Although experimenter Nathan Stubblefield worked in the "wireless" communication field, it appears that he employed short range conduction and induction, and not electromagnetic radio signals. In spite of the report in this article that there were plans to use Stubblefield's invention in coastal South Carolina, it never actually went into commercial service.
This webpage was produced from a scanned copy of Our Wonderful Progress located at books.google.com.
Our Wonderful Progress, Trumbull White (editor), 1902, pages 297-302:
TELEPHONING WITHOUT WIRES
We have had the telephone for more than a quarter of a century in practical working use, and have begun to think of it no longer as extraordinary. In truth, however, the advances and improvements in the ordinary telephone since the first successful experiments were made, mark almost as great progress as did the original invention itself. Of very recent success are the experiments of Marconi with wireless telegraphy, an astounding and important advance over the ordinary system of telegraphy through wires. Now comes the announcement that an American inventor, unheralded and modest, has carried out successful experiments in telephoning and is able to transmit. speech for great distances without wires.
The inventor is Nathan Stubblefield. The first public test of telephoning without wires was made at the Kentucky village where the inventor lived, on the first day of January, 1902, only a few weeks after Marconi's success in signaling across the Atlantic by telegraph without wires.
The next demonstration was made ten days later for a newspaper correspondent from St. Louis and the account of it was published in detail in that city. The investigator wrote as follows in regard to what he learned:
"Mr. Stubblefield has worked for ten years to discover an apparatus by which he could overcome the use of wires in telephoning, during which time he has become a technical electrician of high order. He has kept in touch with all the leading electricians, and is familiar with every important discovery in the field of electricity. Naturally he has been a close observer of the work of Marconi.
"The transmitting apparatus is concealed in a box. Two wires of the thickness of a lead pencil coil from its corners and disappear through the walls of the room, and enter the ground outside. On top of the box is an ordinary telephone transmitter and a telephone switch. This is the machine through which the voice of the sender is passed into the ground, to be transmitted by the earth's electrical waves to the ear of the person who has an instrument capable of receiving and reproducing it.
"We went into the cornfield back of the house. After walking five hundred yards we came to the experimental station the inventor has used for several months. It is a dry goods box fastened to the top of a stump. A roof to shed the rain has been placed on top of it; one side is hinged for a door, and the wires connected with the ground on both sides run into it and are attached to a pair of telephone receivers. The box was built as a shelter from the weather, and as a protection to the receivers. I took a seat in the box and Mr. Stubblefield shouted a 'hello' to the house. This was a signal to his son to begin sending messages. I placed the receiver to my ears and listened. Presently there came with extraordinary distinctness several spasmodic buzzings and then a voice which said: 'Hello, can you hear me? Now I will count ten. One--two--three--four--five--six--seven--eight--nine--ten. Did you hear that? Now I will whisper.'
"I heard as clearly as if the speaker were only across a 12-foot room the ten numerals whispered. 'Now I will whistle,' said the voice. For a minute or more the tuneless whistle of a boy was conveyed to the listener's ears. 'I am going to play the mouth organ now,' said the voice. Immediately came the strains of a harmonica played without melody, but the notes were clear and unmistakable. 'I will now repeat the program,' said the voice, and it did.
"An examination of the station showed that the wires leading from the receivers terminated in steel rods, each of which was tapped with a hollow nickel-plated ball of iron, below which was an inverted metal cup. The wire enters the ball at the top and is attached to the rod. The rod is thrust into the ground two-thirds of its length. Another test was made after the rods had been drawn from the ground and thrust into it again at a spot chosen haphazard by the correspondent. Again the 'hello' signal was made by Stubblefield, and after a few minutes wait came, the mysterious 'Hello! Can you hear me?' and a repetition of the program of counted numerals, whispers, whistling and harmonica playing.
" 'Now,' said Mr. Stubblefield, who carried under his arm duplicates of the ball-tipped steel-rods. 'I wish you would lead the way. Go where you will, sink the rods into the ground and listen for a telephone message.'
