At the time this article appeared in 1905, there was great optimism about the future of radio. In fact, there was a little too much enthusiasm -- many of the De Forest Company claims in particular were more speculation than reality. But at this time nearly all of the inventors and promoters underestimated the amount of work and technical refinement that would be needed before radio -- at this time universally known as "wireless" -- would become an established part of everyday life. Still, in a era where tremendous technical advances were taking place every day, it was interesting to speculate about the potential of yet another "miracle of science".
World's Work, February, 1905, pages 5843-5848:




WIRELESS telegraphy is already making a commercial success. Go, if you wish, to the nearest telegraph station, and thence you may communicate with a friend on almost any transatlantic liner on the high seas. The service will cost you, exclusive of land tolls, $2 for ten words. Or you may send your friend money, or give notice of legal action against him, or play a game of chess with him. And you might reach him similarly from Canada or England, or from another steamship. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Holland and Belgium, and Lloyds and the British Admiralty, all have steamship lines carrying Marconi installations. In all, about 100 vessels are equipped. The Atlantic Ocean is charted into squares, as shown in the illustration, and since every ship is constantly in range of communication from land and from other ships, it can be located at any moment and rung up to take a message. Moreover, every vessel is reported hours before her arrival in port. Ship newspaper
    Newspapers printed on the steamships contain wireless messages. The Cunard Daily Bulletin appears every morning on every ship of the Cunard Line, alongside of every passenger's plate at breakfast. The dispatches are labeled "Marconigrams--direct to the ship." On one day the column of news is headed "Received from the Marconi station at Poldhu, England, 280 miles from Liverpool"; next day the head is changed to this: "Latest news received from the Marconi station at Poldhu, England"; the third day the distance is 1,400 miles. The fourth day Cape Cod is picked up, England is cut off, and the head reads: "Latest news through the Associated Press of New York, received from the Marconi station at Cape Cod, distance 1,000 miles."
    At the loneliest and dreariest of wireless stations the operator hears the world's pulse beat better than the stroller does on Broadway in New York. A passenger on an ocean grayhound no longer loses a week out of the world's happenings. As the ship plunges on, he learns that the Russians are retreating in good order; he notes the wheat crop reports from Argentina, and straightway orders his New York broker to sell or buy; he learns that a bishop has opened a saloon in New York; he knows which ships have passed during the night, and perhaps has learned something of the people traveling in them.
    Each boat has two receivers which do not interfere. The news service, therefore, does not interrupt messages from one ship to another, warnings of icebergs, or messages to the shore. It is from the news service that the men interested in the Marconi system hope for rewards, and, incidentally, the steamship companies which publish the paper secure profits for railroad, hotel and summer resort advertisements. The present news rate to ships is 25 cents a word. But even at a fifth of this a large yearly profit is possible.
    There are wireless newspapers on land, also. Towns on islands not important enough for cables depend on wireless messages for their news dispatches. The Post - Dispatch, at St. Louis, and La Presse, in Montreal, have been receiving the De Forest service. A land newspaper in Amsterdam takes the London stock market exchange reports by the Marconi system. Even the London Times has published wireless messages. Last year's yacht races were reported by wireless.


    Of course, as an aid in navigation the value of wireless telegraphy would be hard to overestimate. Two great ships approaching in a fog can now warn each other off. With the Marconi instruments the operators can tell approximately their distance apart and the rate of their approach. Marconi declares that he will have his device for estimating distance perfected to accuracy itself, and he is working on a device to direct wireless messages so that they will travel for, say, ten miles without spreading. De Forest has announced a "ship localizer" which will indicate to captains their distance from shore. It should be invaluable during storms--as on the Great Lakes, where a boat three miles from shore can be lost for twenty-four hours. A lighthouse-keeper will set an automatic sender to operating, so that the charge of electricity keeps repeating the signal. With the electrical impulse regulated so that the signal travels only five or ten miles, the operator who receives it will know at once that he is within the danger zone. A number of ships have already been saved by wireless warnings. Finding themselves in distress, they send appeals for help. The St. Paul was crippled and delayed, and her exact condition was reported, so that the families of those on board were spared anxiety. Ship-dispatching will some day be made as definite as train-dispatching, and the loss of $40,000,000 in wrecks on our seaboard every year should be decreased enormously.
