Lee DeForest formed the Radio Telephone Company a short time after being forced out of United Wireless in 1906. The new company's main objective was to produce a radio system that could transmit voice, instead of the telegraphic dots and dashes that spark transmitters were limited to. To accomplish this, DeForest tried to perfect arc transmitters, but he would ultimately fail to ever develop a viable arc-based voice transmission system. (In these sets the audion vacuum tubes were only used in the receivers. It was not known at this time that vacuum tubes could be used for transmitters.)
In late 1907, DeForest managed to convince the U.S. Navy to purchase his new company's arc-transmitter radiotelephone sets for the fleet's around-the-world voyage. But although the sets saw a small amount of use for communications, and were also used for occasional broadcasts of phonograph records, they were far from ready for reliable day-to-day use, and were scrapped at the end of the voyage. In early 1909, the Washington Evening Post reported that: "Unsatisfactory results have been obtained in the use of the wireless telephone apparatus [that was] installed on board the vessels of the American fleet before it started on the cruise, and probably the apparatus will be removed from the ships. It had a thorough test by the officers of the fleet under all conditions, and their reports indicate that it has seldom been of any service. Future development of the system may result in its perfection, but at its present stage it is found to be a failure." It wouldn't be until 1916 that the navy would again investgate ship-based radiotelephony, this time using Western Electric produced vacuum-tube transmitters.
Telephony, January, 1908, pages 30-33:
Wireless Telephony in the Navy By N . J . Quirk
The Ships of the Atlantic Fleet En Route to the Pacific are all Equipped with Wireless Telephone Apparatus
OF ALL innovations making for economy and utility at sea, the latest and perhaps the greatest is the wireless system now installed aboard the sixteen battleships and six torpedo boat destroyers representing the fighting strength of the most powerful fleet of warships ever sent on a long cruise under one flag. Five other ships accompanying the fleet will be similarly equipped.
This assemblage of modern warships is the last word that mechanical genius, naval construction and cash payments can say in modern marine progress and is the most complex example of science and skill the mind of man has conceived; for between masthead trucks and cellular bottoms, almost every art and trade is represented. Electricity in its various branches is a dominant keynote in its creation, for like modern buildings, a battleship must be lighted and cared for and her crew of 800 men made as comfortable as possible, largely by the use of electrical equipment, which now discharges duties formerly done by manual labor, steam or hydraulic power.
The plan may be likened to that of a trolley line with separate motors for special work conveniently replacing many subsidiary engines, thereby keeping the steam where it belongs-in boiler and engine rooms-and exercising a wide range of service such as hoisting anchors, lowering boats, turning the great gun turrets or furnishing the current for various methods of communication between ships, and from ship to shore.
Two of these systems, the "Ardois" night signals (a string of four lanterns from the mast-head half way down to the bridge, and using colors, dots, and dashes in combination) and the wireless telegraphic system, communicate their messages by an adaptation of the familiar Morse code, and for obvious reasons, are subject to the danger of failure when most desperately required-during the stress and shock of actual battle. The third and probably the most efficient system for such crucial test is the newly adopted wireless telephone, which had its first baptism by fire during the battle of Mukden when the victorious Japanese commander directed the movements of his entire force from his central twelve miles in the rear of the fighting line.
The difficulties encountered heretofore in marine communication has been heightened by fog, breakdowns and lack of proper pitch, but now for the first time in history a great fleet of ships, sometimes five or ten miles apart, steaming through stormy seas in darkness and without visual knowledge, are in constant communication with each other without overhead wires or submarine cables to restrict conversation, which can be carried on almost as easily as if done between rooms in a great hotel. No dot, dash, dot or click, clickty-click business about it to confuse or misconstrue, but simply a strong hearty "Hello, say Bill" style of delivering the admiral's orders, compliments, and other messages perhaps not so pleasant when fault is to be found. Admiral Evans' responsibility to the government in safety handling this fleet is very great, for at best it is difficult to control and guide even a small squadron from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but this new development in science will save much worry and solve many problems which might delay or endanger the ships. By the telephone system he can not only transmit orders from ship to ship, but communicate with the shore as well, since it is successfully worked in connection with land wireless telegraph stations.
