Although the picture caption claims that Irving Vermilya's photograph shows him at his shipboard station, it appears that both photos actually show the couple using a radiotelegraph set located in their home, instead of the radiotelephone equipment reviewed by this article. New York Press, March 15, 1914, page 8:
Youthful Inventor of Wireless Telephone Tells of Achievement
THE wireless man of the Commonwealth, bound up Long Island Sound, sat in the instrument room with the receivers on his ears idly listening to the talk on the commercial wave lengths. It was night, and things were pretty quiet. Far out the Sound he could hear the operator at Sagaponack chinning with the man on the Priscilla, which was just coming in. Behind him Sea Gate was sending to somebody out at sea. Below he could feel the gentle throb of the engines. He was alone in the room. Through habit he had turned the key in the door. Suddenly he stiffened in his chair. A human voice was whispering in his ear.
"Katherine," it said, "oh, Katherine, you there. I will be home at 10, and don't forget the apple pie."
Slowly the man in the Commonwealth's wireless room turned and glanced of his shoulder at the locked steel door. Then he reached across and flashed out in the code: "Who is talking?" In a moment he started involuntarily again. Instead of the answer in dots and dashes came that human voice from nowhere again. "Ha, ha!" it chuckled into his ear through the wireless receivers. "You'll have to find out." And then another voice interrupted. It was the voice of a woman, clear, certain, though low. So perfect was the transmission that the Commonwealth operator could detect the slightest infections. "All right Irv," it said. "I'm going to mother's. The apple pie is in the ice box. Home by 10.30."
But the Commonwealth man did not wait for more. He hurried below to the Captain's cabin to report the mysterious human voice that had filtered in over the dot and dash route of the Morse.
Operator Hears Ghostly Voice.
It was a week later. The man at Sea Gate had his receivers on. Suddenly he nearly went out of his chair backward.
"Holy hookfish!" he exclaimed. "Here's a guy or a ghost talking into my ear--not the code, but real human words." And then in a flash he shot the request in code to repeat. Instantly came back the voice in his ear: "Just thought you might be lonesome, so I said hello."
The next day some of the New York papers carried editorials commenting on a strange voice from the air that spoke into wireless receivers. It was hinted that some of the great inventors were experimenting with the big wireless telephones recently constructed at great expense. But more than one wireless man in obscure stations along the coast felt the shivers run along the back of his neck as, without warning, the strange whisper bored into his ear day after day, carrying messages, sometimes news, more often jocular sayings, and always baffling, tantalizing when efforts were made to trace the source.
Music from the Night.
For three weeks the mystery deepened. Reports of the strange voice came from all along the coast between New York and Portland. Even the amateurs in the small shore stations heard it. From the operator on the steamer Calvin Austin came a story that still further complicated matters. Coming down the coast one night he said he had been startled half out his wits by suddenly hearing somebody start singing "Get Out and Get Under" right in his ear. He had listened till the song was through, then, by wireless, he had asked for an encore. Without hesitation the mysterious stranger struck up "Peg o' My Heart." Then the Austin's operator went and called the captain and the first officer, and some passengers, and for half an hour took turns listening to the music from the night.
This incident crystallised a determined effort on the part of wireless men to trace the author of the voice. Up on the Maine coast an amateur picked up over his wireless the sound of phonograph playing. He had heard of the "voice," and he suspected the phonograph had something to do with it. So he flashed out: "Play it again; mother wants to hear." And "mother," with the caps on her ears, listened to a Sousa march dropped mysteriously down along the wireless wave lengths.
It was only last week that the search for the voice--a search that created a furore in wireless circles--came to an end.
Talker of Mystery Discovered.
The Sea Gate man who had nearly fallen dead from heart failure when he first heard somebody talking to him from the ether was responsible. He was sitting with his receivers up, more than half expecting to run across the voice, when suddenly he started, listened intently a moment, then grinned broadly and took off the caps. Going over to a telephone, he called up the office of several New York newspapers,
"I've got that voice," he said. "If you meet the Northland of the Eastern Steamship Company--she's coming up the Sound now--you'll find it aboard her. No, I don't know her wireless man's name, but he's the guy all right. I just picked him up telling somebody the Northland would dock at 10 o'clock, and he said they'd had an easy passage across Nantucket Shoals."
