths and about twenty injuries. This was followed by a Zeppelin attack which first appeared off the coast of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
The British government had set up a rudimentary civil defense organization in the summer of 1917, with about 200 observation posts set up. They reported by telephone to military headquarters, and fighter squadrons and spotlights were called into action to shoot down the invading craft. Street lights in central London were turned off at night, and a lake was drained to prevent its distinctive shape from serving as a landmark.
There was, however, no method in place to warn civilians. However, civilians knew that the Germans needed moonlight and good weather. Therefore, many Londoners took shelter in underground stations on nights when bombing seemed likely. It was estimated that some 300,000 Londoners took refuge in these stations, with another half million in their cellars.
A hundred years ago this month, there might not have been a spy behind every tree. But there very well could have been German spies using those trees to conceal secret antennas, and the editors of Electrical Experimenter, in the September 1917 issue, were doing their public duty to warn Americans of the potential threat. Some possible secret spy antennas are shown here, along with the warning:
In preparing this article we have endeavored to show the unsuspecting
public how an enemy agent may either send or receive radio messages
by means of the most innocent appearing objects.
The Editors thought it best to give the article wide publicity, in order
that patriotic citizens may the better apprehend possible spies, who might be using secret aerials of the types illustrated.
The article is intended for public enlightenment, as well as for the
According to the article, there could be a spy cleverly using your shade tree as an antenna, and it was a good idea to go out and check: “Have you examined your shade trees closely this summer? Don’t be surprised if you find a wire cleverly painted to match the bark on the tree and leading up to the various branches. It is readily possible for a persistent member of the enemy espionage squad to thus rig up a tree areial, and it is not necessary to travel very far to find a sufficiently large tree, which would serve as a framework for several hundred feet of insulated wire.”
A similar warning was warranted for those hanging their laundry out to dry: “If you live in the city (or even in the country) and have occasion to use a metal clothes-line of any appreciable size, it might pay you to closely scrutinize the supporting framework to see whether or not some alien enemy has been at work in an effort to use it for wireless communication purposes.”
These spy antennas could be anywhere, as shown in the illustration above.
Elsewhere in the same issue is the report of the U.S. Government blowing up the wireless tower at Shoreham, Long Island, erected at the cost of $200,000 by Nikola Tesla some twenty years earlier. The structure was no longer in use, but “during the past month several strangers had been seen lurking about the place.” Those lurking strangers could very well have been German spies, hanging around the 185 foot tower to use it as an antenna to contact Germany. Therefore, the Government blew it up.
A hundred years ago, Uncle Sam was looking for amateur wireless operators, and the ARRL was doing everything within its power to make sure the need was met. The July 1917 issue of QST came complete with the application blank necessary for young hams to sign up:
It was explained that applicants were to take the filled in enrollment form to their nearest Navy Recruiting Office. (If they didn’t know where it was, ARRL HQ could provide the address.) At the recruiting station, the officer there was to certify the applicant’s physical condition. Then, the applicant would return the form to ARRL HQ, which would send it to the proper headquarters. “They will notify you when and where to report.”
The accompanying article explained that 2000 wireless operators were needed by the Naval Reserve. “At the outset all will probably agree that this is a call of humanity and before it is over every one of us will have to play his part. To play your part and do your bit,–does not mean you must shoulder a gun. Your part if you are a radio operator is to serve in that capacity. Your duty is to enroll today. Uncle Sam must have wireless operators. You must not fail him in this hour of need.”
The article explained that enlistment was for the duration of the war, and that reservists would be able to ask for discharge during times of peace. It stressed that enlistment would give one of the finest educational courses in the country, comparable to a college education.
Two schools were in operation by the Navy. Harvard University had turned over to the Navy Pierce Hall, in which at present 150 radio electricians were being trained. A smaller school was in operation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And as enlisted man, the recruit would have the opportunity to enter the Naval Academy by examination. Pay ranged between $32.60 and $72.00 per month, plus uniform and subsistence.
An accompanying editorial, probably written by Hiram Percy Maxim, admonished “hurry up and enroll.” The Old Man notes that the “engineering course given is unquestionably one of the finest things offered in this country in the way of a practical training in electrical engineering.”
After mentioning the pay, the Old Man opines that “any amateur radio operator who does not take advantage of it ought to have his head examined.”
The editorial concludes by admonishing young men to think it over, “and make Mother and Father read this editorial.”
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.”
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.
According 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.
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.
Interestingly, 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.
America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.
General John Pershing was present, and the quote is often mis-attributed to him. But it was Stanton who spoke these words.
On this day 100 years ago, the first American troops of World War I set foot in France. The landing location had been kept secret, but on that date, 14,000 American inantry troops landed at the Port of Saint Nazaire. Despite the secrecy, an enthusiastic crowd was gathered at the port to greet them. General Pershing quickly set up training camps in France to prepare the new recruits for war, and it would be four more months before they would enter combat.