    Wireless is an aid to river navigation. The Marconi system has been installed for the Canadian Government in a series of stations which makes a chain from Belle Isle to Labrador and virtually patrol the dangerous St. Lawrence River. The stations at Belle Isle, Heath Point, Point Armour, Chateau Bay, Fame Point, Sable Island, Cape Race, and other points are doing commercial business. The chain, when completed, will have a scope of 500 miles. The stations keep boats advised of ice and of weather conditions ahead, so that they may steer a clear course. Here wireless systems cover a country where storms constantly blow down wires. Through wireless telegraphy Labrador, for the first time, has telegraphic communication with the rest of the world. An extension of the system on the eastern Canadian coast will do away with many of the perils of ocean liners.


    For land service several wireless systems are doing commercial work. There is Marconi communication from London to Italy, to Gibraltar, and even to Russia--overland communication for 1,500 miles. It is now maintained that wireless is as adaptable to mountains and valleys as to the sea. In England there are now twenty-four Marconi stations operating on islands. There are four on the Isle of Wight, one in Belgium, one in Holland, one in Germany, two in Italy, and two in Montenegro; and even the Congo Free State possesses two. The most powerful station of all is being built in Monte Mario in Italy, to connect with a similar station in Argentina, 6,000 miles away, where 4,000,000 Italians live. The intention of the builders of the stations is to charge six cents a word for messages which now cost $1.50 by cable.
    The De Forest Company have three vast circuits in prospect; one system is to send messages via the Great Lakes to Montana and Seattle, thence to Alaska, Siberia, and the Orient. There are to be stations in San Francisco and Honolulu, Guam, Manila and Hong Kong. This will make a double line of wireless communication across the Pacific. The second system is to be a branch to the Middle West, to El Paso, Sante Fe, Los Angeles and San Francisco; the third will run down the eastern seaboard to Panama, then across and up the Mexican coast to San Francisco. Connecting with this system will be the Insular branch connecting Guantanamo, Key West, Pensacola and Porto Rico. The contract for installing this system has already been made with the United States Navy Department. All of these big systems will be in communication one with another.
    The De Forest Company announce that they have now more than thirty stations open for business. The P. D. Armour Company have been using those at Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha and Fort Worth in order to eliminate the expense of maintaining a private wire, which costs $100,000 a year. The stations at Nome and Norton Sound earned, last October, $12,000. Messages are also being received at points in the East and along the Great Lakes, including Providence, R. I., Paterson, N. J., Atlantic City, Washington, Cape Hatteras, Cleveland, and Chicago, and in the Middle West there is communication from Illinois to Texas.
    The war in the Far East has shown some of the possibilities of wireless. Admiral Matussevitch of the Russian Navy tells how, during the naval fight of August 10th of last year, the apparatus on board the Csarevitch kept in close communication with other vessels of the fleet, and proved quicker and surer than flag-signaling. Moreover, the apparatus kept working until it was shot away. Early in the war the little dispatch-boat Haimun, equipped with De Forest instruments, sent news for the London Times and the New York Times from its cruising ground off Port Arthur to a bamboo pole 180 feet high at Wei-hai-wei, 200 miles away. In and out among squadrons it would dart, informing the public and the world's cabinets alike of torpedo attacks on Port Arthur, of the sinking of transports, of the destruction of the Petropavlovsk. The Haimun did efficient work until both Russian and Japanese commanders warned it to stop. On the field the Russians are using a compact little German system. It can be moved as easily as a machine-gun, requires three small cars for power, apparatus and implements, and keeps in communication bodies of troops within four days' march of one another.


    During the experimental stage of wireless telegraphy, the skeptical feared that it might never attain a full usefulness because of certain imperfections. The electrical impulses sent forth by a powerful station would shatter those of a feebler rival. The question was whether such "interference" could be rendered impossible. Moreover, any operator might "tap" his competitor's connections. It was a question whether secrecy could be obtained. A third question was: Could more than one message be taken at the same time?