This achievement has been the dream of naval strategists for many years, as it is of supreme importance to secure and maintain a positive method of communication between the commander-in-chief and his fleet captains-a possession of greatest value in war, of course, but scarcely less during peace maneuvers. This has been realized by the United States government in a series of official tests carried on at Hampton Roads while the Jamestown Exposition was open and during the practice cruising and gun practice off the New England coast last spring.
The superposed turret ship Virginia and flagship Connecticut were two of the first large vessels to receive the new telephone equipment, and between them a naval board of officers tested it so thoroughly at Norfolk and Cape Cod that its practical value over other methods of communication was conclusively proven.
The ordinary means of daylight communication is by arranging colored flags, whose relation to each other spells a message, or "wigwagging." This is done by an athletic apprentice, who, under an officer's direction, swings a flag in various directions somewhat as members of a train crew signal each other by waving their arms. At night, the "Ardois" or colored lanterns are used in the same manner that a series of flags are hoisted in daylight, but each and all of these methods are useless in thick and foggy weather, when the flags could not be seen at all or the rays of light pierce the gloom of smoke and darkness. This, then, is the time when the wireless is appreciated, for the admiral from his cabin can locate and call to the receiver the officer commanding any vessel in the fleet, transmitting with ease any general order or special message with absolute certainty.
The service is guaranteed for five miles talking distance-the official tests have credited it with eleven miles, and twenty-five have been recorded between a merchant vessel and battleship.
Wireless telephony is now fairly well understood, since it is common knowledge that the human voice like all other sounds, causes atmospheric waves to radiate into space and quiver along aerial wires. While these waves are produced and transmitted like those of wireless telegraphy, they are interrupted and received in an entirely different manner. This is shown by the interesting fact that some ships equipped with wireless telegraph can hear the sound of the wireless telephone from another vessel, but none can respond by voice.
The instruments themselves look simple enough because result of years of experiment in bringing them to a state of efficiency which the United States Navy Department exacts.
The accompanying pen and ink sketch shows the first wireless telephone for the navy, just now located in Admiral Evans' emergency cabin aft on the Connecticut, and of their compact business-like appearance, but they are the shows one of his staff signal officers sending to a five-mile-distant vessel, as will constantly be done during the cruise en route to the Pacific. To the right is the delicate receiving box, with the tuning device on top. In the center is a telegraph key, resembling the ordinary buzzer, which, by simply cutting out the microphone with a switch in front of his face, enables the apparatus to be used for wireless telegraphy, sending the ordinary Morse signals. The transmitter is shown at the left, with a projecting mouthpiece. One of the features of this is a nickel arc or oscillator, with an alcohol lamp beneath. This indicates when the proper oscillation or voice waves emitted from the aerial wire takes place and causes a small incandescent pilot lamp to glow, shown at the top of the transmitter box, when talking can be carried on. Increasing the range for talking is now going on by experiments, and 100 miles or more may be reached in the near future. Besides speech, whistling, singing, gramophone and orchestra music can be plainly heard and reproduced five or ten miles away.
This is an unalloyed pleasure to the boys in blue, for besides being wireless, the system is girlless-no hello girls needed in connection with the new installation. Just how the various ships are to be picked up in the wireless telephone operations, or in what manner the usual land exchange will be eliminated, are problems which the naval officers are not explaining for publication. They declare, however, that no difficulty has yet been experienced in this regard. Even if wireless telephones cannot be used as freely in the interchange of messages on sea as are land telephones, they will prove very useful in the navy. Even if only two ships in the same vicinity could communicate at the same time, the field of usefulness of the invention is practically unlimited. Naval officers believe their scope will be much more extended. It does not take long to install the instruments which can be easily attached to any vessel.
The apparatus used aboard the fleet is manufactured by the Radio Telephone Company of New York. One of the interesting exhibits planned for the coming electrical show will be a miniature battleship fully equipped with the Radio company's apparatus.
The around-the-world trip by U.S. navy ships reviewed in this article was known as the "Great White Fleet" voyage, and took place from December 16, 1907 to February 22, 1909. A review of this historic voyage is included at theU.S. Naval Historical Center.