Category Archives: World War 2

Homemade Wartime Radio Parts, 1942

1942FebRadioNewsSeventy-five years ago this month, the February 1942 issue of Radio News contained one in a series of articles on the subject of homemade parts for radio construction. While the article appears to have been written before Pearl Harbor, it acknowledged that the present emergency could sharpen its teeth still further, in which case radio men might need to make their own parts. This article focused on variable capacitors, and offered a number of ideas, as well as specific details and even formulas for computing capacity.

The first idea given is shown here, a variable capacitor consisting of two cans. The inner can would be about 1/8 to 1/2 inch smaller than the outer one. A vertical support made of wood would allow the inner can to move up and down, varying the capacitance. Since adjustment was not particularly convenient, this scheme was recommended for things such as neutralization, where the adjustment only needed to be made once.

For tuning, two ideas were offered. The sliding plate condenser shown below allowed tuning by pulling one set of plates in and out.


1942FebRadioNews3The “book” or “barn-door” capacitor is shown at left. It consists of two hinged plates. The article notes that this idea was used commercially until about 1927. In fact, it allowed adjustment with a rotary knob, by using the scheme with a cam shown below. According to the article, this system was used by Crosley in 1926.


In most cases, the insulated portions of these condensers were made of wood, and the author offers pointers on selecting wood. Other insulators are also discussed, for use in capacitors and other applications. Cardboard was offered as a good base for coils, and the article explains how to treat the cardboard with beeswax, parafin, or other substances. For coil bases, the article recommends burnt out tubes, which it notes are discarded by most shops by the bushel.

US Goes on War Time: Feb. 9, 1942

Seventy-five years ago today, February 9, 1942, the United States went on War Time, or year round Daylight Savings Time.  At 2:00 AM that morning, all clocks were to spring forward an hour for the wartime measure, which was intended to conserve electricity.

The measure had been adopted by Congress nationwide, and was to remain in effect until six months after the end of hostilities.

Broadcasters welcomed the change. The January 19 issue of Broadcasting magazine noted that “broadcasting’s semi-yearly headache, partial daylight saving time” would disappear and that the new law “inadvertently fulfills an industry campaign favoring ‘fast’ time on a universal basis, preferably year-round.”

The clock had previously presented headaches to broadcasters, not only due to the twice yearly need to change the clock, but because daylight savings time had not been universally adopted. Some states and communities moved the clock ahead, but others didn’t. For the first time, the entire nation would follow the same scheme.

Groundhog Day 1942: Last Prewar Automobile

1942groundhogSeventy-five years ago today, America celebrated its first Groundhog Day of the war.  But because of wartime censorship, the groundhog’s report was not made public.  Here, the Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1942, announces that the reports will not be available.

During the war, weather reports could have proven useful to the enemy, and were largely prohibited.  Newspapers were allowed to print the Weather Bureau’s official forecast, but no other commentary was allowed.  Certainly, an accurate prediction of whether or not the country would endure another six weeks of winter would not be permitted, as this information would be vitally important to the enemy.

Broadcasters even had to be careful with any mention of the weather.  For example, even sports announcers were supposed to refrain from giving the weather conditions affecting the game.  With enough such reports, an enemy listener would be able to piece together conditions throughout the nation.  The idea was simply to deprive them entirely of that possible source of information.

The requirements for broadcasters were printed in the January 19, 1942, issue of Broadcasting:

Weather reports for use on radio will be authorized by the United States Weather Bureau. This material is permissible. Confirmation should be obtained that the report actually came from the Weather Bureau. Special care should be taken against inadvertent references to weather conditions during sports broadcasts, special events and similar projects.

Information concerning road conditions, where such information is essential to safeguarding human life, may be broadcast when requested by a Federal, State or municipal source.

Groundhog Day 1942 also saw the end of prewar auto production, as the U.S. auto industry geared up for war.  The photo at the top of the page is the last automobile to be produced until the war ended.  This gray Buick rolled off the assembly line at 1:31 PM, February 2, 1942, as shown in the February 16, 1942 issue of Life magazine.

The groundhog at work during peacetime.

The groundhog at work during peacetime.

1942 Farm Sets for Emergency Use


A month after Pearl Harbor, civilian radios were still being produced. The War Production Board was created on January 16, 1942, and issued its order  on March 7, for consumer radio production to cease on April 22.  During those intervening months, there was uncertainty as to the availability of both radios and parts, but both production and advertising continued, but with the War clearly in mind.

Later in the War, the availability of B batteries became an issue. In fact, numerous construction articles, such as this one from 1943, focused on how to make a battery set work on household current. But in the early days of the war, there was a demand for battery operated sets, since it was believed that there might be blackouts and the AC power wouldn’t be available.

This is apparent from the Radiola ad shown above from the January 1942 issue of Service magazine.  Directed at dealers, the ad shows two “farm set” models, suitable for use with batteries on farms that had not been electrified. This ad suggested a new market for such sets, as an emergency set “that stays on when the power goes off.” It also suggested that electrification might be delayed in some areas due to the war.

The ad noted that one of these sets could be the best of both worlds. An optional accessory was the RCA model CV-42 “Electrofier” which would allow either of these sets to operate on household current. So there was a market for these sets even in town: The owner could run it off household current, but quickly switch over to batteries during a blackout.


NM Public Health Nurse’s Radio, 1943

Taken in January 1943, this photograph shows a Peñasco, New Mexico NMclinic2public health nurse relaxing with the radio in her quarters after dinner.  According to the photo’s caption,  “the radio is the only contact with the outside world. Papers come rarely to the town, and the nurse (identified in other photos as Marjorie Muller) at the clinic operated by the Taos County cooperative health association must depend on the news broadcasts to follow daily events.”  She served at the clinic shown at right.