    The inventors have been busy trying to remove the flaws. With Marconi are Edison and Prof. M. I. Pupin as technical colleagues. I asked Mr. John D. Oppe, general manager of the Marconi Company, how far they have succeeded in working out these problems.
    He declared that numbers of messages can now be taken simultaneously by a multiplex receiver, the details of which are as yet secret. Moreover, with recent devices the effects of atmospheric disturbance are almost entirely eliminated. During the storm last November, when wires were down out of New York, the city's only communication with certain points was by wireless.
    The answer given me concerning competitive interference is that "the circumstances under which a Marconi station could be rendered ineffective by a more powerful one would be not only peculiar, but extraordinary." Immunity from "interference" was promised for the near future. Meantime, codes should suffice for secrecy, and only malicious interference need be taken into account. Several Marconi circuits can, and do, work in harmony, simultaneously, as they do in England, where there are several stations of varying power operating simultaneously for long distance, for naval and for ordinary purposes.
    Other inventors are more assertive. To understand what they are working on, one must use a technical word--"tuning," or "syntony." This tuning involves the theory of the wave-lengths of electrical impulses. Receivers are adjusted to take only oscillations of the ether occupying a definite period. All other waves than those for which the instruments are tuned are screened out, so that they cannot mix in and confuse the original message. Prof. John Stone Stone has a system whereby secrecy is made more certain by a "combination lock." There are a group of signals, each signal of a different length, any or all of which, even if received by an outsider, would make only a blur of sound. To be intelligible, the entire combination must be combined by a set of receivers especially tuned to it. On the other hand, all outside electrical influences are cut off, since they are not tuned to "work" the receiving combination.
    The De Forest Company maintain that they alone possess tuning devices which prevent interference with messages. Mr. Nikola Tesla declares that he has solved the problem. His invention employs two simultaneous waves, each tuned differently, and working the receiver only when combined. The Fessenden Company refers to the Navy tests at Fortress Monroe, when their station "shut down on request because messages could not be received by the other systems while we were sending, whereas the working of the ships did not interfere with the working of our stations in the slightest." They point also to the working of their New York or Philadelphia stations, where out of thousands of messages only about thirty had to be repeated. They do not maintain that their system cannot be interfered with, but they say that results show that in the near future wireless will be entirely free from the danger of interference.
    The coherer, which was the device formerly used for recording messages, has been abandoned for what the inventors maintain is a better device. The coherer consisted of a tube of metal filings. The filings cohered under the influence of the impulse received and completed a circuit. The electrical impulse thereupon made a dot or a dash. But, each time, a tap against the tube was required to make the filings de-cohere, or drop apart. This complicated the apparatus and put a limit on speed. The new device, called a "responder," allows an ordinary telephone-receiver to be used for distinguishing the dots and dashes, though the signals may be recorded on a tape or given on the Morse telegraph sounder.
    In the telephone receiver one hears, apparently, the sparks at the sending instrument, no matter how great their speed. This is because the responder recovers after transmitting each impulse. Rapidity, therefore, is limited only by the operator's ability "to take." The responder is an extremely sensitive instrument with a closed circuit. That is, when there are no wireless impulses, the local current is passing through a conducting solution between two electrodes. But with a wireless impulse there is at once a greater resistance in the solution. The reason for the increased resistance is not yet known. This effect of the wireless impulse causes a clicking sound in the telephone receiver. Hence one believes that one hears the very sparks of the far-away sender.
    Now, if the diaphragm in the telephone receiver is replaced by a steel rod which is sensitive only to vibrations of a certain length, its note cannot be heard unless the sparks at the sending station correspond in frequency to the adjustment of the receiver. Thus the instruments may be "tuned." In the Fessenden device is a receiver which consists of a minute cylinder of liquid whose resistance is likewise changed by the wireless impulses.