"Away we went, down a wagon track, through the wide cornfield. A gate was opened into a lane between the hedge that bordered the field and a dense oak woods. We pursued the lane for about 500 yards and struck into the woods. I led the way. Into the heart of the woods we walked for nearly a mile. In a ravine I stopped. 'How far are we from the house now?' I asked. 'About a mile,' Stubblefield answered. 'Place the rods where you will and listen for a telephone message.'
"I took the four rods from Stubblefield. Each pair of rods was joined by an ordinary insulated wire about 30 feet long, in the center of which was a small round telephone receiver. Two of the rods were sunk in the ground, about half their length, the wires between them hanging loosely, and with plenty of play. I placed a receiver at each ear and waited. In a few moments came the signal and the voice of Stubblefield's son. The voice was quite as clear and distinct as it was 500 yards from the transmitting station. The rods were moved here and there, but always the message came."
Nathan Stubblefield comes from a family distinguished in his locality. His father was a lawyer, much respected in that part of Kentucky. His brothers are merchants and leaders in the community. But Nathan Stubblefield is another type. He cares only for his home, his family, and electricity. He educates his children in person, and after seeing that his family is well provided for, spends the remainder of his substance in electrical experiments.
His son, Bernard B. Stubblefield, 14 years of age, has been for four years his father's sole assistant. He is a remarkable boy. His father has been his only educator, and the lad is now an expert electrician and reads abstruse works on electricity and technical electrical journals with the same zest that other boys read stories of travel and adventures. His father says of the boy that he would be able to carry out and finish this system of wireless telephony should the father die, so closely has he been allied with every step in its discovery and development.
"I have been working for this, ten or twelve years," he said. "Long before I heard of Marconi's efforts, or the efforts of others, to solve the problem of transmission of messages through space without wires, I began to think about it and work for it. This solution is not the result of an inspiration or the work of a minute. It is the climax of the labor of years. Of course I worked along the lines all the others are working. The earth, the air, the water, all the universe, as we know it, is permeated with the remarkable fluid which we call electricity, the most wonderful of God's gifts to the world, and capable of the most inestimable benefits when it is mastered by man. For years I have been trying to make the bare earth do the work of the wires. I know now that I have conquered it. The electrical fluid that permeates the earth carries the human voice, transmitted to it by any apparatus, with much more clarity and lucidity than it does over wires. I have solved the problem of telephoning without wires through the earth, as Signor Marconi has of sending signals through space. But I can also telephone without wires through space as well as through the earth, because my medium is everywhere.
"As to the practicability of my invention, all that I claim for it now is that it is capable of sending simultaneous messages from a central distributing station over a very wide territory. For instance, any one having a receiving instrument, which would consist merely of a telephone receiver and a few feet of wire, and a signaling gong, could, upon being signaled by a transmitting station in Washington, or nearer, if advisable, be informed of weather news. Eventually it will be used for the general transmission of news of every description. I have as yet devised no method whereby it can be used with privacy. Wherever there is a receiving station the signal and message may be heard simultaneously. Eventually I, or some one, will discover a method of tuning the transmitting and receiving instruments so that each will answer only to its mate.
"I claim for my apparatus that it will work as well through air and water as it does through the earth. That it will convey messages between the land and sea, for instance, from lighthouses to ships, from vessels in any part of the ocean to vessels or their owners on land, if each carry my transmitters and receivers; it can be used on moving trains so that they may be spoken between stations and thus prevent accidents. There is no conceivable position or station in which they may not be used. The all-enveloping electricity, the medium of carriage, insures that. The curvature of the earth means nothing to me--it will not deter messages sent by my apparatus. I have shown what my machine will do through the earth by grounding the wires. I will say that it is not absolutely necessary to ground the wires. I can send messages with one wire in the ground, the other in the air, or with no wires at all. In fact, my first and crude experiments were made without ground wires. I have sent messages by means of a cumbersome and incomplete machine through a brick wall and several other walls of lath and plaster without wires of any description. The present method of .grounding wires merely insures greater power in transmission. Several years ago I invented an earth cell which derived enough electrical energy from the surrounding source to run a small motor continuously for two months and six days without being touched. There was enough energy in the motor to run a clock and other small pieces of machinery or ring a large gong. This earth cell can be greatly magnified. Its discovery was the beginning of my experiments with wireless telephony The earth cell was merely buried in the ground and connected by wires with the motor. The earth's electrical currents supplied it with power. The expense of my wireless telephony apparatus will not be great--not greater than that used for ordinary telephoning, minus the present enormous cost of wiring."
