Hugo Gernsback made many significant contributions to the development of amateur radio. In fact, in the 1914 edition of the Electro Importing Company catalog, he claimed that "the writer, the pioneer in Amateur Wireless, is not without good reasons called: 'the Father of Amateur Wireless' by his many friends and followers." And although the following article somewhat exaggerates the extent to which Gernsback "fought alone" for the future of the amateurs, it does give a good overview of the timeframes, issues, and activities leading up to the adoption of the Radio Act of 1912, and Gernsback's energetic defense of the hobby.
This article was also run in the subsequent catalogs issued by the Electro Importing Company. The company's 16th catalog, in 1916, documented Gernsback's wide-ranging activities. In addition to being "President Electro Importing Co.", he was also "Editor 'The Electrical Experimenter'", a new magazine he started in May, 1915. (A reprint of this article appeared on the opening pages of the first issue). And he was also "Manager Radio League of America", a new amateur group started in 1915, and affiliated with The Electrical Experimenter, which took the place of the lapsed Wireless Association of America, which had been affiliated with Modern Electrics magazine.
Modern Electrics, February, 1913, pages 1143-1144:
Wireless and the Amateur
By H. Gernsback
ON DECEMBER 13, 1912, the new wireless law went into effect. The average wireless "fiend" who has not followed the topic from the start will be interested in the following facts:
The very first talk about Wireless Legislation in the country started in 1908. The writer in his Editorial in the November, 1908, issue of Modern Electrics pointed out that a wireless law was sure to be passed in a very short while. In order to guard against unfair legislation as far as the wireless amateur was concerned the writer, in January, 1909, organized the "Wireless Association of America." This was done to bring all wireless amateurs together and to protest against unfair laws. Previous to this time there was no wireless club or association in the country. In January, 1913, there were over 230 clubs in existence, all of which owe their origin to the "Wireless Association of America."
The association had no sooner become a national body than the first wireless bill made its appearance. It was the famous Roberts Bill, put up by the since defunct wireless "trust." The writer single handedly, fought this bill, tooth and nail. He had representatives in Washington, and was the direct cause of having some 8,000 wireless amateurs send protesting letters and telegrams to their congressmen in Washington. The writer's Editorial which inspired the thousands of amateurs, appeared in the January, 1910, issue of Modern Electrics. It was the only Editorial during this time that fought the Roberts Bill. No other electrical periodical seemed to care a whoop whether the amateur should be muzzled or not. If the Roberts Bill had become a law there would be no wireless amateurs to-day.
That editorial quickly found its way into the press and hundreds of newspapers endorsed the writer's stand. During January, 1910, the New York American, the New York Independent the New York World, the New York Times, the Boston Transcript, etc., all lauded and commended the writer's views. (See Editorial article February, 1910, Modern Electrics.) Public sentiment quickly turned against the Roberts Bill and it was dropped.
The first wireless bill not antagonistic to the amateur, The Burke Bill, appeared on March 8, 1910. It had some defects, however, and was dropped also. The Depew Wireless Bill appeared May 6, 1910, but did not meet with general approval; as the writer pointed out in his Editorial in the June, 1910, issue of Modern Electrics, it had several undesirable features, and the bill was never seriously considered, although it actually passed the Senate. (See Editorial, August, 1910, Modern Electrics.)
At last the Alexander Bill made its appearance on December 11, 1911. This bill as far as the amateur was concerned was not quite acceptable to the writer, who had the amateurs' rights at heart and steps were immediately taken to bring about an amendment as the writer, perhaps more than anyone else, realised that this bill, in some term or other, would become a law sooner or later. This is clearly stated in his Editorial in the February, 1912, issue of Modern Electrics. In that Editorial is to be found also the first and now historical recommendation that if a wireless law was to be framed it should restrict the amateur from using a higher power than 1 kw, and his wave length should be kept below 200 metres. No one else had thought of it before, and it is to be noted that when Congress finally passed the present wireless law, it accepted the writer's recommendation in full, thus paying him the greatest compliment, while at the same time acknowledging the fact that he acted as the then sole spokesman for and in behalf of the wireless amateur.
In March, 1912 the writer, in a letter to the New York Times (See page 24, April, 1912, issue Modern Electrics) pointed out the shortcomings of the Alexander Bill, and protested against unfair legislation.
The Times, as well as a host of other newspapers, took up the cry and published broadcast the shortcomings of the Alexander Bill.
All this agitation had the desired effect and Mr. Alexander for the first time realized that the amateur could not be muzzled, especially when there was such a periodical as Modern Electrics to champion his cause. Promptly in April the Alexander Wireless Bill, amended, appeared and here for the first time in history the amateur and his rights are introduced in any wireless bill.
Mr. Alexander and his advisers accepted the writer's recommendation as set forth in his Editorial in the February, 1912, issue of Modern Electrics and the new paragraph (15) in the amended bill reads thus:
Fifteenth. No private or commercial station not engaged in the transaction of bonafide commercial business by radio communication or in experimentation in connection with the development and manufacture of radio apparatus for commercial purposes at the date of passage of this Act, shall use a transmitting wave length exceeding two hundred meters, or a transformer input exceeding one kilowatt, except by special authority of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor contained in the license of that station.
It will be noted that it copied the writer's recommendations word for word.
The amateur had at last come into his own. This is all the more remarkable as this is the only country that recognizes the wireless amateur.
On May 7, 1912, the Alexander Bill, amended, now known as S-6412, passed the United States Senate and on May 8th was sent to the House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries (see June, 1912, issue Modern Electrics, page 245.) The bill was signed on August 13th by President Taft, thus making it a law.
In the March, 1912, issue, Modern Electrics long before the passage of the wireless law and ahead of any other periodical published an article on "Limited Wave Lengths" preparing the amateur for the new law and paving the way towards standardizing amateur stations.
Finally in the November, 1912, issue, page 829, the full text of the new wireless law was published, and it was announced that the law would go into effect December 14, 1912.
In the December, 1912, issue, (page 922) the new law was fully discussed and all phases explained.
Again Modern Electrics was the only periodical to publish the license blanks and to show the amateur how to fill them out. No other periodical had enough interest in the amateur to render this important service to him.
And last but not least in this issue we are printing a facsimile copy of an original license, which up to the present minute closes amateur wireless history in the United States.
This terminates the fight which the writer has waged single-handedly for almost five years in behalf of the American amateur. It must be apparent even to the layman, who has not followed the evolution of the present law, that unquestionably the entire credit for obtaining the amateur's rights belongs to Modern Electrics. This is freely admitted today by all. The indisputable facts enumerated in this article make this clear.
Now that it is all over, and that Uncle Sam has set his seal of approval upon the amateur's wireless, the writer cannot but extend his heartiest congratulations to the 400,000 American amateurs; and he furthermore wishes to extend his thanks to all the amateurs who have supported him in his fight to bring about a new wireless era in America.
Long live the Wireless! Long live the Amateur!!