    The government, through the Navy, has tested eight systems, the Ducretet, the Rochefort, the Slaby-Arco, the Braun, the De Forest, the Fessenden, the Bull, and the Telefunken. Referring to these experiments, Rear Admiral Manney, chief of the Bureau of Equipment, says that "the question of interference was believed to be much more serious than now appears to be the case."
    Five departments of the government early began experimenting, and each had its own pet system. The Weather Bureau wished to erect and control certain coastwise stations. But the Navy Department protested that the Navy should control the entire coastwise system as a part of the national defense, maintaining, however, that the Navy would "interfere with commercial interests as little as practicable, though commercial stations should be so placed and conducted as not to interfere with the operation of the government coastwise stations." The Navy also desires and expects that the Department of Commerce shall make all regulations for the conduct of the commercial wireless business, to prevent "interference." At the same time the naval stations will transmit all Weather Bureau reports to and from ships at sea. The Navy maintains, too, that its operators should be employed in time of peace, so that in time of war they may be familiar with their duties and with the secret codes and signals of the coast neighborhoods and the character of the shipping around them, arguing that civilian operators, such as Weather Bureau men, could not so well be relied upon in time of war. Briefly, then, the Navy demands that it have first place on the coast, and supply to other departments the service that each needs.
    But the other departments prefer claims also. The Army has operated six stations and is installing two others like those at Nome and St. Michaels, at Fort Wright, Fisher's Island and Fort Schuyler, in New York Harbor. These are for use by the Signal Corps. The Treasury Department contemplates stations for the Life-saving Service and the Revenue Marine Service; it at present employs a leased wireless system. The Weather Bureau has a station at an important point on the Pacific Coast, where the Navy wants one, and the Navy has others where the Bureau wants some, too.
    The Navy now has twenty-one shore stations and thirty-one ships equipped with wireless. The department's Bureau of Equipment is also establishing some long-distance stations around Colon, Guantanamo, San Juan, Key West and Pensacola. Sixty more are in contemplation, to form a complete system embracing Porto Rico and the Panama Canal zone. One hundred and two ships will be equipped, besides torpedo-boats and gunboats.
    As a result of these activities, the President appointed an inter-departmental Board to consider the government's attitude to wireless. The Board first ordered all the planning suspended. It concluded that the Signal Corps and the Weather Bureau, as well as the Navy, by their experiments had done much for the science of wireless telegraphy. It concluded that wireless is of paramount interest to the government through the Navy Department, and for interior uses through the Army also; and that interference between stations of these two departments should be provided against. It concluded that the coastwise service is not a necessity for the Weather Bureau, provided the Navy can collect for it the necessary weather data. It decided that representatives of more than one department should not be quartered at any station. And, finally, it concluded that the government must regulate commercial wireless among the stations and between nations.
    The Board recommended that private stations should be placed under full government supervision, not only for their better operation, but "to prevent the exploitation of speculative schemes based on a public misconception" of wireless telegraphy. And to prevent the control of wireless by monopolies or trusts, the Board deemed it essential that the supervision be placed in the Department of Commerce and Labor.
    On the Board were Rear-Admiral R. D. Evans, Rear-Admiral Manney, Brigadier General A. W. Greely, Willis L. Moore of the Weather Bureau, and Joseph L. Jayne, Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. In the opinion of Admiral Manney there will be some definite wireless legislation during the present Congress. It is "most necessary to prevent chaos," he declares.
    It may be reasonably taken for granted, then, that technical difficulties are overcome, or will be soon. This means that the widespread and commercial use of wireless is assured.


    What, in consequence, does the future hold? Are wires and cables to become obsolete? What new and marvelous services are to be performed for the ordinary citizen? How will commerce be affected? What will the political effects be? And the nations--huge belligerent individuals that they are--how will they be affected?
