Predicting fifteen years into the future is always difficult. In this article, George Cushing foresaw a hard struggle for a radio industry that was still dependent on the revenue from transmitting telegrams, predicting that the companies would be unable to compete financially with the established telegraph and international cable operations, and would eventually be taken over by the government. However, in reality by 1929 the radio industry would actually be tremendously profitable. Cushing, like many others, thought of the lack of privacy for radio transmissions as exclusively a drawback. But in the 1920s broadcasting would successfully use this "flaw" to its advantage worldwide for distributing news and entertainment, which fully met the fictional banker's challenge of: "What we ask of you is new business and new profit. Are you so slow-witted you cannot find a new use for a new tool?" -- in fact, in October, 1920, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co. announced its purchase of the International Radio Telegraph Co., and stated "special attention would be paid to the development of new uses" of radio, and the next month inaugurated a broadcast service over KDKA in Pittsburgh.
Technical World Magazine, March, 1914, pages 22-28, 136, 138:
By George H. Cushing
In "Wireless' Fate" Mr. Cushing presents to us in condensed form another "Looking Backward." He does not, however, treat of socialism, as did the author of that famous work. Instead his central theme is wireless and the extraordinary effect it will have first upon finance and, secondarily, upon government in the latter's efforts to solve a new trust problem. In this article we are carried forward in five stages to a period somewhere beyond the year 1930. It is a most unusual combination of science and business affairs--an article that is bound to stimulate thought and to provoke discussion. The photos of wireless here used are, of course, types, and have no relation to Mr. Cushing's imaginary system.--Editor's Note.
EARLY in the year nineteen hundred and fourteen, an inventor, who had perfected a method of transmitting telegraph messages without wires, began in the United States to operate a series of stations which, communicating with one another, would send a message around the world.
This was a new thing. The Americans, being rich and loving new things, opened their purses and loaned the Italian a sum exceeding five millions of dollars. This money was loaned freely--America took great pride in being the home of such an enterprise--but it was given first into the hands of the money lenders, who were to collect the interest and profit--interest which was due to be paid. But those who had borrowed asked to be excused for a while, saying that the money had not yet been earned. When this was told them, the money lenders threatened the wireless company, saying:
"You borrowed our money only when you made great promises to pay. Now you must pay or we will drive you from the land, level your towers to the ground, and give what is left of your company into the hands of the lawyers to quarrel over."
Then one director, who spoke for his fellows, answered: "If wireless telegraphy had not been and if our company had not been formed, many ships and their passengers would have gone down, because the captains could not have called for help. Have patience, then, for we have done good, even though we have not made money."
But the money lenders were cold-hearted and refused to listen further, saying: "We did not give our clients' money to philanthropy, but; instead, lent it in business. Because this is a business undertaking, we want our interest."
In answering this impatient demand, the director said: "Have even a little patience and we will pay you the interest money and a profit. You know how the newspapers crave speed. We can transmit a message a thousand miles before the human mind can conceive of such a distance. So soon as this becomes known, we will carry the news of the world inconceivably fast. Our company will reap great profits thereby, and from these we will pay you."
But those who sat at the door of the money markets would not be appeased by promises. Instead, they answered angrily:
"Have we not lent our clients' money to cable and telegraph companies on the same promise and have they not told us the same thing? How is it possible for the two of you to prosper while doing the same thing? If one of you succeeds, must not the other fail? If either of you is to fail, let it be you, for of the two we have lent the other by far the most."
When they had said this, they went away, leaving the directors to worry over the threat. When a few days had passed, the director who served as spokesman, and who was a shrewd man, appeared in the inner chamber of the banks to say:
"You know how much the Americans love novelty. You know, also, that each American thinks himself to be a humorist, always eager to display his wit in public places. To appeal to their vanity and their love of new sensations, we will announce a rate which will persuade those who travel on ships or into foreign countries to communicate freely with those at home. Our earnings from this service will assure you both your interest and a profit."
When they knew that this was an empty promise, the money lenders became angry. They said to the director:
"We, a long time ago, tried that on the railroads and the spiders spun their webs on the telegraph keys. You speak as a boy who dreams of conquering the world when he is yet being mastered by the multiplication table. As to you, our decision is reached. You must pay our interest or we shall withdraw our money and your enterprise will rot."
The director was cunning as well as shrewd. In answering the money lenders, he said:
"Withdraw your money you cannot, for already it has been spent. In its place are steel towers, machinery for producing electricity, and telegraph instruments, which are good for nothing save only to send messages without wires. Since your money cannot be returned to you, all that is left you is to force us to stop sending messages. This, the people, out of consideration for those who travel by sea, will not permit you to do. Whatever your anger dictates, do it, but do not come here speaking as little children."
Knowing that he spoke the truth, the bankers, walked away, hopeless. Thereafter, bitterness preyed upon the money lenders, who continually cursed those who had borrowed foolishly.