In May Mr. Stubblefield went to Washington and conducted a public test in the presence of a number of scientists and capitalists from New York and Chicago. These tests were made on board a steamer on the Potomac River and on land nearby. During the land tests, complete sentences, figures and music were heard at a distance of several hundred yards, and conversation was as distinct as by the ordinary wire telephone. Persons each carrying a receiver and transmitter with two steel rods, walking about at some distance from the stationary station, were enabled to instantly open communication by thrusting the rods into the ground at any point. An even more remarkable test resulted in the maintenance of communication between a station on the shore and a steamer anchored several hundred feet from the shore. Communication between the steamer and the shore was opened by dropping the wires from the apparatus on board the vessel into water at the stern of the boat.
An interesting article by Professor A. Frederick Collins, the well-known electrical scientist in the "Electrical World and Engineer," relates his observation of the demonstrations of wireless telephony and gives his opinion as to the practical value of the invention. He says in part:
"There are many instances where an ordinary telephone cannot be employed. As an illustration let me cite a few cases: Two families lived only 1,500 feet apart, and where telephones costing $25 per pair would have answered the purpose, but owing to a railroad operating the adjoining properties, permission could not be obtained to stretch the wires; as an experiment the wireless telephone was tried, and with success. Another case was in the Thousand Islands, where a cable was laid from an island to the main land, at a cost of $2,000: here, again, a wireless telephone could have served the purpose at a cost not exceeding $200. A third case is in Narbeth, where the borough officials will not permit the Bell Telephone company to erect poles. Two physicians have had telephones in their residences for nearly a year, hoping that the Bell people would effect connection with their lines, one-fourth and one-half mile away. The contention was a matter of one narrow street. This distance could have been easily bridged by means of a wireless telephone; in fact, communication was established between one of the residences and the writer's laboratory, where three streets intersected the line of wave propagation, but as it took place under the surface of the earth, no one objected to it. But the most useful sphere of the wireless telephone, and the one which the writer has ever advocated, is its application to vessels in harbors. The wireless telephone is a first-hand instrument; it is simple, reliable, and it may be applied to any vessel at a comparatively small cost.
"The synchronization of wireless telephony is one of the knotty problems. It is this question that staggers the most sanguine; but if one had asked Professor Bell, in 1876, how any two of 40,000 subscribers might be put into instant communication one with the other, he, doubtless, would have found it difficult to even picture in his mind's eye the modern central station switchboard. It must be remembered that the wire telephone has had engaged in its improvement the brightest scientists, the most original investigators of the world for a period of over a quarter of a century, and this experience and application has brought the 'toy' to be one of the most potent factors of the commercial world. Would that a little of such applied energy could be put on the wireless telephone."
As an evidence that the practical value of the wireless telephone is recognized, the Gordon Telephone Company of Charleston, South Carolina, promptly ordered a complete equipment to connect that city with the sea islands along the coast. Only a year before, that company spent $25,000 in one winter to install and maintain its marine cables, and the president of the company estimated that an equally satisfactory service by wireless telephone would have cost but $2,500 to install.
Wireless telephony stands in practically the same position that wireless telegraphy did prior to 1897, for the reason that its great value is not realized, since it has not been tried by the crucial test of commercial usage. As a consequence there are very few persons engaged in solving the riddle of making it an instrument of wide range and indispensable utility. Nevertheless, in England and France various inventors are now making experimental tests looking for the same results.
At the end of July, 1902, an English company announced its incorporation and immediate readiness to supply wireless telegraph equipment of the Armstrong-Orling system, claimed to be much simpler, cheaper and more perfect than that of Marconi. Wireless telephone apparatus also was offered by the same company, the complete outfit for short distances to cost but $20, with a yearly royalty of $5. Thus it is that the advance of science and invention fully keeps up with the most rapid material progress of the world.