    Cables are expensive things to abandon. Three hundred millions of dollars are invested in them, and two billions are invested in land wires. Yet expensive machinery is constantly thrown aside for newer machinery that does the work even a little better. So consider the menace of wireless to wires and cables. Estimates would show that a wireless system can be established, operated and maintained at from 1 to 5 per cent. of the cost of telegraph and cable systems. Even after construction the telegraphs and cables cost tremendously for maintenance, while the current expenses of wireless are extremely light. The annual cost of cables is $100 per mile; the cost of land wires, $30; of wireless, $5. "In three years," says Professor Fessenden, "the cost of a wire line will amount to more than the total cost of installing a wireless system. The speed of wireless--thirty to fifty words a minute--equals the speed now maintained by wires, and exceeds that of the cables."
    But will wires and cables go out of existence? A cable company in Brazil has installed a wireless system. The Eastern Telegraph Company will use a wireless system in the Azores, where the steep banks make a cable landing difficult. Yet the telephone did not drive out the telegraph. Elevated railroads did not ruin the surface lines in New York. Business grows faster than facilities. But whether the argument will hold good after wireless stations exist at every crossroads remains to be seen. For the present, however, the new device has a field of its own to develop, and some time must elapse before its competition can be alarming. Many promoters of wireless systems say that they would not sell cable stock if they held it, while others predict a slump of two-thirds in its value within twenty years.
    Experts point out another possibility. Trolley lines, electric-light establishments, all electrical industries cause disturbances which weaken the power of land wires. They see in wireless an escape from this menace.
    Law already controls not only the surface of the earth, but its depths. And now civilization requires that law shall control the atmosphere. The ownership of the sky calls for regulating. So eight nations have been conferring and drawing up protocols to prevent the monopoly of the heavens.
    In the preliminary congress at Berlin the delegates from America, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, France, Hungary and Russia drew up a plan for an international convention, as follows: The service of operating wireless stations is to be organized so as not to interfere with the service of other nations. Coastwise stations are to receive and transmit telegrams from ships without distinction as to systems employed by the ships. The tolls for such international communication are to be fixed. Stations, where possible, must give priority to calls for help from ships at sea. Furthermore, there must be a universal code and universal tuning (except in secret cases), and the bickerings of rivals must be silenced for the common good.
    This recognition forecasts a mammoth expansion of wireless communication. Prof. A. E. Dolbear, of Tufts College, the first to enter a wireless patent at Washington, says that its "possibilities seem well-nigh limitless. At the time of the introduction of the telephone, hardly any one imagined its commercial importance; so it is not unlikely that wireless telegraphy will have a similar history." Then he adds: "When the wireless waves can be directed like light waves, instead of being allowed to scatter as now, the efficiency of the wireless method will be enormously increased--but what is the use of trying to tell what a healthy baby will grow to be?"
    It may be, however, that wireless will enter almost every sphere of human activity. In railroading, there will be small excuse for collisions when an engineer can be overtaken between stations, or when he can hear from a fellow engineer on the same track long before the fatal curve is reached. Already London is trying a wireless fire-alarm system. Perhaps the device can even be made automatic by a thermostatically controlled attachment.
    An inventor is in the field with a wireless telephone, another with a submarine wireless telephone. A Frenchman declares that he has a tel-autograph which by wireless reproduces handwriting. Airships will of course wish to communicate with one another; at the St. Louis Fair one has already "talked" with the earth by wireless. And can a torpedo be guided to its victim without a wire?
    Indeed, the most astounding prospect of all is that suggested by Mr. Nikola Tesla--for Tesla proposes the use of wireless in transmitting energy. Ponder a moment on what such a thing would mean. A central plant would generate power and send it out to customers via the air alone, whether across a desert or over the high seas. An automobile climbing the Alps might get its "push" from London or Paris. An ocean liner would need no boilers, no engines, no dynamo, no coal. Steam, heat, light, would all come to it from the land. A lone ranchman in Arizona might set up a pocket-receiver and learn the latest news. Millions of such little receivers might be operated from a single central station. Even the mantel clock in a country home might tick in unison with every other clock in the world, all responding to the same wireless impulse.
    Other inventors say that the wireless transmission of energy can never be; it is impossible; it is contrary to all natural laws. But, before now, experts have declared a thing impossible which has later come to pass.