The period extending from the building of the stations to the quarrel with the bankers is called the first stage of wireless telegraphy.
* * *
At the end of the third year of the wireless company--which was the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and seventeen--the money lenders went to the director who was the company spokesman and said:
"Our hope is growing cold in our hearts and our faith in your promise is as the leaves which wither and die in the frost and fall away. Do not try to deceive us any further, but tell us when we may expect the profits which you told us would be paid from the beginning."
"It is for you, and not me, to judge," he answered, "when you know the facts. When you compelled us to pay you the interest money, we were forced to make the most of all our resources. We then realized that our electric waves extended as far back over the land as they reached out over the sea. It is upon the land where men think most and speak oftenest. It was from the land that we sought our revenue. We still tell of the ships in distress, but today we inform New York of the weather in California and California of the market for fruit in New York.
"As an individual, I wish your old-styled telegraph company well. As director of its competitor, I must consider other things. With one station at either side of the continent, conducted by one set of operators, we can send messages far cheaper than can the old styled telegraph lines which must employ many stations and many men to relay messages. Today, all the transcontinental business is coming to us. You who are eager for your profits should have them presently."
The money lenders scowled with impatience. The director spoke further:
"Not enough messages are going out upon and across the ocean or across the continent, or even both, to pay you interest and a profit. We can pay interest now, but if you want profit you must build more stations that we may take more of the business away from wired telegraphy."
When they heard this, the money lenders lost patience. They broke forth in querulous speech.
"Have we not told you," they said, "that we have lent money also to the telegraph lines? Do you not see that when you take business and profit from them and add it to your own, you take the profit from us in one place and return it to us from another place? What we ask of you is new business and new profit. Are you so slow-witted you cannot find a new use for a new tool?"
The director resented the criticism, for he knew it was unjust. He said to himself:
"A new method of carrying messages does not, of itself, create messages to be sent."
Then he said boldly to the money lenders:
"We have bought the plow and leased the land. We must run the furrow. The people know that we have cheapened the rates on messages across the continent. They are demanding that we do the same in the interior. If we should say to them: 'We cannot do what you ask because it would interfere with the investments of the bankers in telegraph lines,' they would say to us: 'You have formed a trust and the Government will crush you both.' Having said that, the Government would confiscate both properties, for the new law lays such a penalty upon monopoly. Then what would become of your investment?"
When the money lenders had heard and understood, they loaned another five million dollars to put up stations which extended from New York to San Francisco to serve the larger cities.
The time between the quarrel with the bankers and the beginning of competition between the new and the old telegraphic systems is called the second era in the history of wireless telegraphy. This covered a period of five years.
* * *
From the eighth year until the fourteenth in the history of wireless telegraphy--which was from the beginning of nineteen hundred and twenty-one to the end of nineteen hundred and twenty-six--there arose another perplexity. In the eighth year, the men who lend money in America went to the director and said:
"To own a hoe does not force one to dig with it. Because you have built wireless telegraph stations, does not signify that you must solicit business vigorously. If you wish to serve us, you will appoint, as your local managers, men who are lazy. If they fail to take business away from the old telegraph companies, no blame can attach to us or to you. If the Government should come to you inquiring why, you could say that from the revenues arising from low rates, you have not enough money to hire good men. For that reason, all persons are not aware of the saving you can afford them."
The director, who was much pleased with this display of shrewdness, did as he was told. While pursuing this policy he came to the time when the interest money was due on the new investment. There was no money in the treasury with which to pay it, for his managers had sat at their desks doing nothing. Hoping for approval, the director went to the banks to tell what had happened. The money lenders were angry and cursed him, saying:
"Is your mind barren, that it cannot think of new things? Are there no places on earth outside of American cities where you may get business and thus make back that which we lose on the business in the interior?"
The director spoke the truth when he said:
"We have had, from the beginning, stations which extend around the world. They are in the islands of the Pacific in Japan, in India, in Africa, and in South America. We could do there the same as we have done here. We could erect more stations at shorter distances from each other, handle more messages, and thus make the profit which you want, but it would demand more capital."
The money lenders thought for many days upon this recommendation. At the end of their meditations, they went to the director and said:
"We have heard that in all tropical countries the vegetation grows so rank and the floods are so severe as to make the transmission of messages by wires all but impossible. You who can send messages over the hills and water and into all places where ether penetrates can transmit messages even through the tropical jungles. Establish your stations in South America, in Africa, and in India and send us the expense bill. We have no investment there. You might, in those places, serve the railroads, which must use the telegraph but cannot now depend upon it."
