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A History of Wireless Telegraphy (2nd edition, revised), J. J. Fahie, 1901, pages 68-73:


      In 1872 Mr Mahlon Loomis, an American dentist, proposed to utilise the electricity of the higher atmosphere for telegraphic purposes in a way which caused some excitement in America at the time.
    It had long been known that the atmosphere is always charged with electricity, and that this charge increases with the ascent thus, if at the surface of the earth we represent the electrical state or charge as 1, at an elevation of 100 feet it may be represented as 2; at 200 feet as 3; and so on in an ascending series of imaginary strata. Hitherto this had been considered as a rough-and-ready way of stating an electrical fact, just as we say that the atmosphere itself may, for the sake of illustration, be divided into strata of 100 or any agreed number of feet, and that its density decreases pro rata as we ascend through each stratum. But Mr Loomis appears to have made the further discovery that these electrical charges are in some way independent of each other, and that the electricity of any one stratum can be drawn off without the balance being immediately restored by a general redistribution of electricity from the adjacent strata. On this assumption, which is a very large one, he thought it would be easy to tap the electricity at any one point of a stratum, preferably an elevated one where the atmosphere is comparatively undisturbed, which tapping would be made manifest at any distant point of the same stratum by a corresponding fall or disturbance there of the electrical density; and thus, he argued, an aerial telegraph could be constructed.
    The following is an extract from his (American) patent, dated July 30, 1872:--
    "The nature of my discovery consists in utilising natural electricity, and establishing an electrical current or circuit for telegraphic and other purposes without the aid of wires, artificial batteries, or cables, and yet capable of communicating from one continent of the globe to another.
    "As it was found possible to dispense with the double wire (which was first used in telegraphing), making use of but one, and substituting the earth instead of a wire to form the return half of the circuit; so I now dispense with both wires, using the earth as one-half the circuit and the continuous electrical element far above the earth's surface for the other half. I also dispense with all artificial batteries, but use the free electricity of the atmosphere, co-operating with that of the earth, to supply the current for telegraphing and for other useful purposes, such as light, heat, and motive power.
    "As atmospheric electricity is found more and more abundant when moisture, clouds, heated currents of air, and other dissipating influences are left below and a greater altitude attained, my plan is to seek as high an elevation as practicable on the tops of high mountains, and thus establish electrical connection with the atmospheric stratum or ocean overlying local disturbances. Upon these mountain-tops I erect suitable towers and apparatus to attract the electricity, or, in other words, to disturb the electrical equilibrium, and thus obtain a current of electricity, or shocks or pulsations, which traverse or disturb the positive electrical body of the atmosphere between two given points by connecting it to the negative electrical body of the earth below."
    To test this idea, he selected two lofty peaks on the mountains of West Virginia, of the same altitude, and about ten miles apart. From these he sent up two kites, held by strings in which fine copper wires were enclosed. To the ground end of the wire on one peak he connected an electrical detector--presumably of the electrometer kind--and on the other peak a key for connecting the kite wire to earth when required. With this arrangement we are told that messages were sent and received by making and breaking the earth connection, "the only electro-motor being the atmospheric current between the kites, and which was always available except when the weather was violently broken."
    So well did this idea "take on" in the States that we learn from the New York 'Journal of Commerce' (February 5, 1873) that a bill had passed Congress incorporating a company to carry it out. The article then goes on to say:--
    "We will not record ourselves as disbelievers in the Aerial Telegraph, but wait meekly and see what the Doctor will do with his brilliant idea now that both Houses of Congress have passed a bill incorporating a company for him. Congressmen, at least, do not think him wholly visionary; and it is said that the President will sign the bill; all of which is some evidence that air telegraphy has another side than the ridiculous one. The company receive no money from the Government, and ask none. As we understand the Loomis plan, it is something to this effect--and readers are cautioned not to laugh too boisterously at it, as also not to believe in it till demonstrated. The inventor proposes to build a very tall tower on the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains. A mast, also very tall, will stand on this tower, and an apparatus for 'collecting electricity' will top the whole. From the loftiest peak of the Alps will rise another very tall tower and ditto mast, with its coronal electrical affair. At these sky-piercing heights Dr Loomis contends that he will reach a stratum of air loaded with electricity; and we cannot say that he will not. Then, establishing his ground-wire connections the same as in ordinary telegraphs, he feels confident that he can send messages between the mast-tops, the electrified stratum of air making the circuit complete. The inventor claims to have proved the feasibility of this grand scheme on a small scale. We are told that, from two of the spurs of the Blue Ridge Mountains, twenty miles apart, he sent up kites, using small copper wire instead of pack-thread, and telegraphed from one point to the other."
    At intervals in the next few years brief notices of the Loomis method appeared in the American journals, some of which were copied into English papers. The last that I have seen is contained in the 'Electrical Review' of March 1, 1879, where it is stated that "with telephones in this aerial circuit he [Loomis] can converse a distance of twenty miles," to which the editor significantly adds a note of interrogation.
    The fact is, however much Mr Loomis and his Wall Street friends believed that dollars were in the idea, the technical press never took it very seriously. This is shown by the following cutting, which we take from the New York 'Journal of the Telegraph,' March 15, 1877: "The never-ending procession of would-be inventors who from day to day haunt the corridors and offices of the Electrician's department at 195 Broadway, bringing with them mysterious packages tied up in newspapers, was varied the other day by the appearance of a veritable lunatic. He announced that that much-talked-of great discovery of a few years ago, aerial telegraphy, was in actual operation right here in New York. A. M. Palmer, of the Union Square Theatre, together with one of his confederates, alone possessed the secret! They had unfortunately chosen to use it for illegitimate purposes, and our visitor, therefore, felt it to be his solemn duty to expose them. By means of a $60,000 battery, he said, they transmitted the subtle fluid through the aerial spaces, read people's secret thoughts, knocked them senseless in the street; ay, they could even burn a man to a crisp, miles and miles away, and he no more know what had hurt him than if he had been struck by a flash of lightning, as indeed he had! 41 The object of our mad friend in dropping in was merely to ascertain how he could protect himself from Palmer's illegitimate thunderbolts. Here the legal gentleman, lifting his eyes from 'Curtis on Patents,' remarked: 'Now, I'll tell you what you do. Bring a suit against Palmer for infringement of Mahlon Loomis's patent. Here it is' (taking down a bound volume of the 'Official Gazette'), 'No. 129,971. That'll fix Palmer.'"

    In conclusion of this period of our history, it will suffice to say that between 1858 and 1874 many patents were taken out in England for electric signalling on the bare wire system of Highton and Dering, with or without the use of the so-called "earth battery." As they are all very much alike, and all unsupported, so far as I have seen, by any experimental proofs, it would be a tiresome reiteration to describe them, even in the briefest way. I therefore content myself with giving the following list, which will be useful to those of my readers who desire to consult them.
Name of patentee.No. and date of patent.
B. Nickels
A. V. Newton
A. Barclay.
J. Molesworth.
H. S. Rosser.
W. E. Newton.
H. Wilde.
Lord A. S. Churchill. 
H. Wilde.
T. Walker.
    October 16, 1858.
November 9, 1858.
January 7, 1859.
January 28, 1859.
March 18, 1859.
October 25, 1859.
May 11, 1860.
November 28, 1861.
February 20, 1862.
December 1, 1863.
October 26, 1865.
November 6, 1866.
January 23, 1874.

      41 This lunatic must be still abroad, for we occasionally hear much the same thing of the diabolic practices of Tesla and Marconi.
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