The radio is Zenith model 6G-601-M, as revealed by the distinctive sailboat design on the speaker grill. You can see a well preserved example at this link.  The set was similar in circuitry and styling to the Transoceanic, but covered the broadcast band only.  You can see and hear a nicely preserved specimen of the radio at this video:

The six tube portable (3Q5GT, 117ZG, 1LH4, 1LF, 1LN5, 1LA6) could run off 110 volt household current or batteries. It’s almost certain that the set was being run off batteries, since it seems very unlikely that the clinic had electric power. This and other photos show a kerosene lamp, and there’s no evidence of electric wires in any of the photos. The clinic did have a telephone, as shown in another photo in the collection.

NMclinic3The radio’s dial is tuned to just below 900 kHz. An antenna is visible coming out the window in the picture here of Nurse Muller outside her residence. According to the 1943 White’s Radio Log, there don’t appear to be any powerful West Coast stations near that frequency. But it was night, she had a powerful receiver and an outdoor antenna, and it’s likely that she was listening to WLS in Chicago on 890 kHz. If that’s the case, it’s possible she was listening to NBC Blue Network news with Earl Goodwin at  7:00 Central War Time, which would be 6:00 P.M. in New Mexico.

The photographer for all of the photos shown here was Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photographer John Collier, Jr.  More of his photos of the clinic are available at the Library of Congress website.


High School Victory Corps: 1942


According to the caption of this 1942 Office of War Information photo, this Los Angeles high school student took her radio and code instruction seriously. She was a member of the high school Victory Corps of Polytechnic High School.

Elsewhere in the city, the student shown below was similarly taking her defense training seriously as part of the Victory Corps. She was the sharpshooter of the girls’ rifle team at Roosevelt High School. The caption of this photo notes that rifle practice was one of the phases of the Corps’ activities.


Pres. Trump’s Mad Scientist Uncle


Prof. John G. Trump. Wikiepdia photo.

One of our loyal readers posted a link to a conspiracy buff website pointing out a connection between President Donald Trump and, of all people, Nikola Tesla.  Since most internet mentions of Nikola Tesla turn out to be unfounded (or at least unprovable) conspiracy theories, I approached with a bit of skepticism.

I express no opinion as to the conspiracy in question (that the Trump family is involved in a long standing conspiracy to suppress certain Tesla inventions).  But I was shocked to learn that there was indeed a connection!  President Trump’s uncle, John G. Trump, was a noted professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, and appears to have spent his career working on the same kinds of high-voltage mad scientist devices that Tesla was famous for.  At the time of Tesla’s death in 1943, the U.S. Government had to go through all of Tesla’s possessions and papers, in order to see whether there was anything worthwhile to the war effort.  Among those they called in to sift through them was none other than Professor Trump.

After his father’s death, John Trump initially went into the real estate business with his brother, Fred Trump, the father of the future president.  Fixing up old houses wasn’t to his liking, so he instead pursued a degree in electrical engineering. He he received his bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1929. He followed up with a master’s degree in Physics from Columbia, and in 1933 he received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). He was on the MIT faculty from 1936 until his retirement in 1973.

Before the war, much of Prof. Trump’s work focused on hospital X-ray machines. Together with Robert J. Van de Graaff (of Van de Graaff generator fame), he developed one of the first million-volt X-ray generators.

As might be expected of the kind of scientist who played around with a million volts, Professor Trump made the pages of Popular Science on three occasions.

1937AprPSFor example, the April 1937 issue discusses the X-ray machine shown here.  It was designed by Prof. Trump along with Dr. Richard Dresser.  It employs a Van de Graaff generator to produce the required million volts.

And in keeping with his apparent status as a mad scientist, Prof. Trump needed a subject on which he could perform his experiments.  The lucky subject is described in the magazine’s July 1949 issue.  In the photo below, Professor Trump (left, operating the controls) is shown conducting experiments on “Mr. Cruikshank” (shown resting comfortably on the machine), a carefully constructed mannequin.


Professor Trump preparing to send three million volts through Mr. Cruikshank.

Unlike human subjects, Mr. Cruikshank could have film inserted directly in his body to examine the effects of powerful X-rays. Prof. Trump had tested him with three million volts, and he was on the way to Massachussets General Hospital for comparison with the effects of a more modest 250,000 volt machine.

Finally, the magazine’s May 1947 issue mentions Prof. Trump’s work with the Van de Graaff generator as a possible method to directly and conveniently harvest nuclear energy.







ND Bond Drive, 1942

For many Americans on the home front, a major contribution to the war effort was participation in bond drives.  North Dakota was a long way from Pearl Harbor, but in 1942, these students in Epping, ND, were doing their part by performing “Remember Pearl Harbor” at a meeting of the town’s women to promote bond sales.

The song was likely the same one performed by Sammy Kaye, which was recorded just 10 days after the attack and rose to number 3 on the charts:

Boy Scouts Distribute Air Raid Posters: 1942

In hindsight, the likelihood of air raids against Chicago during the Second World War seems small. But the Windy City, as well as the entire region, was a bit safer thanks to the efforts of the Boy Scouts, as reported by the Chicago Tribune75 years ago today, January 12, 1942. According to this article, the 110,000 Boy Scouts in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were making plans to distribute air raid instruction posters throughout the region.

According to the article, Chief Scout Executive James E. West had wired civil defense officials that the Scouts “would keep on the job until the nation is blanketed with air raid posters and all communities can join the Boy Scouts in being prepared for the emergencies that war may bring us.”

For more information about Boy Scouts during World War II, see my earlier post.