The director was overjoyed because by this commission he would become a world-power in telegraphy. He dreamed of the power he would wield and of the honors which would come to him. In time, he had finished the new stations and went to ask the bankers to send out representatives to inspect the finished work. But, when he reached the door of the bank, he met a deputation from those who lend money in London, in Paris, in Berlin, and in St. Petersburg. They had crossed the ocean quickly in their airships to say to the money lenders of New York:
"Are we not members of one profession, safeguarding the interests of each other? When you were in need of money, have we ever refused it? Why do you reward our kindness as you have just done? We had spent millions of dollars to keep open the telegraph lines in India, Africa, and Brazil. When the floods and rank vegetation carried away our conduits, or broke down our wires, we spent more money for new ones. Now, when we have spent all we can afford and when our venture is about to return its first profit, your wireless telegraphy comes to pick the fruits for which we planted."
The New York bankers were worried by what they heard, for they knew that the men from Europe spoke the truth.
The period from the building of the stations in the interior to the expansion into the foreign countries is called the third era in the history of wireless telegraphy.
* * *
From the beginning of the fifteenth, to the end of the sixteenth year of the history of wireless telegraphy--which was from the end of nineteen hundred and twenty-six to the end of nineteen hundred and twenty-eight---there arose another development. The director of the company, early in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-seven, went to the money lenders to make his report for the preceding year.
"We prospered last year," he said, "more than we had reason to hope. We increased our business with the ships of the sea. We have added the business of the ships of the air. Africa and South America have patronized us increasingly.
"But a new demand has been made upon us that calls for vast sums of money. From our stations, today, a wireless current radiates for thousands of miles in all directions. Any one who chooses may tune his instruments to our wave lengths and steal all of our messages. One newspaper may steal, a dispatch intended for its rival. One business man may, in this way, know the business secrets of his competitor. Outlaws of all descriptions traffic in our messages. For this reason, there is a demand for more secrecy.
"This is a reasonable demand, but to satisfy it, we must purchase the new equipment which but recently has been invented. We must send our electrical currents in straight lines instead of permitting them to radiate in a circle. This calls for new apparatus in all plants. We must install delicately-keyed instruments which will give every man secrecy, even though his next-door neighbor be operating upon the same current. This calls for a new style of instrument. To buy this new outfit will take all of the profits of last year and all we expect to earn for some years to come."
The money lenders only smiled at the misgivings of the director and replied to him:
"Men have confronted such situations since the world began. They have solved them all in the same way. They have put the old profits in their pockets; they have borrowed money, with which to buy the new thing, and they have charged rates which would make profitable both the old and the new investment. We will do the same thing."
But the director lifted his head and said:
"Such things were possible once, but you should recall they are forbidden by law now."
Although the money lenders knew this to be true, they were not down-hearted. They still had one more plan to propose. So, they said to the director:
"Give us the profits made last year and we will get you the additional money you need. We will consolidate the old telegraph company and the wireless company. The value of the combined property will represent such an enormous sum and will represent properties in so many parts of the earth, that people will become confused. While they are wondering whether the size of our business; at home or abroad is the foundation for our capital, we will cause the new company to issue enough stocks and bonds to pay for the new apparatus. If the Government comes to inquire why you have increased the capital, you can say that the money is needed for 'working capital.' "
The director, from long association, had come to love the money lenders, but he was forced again to point the flaw in their ingenuity. In answering them, he said:
"I would do as you tell me if I could. But I cannot, for the state charters under which we operate, stipulate that we shall never consolidate with the other company. If we do, the state may confiscate our property."
Hearing this, the money lenders bent their heads and went away in profound thought.
From the foreign expansion to the demand for new equipment is called the fourth stage in the development of wireless telegraphy.
* * *
At the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, the director went to the money lenders and spoke in this wise:
"What shall I do now? I went into the market to buy the new telegraph instrument, which you ordered and found that all the output of the factories had been purchased by the old telegraph companies. Now they are in possession of all the new equipment and propose to compete with us in the air, whereas up to this time they have always remained on the ground."
"What did you expect?" replied the money lenders. "You have been taking away their business for years. Did you hope that they would sit passively by and would never try to come and take some of yours?"
"But," answered the director, "the money which is invested in this business is also yours. Will you permit them to take away the profit from this company of yours only to give it to you through the other company? Is it not better that each should remain in his own sphere? Is it not wiser to have all the money invested in wireless telegraphy spent through this company?"
The money lenders sat for days meditating upon this proposal. They knew that the one company which they had caused to extend around the world would fail, if its success were defeated in the United States. They knew, too, that other company must fail if it did not begin to use wireless telegraphy. And so, when after much travail their meditations were finally brought to a close, they went to the director and said:
"We are weary of this whole struggle. We would let someone else carry the burden which has become too heavy for our old shoulders. The agents of the Government have come to you offering to buy. They have come to the old company also offering to buy it. You sell what you have to the Government. The old company will sell what it has. By that means, we will at least have our money returned to us. Once again in possession of it, we may put it out at interest elsewhere."
Thus was the matter ended, and with it the long years of debt, scheming, and perplexity.
And so that was the fifth and last stage of wireless telegraphy--the stage in which we are still living.