So when the Northland slipped into her berth at the foot of Murray street Irving Vermilya, her wireless operator, was trapped in his wireless room by a horde of reporters before he could make his escape. He did just manage to hide his wireless telephone, but, with his back against the wall, confronted with circumstantial evidence, he admitted that his was the voice which had startled and puzzled the coast for six weeks.
Invented Cheap Wireless Phone.
He acknowledged readily enough that he had invented a new wireless telephone--a device that could be built for $100 instead of the several thousand which the phones now in use cost--and declared he had applied for patents on it. But regarding its nature or operation he was reticent, other than to say it did not require the expensive cooling devices necessary with the other phones and none of their difficulty with receiver packing.
"You see," he said with a grin, "I was awful careless. I should have known better than to use the commercial wave lengths when I was sending that Northland message. Everybody's tuned to them. If I'd gone to a different tone I might have been all right. I'm not ready to have anything said about my invention yet and I was foolish to have been so fresh with it, talking to everybody along the line as I did. But--you've got me, so here goes."
And then he told how for two years he had worked on the wireless telephone which he perfected only six weeks ago, and which in being tested out alternately scared, puzzled and mytified every wireless man between here and Portland, the end of the Northland's run.
Vermilya is a boyish looking fellow of 23 years. Since he was 6 years old he has played with electrical toys. The "Katherine" who was requested to leave out the apple pie in the conversation overheard by the Commonwealth's operator is Mrs. Vermilya. In the Vermilya home at Mount Vernon the young inventor has constructed a wireless station with his new wireless telephone attachment, and always as he comes up the Sound from the Portland trip he calls up his wife, tells her when to expect him and chats with her about happenings during his absence. It was in their family talks the mysterious voice was first heard.
Modest About His Achievement.
"I can't see why there should be such a fuss made about this," young Vermilya said. "I began by merely talking to my wife, and I don't see why a man can't do that without interference. I suppose I was a little rash to switch the phonograph on and to sing, but I couldn't help it, it was such fun and those who heard me used to send out such excited messages when I was at work. Why, there's one fellow up on the Connecticut shore who every time I said 'hello' to him would get so flustered he'd send out such a jumble of words that I could hardly get him. Yet he could send first class ordinarily. Maybe it scared him, having someone whisper in his ear sudden and abrupt.
"At the present time the range of my phone is only about twenty-five miles under ordinary conditions. I hope to increase it materially and am now working to that effect. The beauty of it is that it is an absurdly simple device and very inexpensive. One hundred dollars will cover the cost of an instrument.
"I believe such a phone would be of great value to shipping, and while I doubt if it would ever supersede wireless it will supplement it. Thus, for near work it would be unnecessary to have a wireless operator on duty. The quarter-master, who steers the vessel, would merely wear a receiving cap on his head and would thus be in constant communication with all ships within twenty-five miles. Another vessel passing him at night or in fog would merely say, 'Hello! Who are you?' Our ship would answer, and instantly they would be constantly in touch until they had passed. All that would be necessary to do to call another ship would be to say, 'Hello, Northland!' or 'Hello, Northstar!' or whatever the name of the vessel desired might be. This would also save great time, obviating the necessity of transmitting messages from the wireless room to the captain. All messages would come directly into the ears of the man steering the ship.
Wireless Chats with Husband.
"I have applied for patents, and meantime will go on perfecting my device. It was only six weeks ago that I succeeded in getting the apparatus working so that the voice was perfectly clear. Before that it was often dull or indistinct, but now it is as clear as that which comes over a telephone wire."
Mrs. Vermilya, who was Miss Katherine Southworth of Portland, Me., takes a keen interest in her husband's work. Never does the Northland drive her prow up or down the Sound that Mrs. Vermilya is not sitting at her wireless to chat with her husband as he passes.