A hundred years ago this month, both the front and back cover of the June 1917 issue of Boys’ Life magazine featured signaling methods. In the cover art shown above (with no attribution to the artist that I could find), a Scout is shown relaying a semaphore message to a distant point.
Not to be outdone, the back cover, an ad for Colgate toothpaste, used International Morse Code to proclaim the messsage, “I BRING GOOD TEETH GOOD HEALTH.” Since the nation was at war, the ad also reminded Scouts “how soldiers and sailors benefit from good teeth, and that they must have them to pass the physical examination.”
But the wartime service promoted by most of the magazine was the Scout’s duty to feed the nation and the troops.
It proclaimed that “no organization in the United States acted more promptly than the Boy Scouts of America when Congress declared, on April 5th, that a state of war existed between our country and Germany. ‘Be Prepared’ is the Boy Scout motto, and more than a quarter of a million Scouts proved they WERE prepared.” One of the first actions suggested was that in every large city, the Scouts should mobilize, march to the City Hall, and offer their services to the Mayor. According to the magazine, many Scouts immediately did exactly that.
Mobilized Scouts offering their services at an unnamed city hall.
But the biggest task undertaken by Scouts was to help win the war through the gardening movement. As soon as the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that every citizen was needed to increase the food supply, the National Headquarters of the BSA issued an emergency circular urging every scout to start a garden and persuade nine other people to do the same.
The slogan adopted was, “every scout to feed a soldier.” It meant that every Scout was expected to raise enough food to feed himself, thus freeing up enough food to feed the soldier.
Almost immediately, National Headquarters fired off a telegram to London, to none other than Herbert Clark Hoover, who was already “famous for his great efficiency in managing the enormous relief work among stricken peoples of Europe.” The cable read:
Two hundred fifty thousand Boy Scouts of America tender services as your aides as producers and conservers of food as service to our country.
Mr. Hoover immediately cabled back his response, and his response was that Scouts should raise beans:
The prime service of our Country in this War is ships and food, and we can here display the true American ability at great efforts.
In order to provide the food necessary we must from this moment eliminate all waste and stimulate food production at every point. We must send to our Allies more wheat, corn, beans, meat, bacon and lard than we have ever sent before if their men are to fight and their women and children to live; and our people must economize and eat other things.
Among these foodstuffs couldn’t the Scouts take as their own province the stimulation of bean production, for there is not only a great shortage at Europe and at home, but they are the best of foods. Let them help make America able to export ten times as many beans as she ever exported before. To do this, let the Boy Scouts see to it that they are planted everywhere, so that the biggest bean crop ever known shall be the war contribution of the Boy Scouts to America and her Allies.
(Signed) Herbert C. Hoover.
Theodore Roosevelt, upon receiving a copy of Hoover’s telegram, signaled his assent: “I think Mr. Hoover’s suggestion that the Scouts take as their own province the stimulation of bean production is particularly good. Let each Scout start a garden and thereby help feed the soldiers.”
Scouts clearing idle land in preparation for a crop. The caption notes that fire is a useful ally, but the Scouts watch it closely. In a month, this field was to be covered with navy beans.
The magazine noted that navy or field beans were an easy crop to grow. They would show good yields even on poor soil or thin soils. They could be planted late, after the rush of other planting had subsided, and required only a third of the cultivation required of corn. With a good season and average care, a yield of 10 to 25 bushels per acre was to be expected. Their high food value and ease of storage made them an excellent war crop.
The magazine also noted that many Scout camps would turn into farms. Since there was a scarcity of farm help, the Scouts would help to fill the gap. Even though they would learn to plant and pick, there would still be plenty of fun after the day’s work was over.
Finally, the magazine announced that the BSA would be offering a War Service Emblem for Scouts who were responsible for starting ten gardens or inducing ten people to increase their garden acreage.
A hundred years ago today, the banner headline of the Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1917, reported that 308,809 Chicago men had registered for the draft. It predicted that the total for the country could pass ten million, with 640,000 of those in the State of Illinois alone.
Whatever the exact numbers, it was clear that many American men would soon be under arms, and that labor shortages would probably result. It wasn’t surprising then that one company made the best of the situation by promoting in the same paper its labor-saving device: The Dictaphone.
The ad (which was itself dictated into a Dictaphone, it was claimed at the bottom) proclaimed that “the man-power of the country is enrolling in defense of the flag–but business must go on.”
The ad reminded the businessman that “you have always needed The Dictaphone,” but these times of stress and pressure made the need even more acute.
The businessman who had already adopted The Dictaphone “knows where he stands. He has a flexible, efficient, provably better way to handle his correspondence.”
The ad promised that “The Dictaphone will more than make good your loss of experienced, able office personnel who may be called to the colors.”