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History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 207-211:


CHAPTER  XVI


United  States  Navy's  Contributions  to  Radio  and  Communications  Industries


1.  PROLOG

This part of the history begins with the outbreak of World War I and relates the Navy's dominant position in the development and improvement of radio communications and equipment during our neutrality and preparedness period, and the months of our participation in the war and during the period of return to normalcy. It also relates the development of commercial broadcasting and the effect of this upon Government radio communications.

2.  RADIO  SITUATION  AT  BEGINNING  OF  WORLD  WAR  I

As we enter this period, sometimes known as the "Military Era of Radio," many innovations in radio equipment and operating techniques had become available, but they were not yet in general use. A few hundred miles was the maximum range of all but a few stations, although there were many claims to the contrary. Fleet operations at Veracruz had pinpointed our deficiencies and had indicated that reliable long-distance radio communications was still in the future. This necessitated continuing the maintenance of naval radio stations a few hundred miles apart along our coasts to relay messages to their final destinations. The radio stations at Arlington and Mare Island were interconnected by landline telegraph. The only naval radio station capable of transmitting distances of approximately 1,000 miles, was the one recently constructed at Arlington, Va. Congress had authorized and appropriated funds for six additional high-powered stations, but several years would elapse before they would be available.
    Commercial radio communications, primarily ship-shore, were dominated by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America. This company had succeeded in purchasing the assets of most of its competitors and practically possessed a monopoly. Although it had not succeeded in providing reliable commercial radio communications between the United States and Europe, it was endeavoring to develop or purchase equipment to meet this need. The Atlantic Communication Co., a Telefunken subsidiary,1 was constructing a station at Sayville, Long Island. Another station was being built by Homag, a German concern, for a French communications firm.2 Both of these stations were intended to provide trans-Atlantic communications. The Federal Telegraph Co. had established a fairly reliable night service between San Francisco and Hawaii. The Tropical Radio Co., a subsidiary of the United Fruit Co., had erected stations in Boston, New Orleans, and at a few locations in Central America, and was maintaining company and limited commercial service between those points.
    The use of the three-element tube as a detector and amplifier had brought about improvements in reception, but this device required further development and refinement to make it satisfactory and reliable. The discovery of its oscillating properties made the use of heterodyne reception feasible and, for the first time, a satisfactory means for the reception of continuous waves became available.
    The improvements which had been made in the United States to the Poulsen arc transmitter made available a fairly satisfactory continuous wave transmitter. Although at the beginning of this period it was of relatively low power it was capable, with heterodyne reception, of reliably covering far longer distances than could be accomplished by the old spark transmitter despite all the efforts to improve its capabilities.
    The General Electric Co. had succeeded after years of effort in developing the Alexanderson alternator for the transmission of low-frequency continuous waves. This was not yet in operation, and its cost and size would limit its use to long-distance transmissions.
    Research and development of a low-powered tube transmitter for voice transmissions were being conducted, but for many years such transmitters would be restricted to short-distance transmissions except for experimental purposes.

3.  THE  U.S.  NAVY'S  ROLE  DURING  WORLD  WAR  I

During most of this decade improvement in radio communications fell upon the Navy. At the beginning of the period research and development of radio equipment had almost ceased in this country. The American Marconi Co. was depending almost entirely upon its British parent. The National Electric Signaling Co. was in poor financial straits, had terminated the services of Fessenden, and had almost ceased research and development operations. None of the manufacturers held sufficient patents to meet Navy specifications and moreover, were unwilling to provide equipment with the required ruggedness. This forced the Navy into design and manufacture.
    At the beginning of World War I the preparedness program of this country required equipment in quantities large enough to create interest of commercial manufacturers who, feeling secure against patent infringement suits for equipment delivered the Government, were willing to meet Navy specifications. New manufacturers entered the field and sources became available which permitted the Navy facilities to be used primarily for research and design. Later, when court decisions indicated their liability for infringements of patents of equipments delivered to the Government, they were unwilling to continue unless the Government would assume the liability. This was done, and after the war the Government reviewed these infringements and recommended Congress appropriate funds for the payment of damages. Congress was unwilling to do this unless these damages were awarded by the U.S. Court of Claims. When the suits against the Government came before that court, the opinions of a patent adjudication board headed by a naval officer were the basis of awards.

4.  THE  NAVY'S  PART  IN  DEVELOPMENT  OF  ELECTRONIC  EQUIPMENT

Following the termination of the war naval officials felt that the future of radio communications depended upon increasing the reliability and power of the three-element vacuum tube and in developing low-frequency electronic transmitters. Commercial interests could not visualize sufficient market to warrant the development of this type of equipment and were unwilling to expend further funds in that direction. In furtherance of its program to utilize continuous-wave electronic equipment for its communication system, the Navy provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to encourage commercial interests to develop such equipment. None proved sufficiently reliable, and our own research activities developed the alternating-current tube transmitter which utilized the old spark transmitters by replacing the spark gaps with electronic oscillators. Later, naval economy brought about by the agreements of the Washington Disarmament Conference forced a discontinuance of support to commercial companies. Fortunately, by this time, the radio broadcast boom had hit the country, and it became lucrative for them to continue their research and development.

5.  U.S.  NAVAL  RADIO  OPERATIONS  DURING  WORLD  WAR  I

In the operating field the Navy became the sole agency, with the exception of U.S. Army field communications, for providing U.S. radio communications, both military and commercial, from the date we entered the war until 1 March 1920. Much was done during this period to increase the reliability of long-range communications by encouraging the development of higher powered arcs and alternators and by the Navy's own design of heterodyne and neutrodyne receivers, multiple-stage amplifiers, and other ancillary apparatus. By the end of the war, sufficient progress had been made in the development of static-reducing balanced antenna systems, together with improvements to transmitters and receiving equipments, to insure reliable transatlantic radio communications.

6.  THE  NAVY'S  ROLE  IN  PROTECTING  NATIONAL  INTERESTS

The administration of President Wilson advocated Government ownership of public utilities, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was a firm advocate of Government ownership of radio communications and did all in his power to achieve this, but the Congress thwarted his plans. Naval officers were instrumental in interesting the General Electric Co. in forming an American operating company, the Radio Corp. of America, for the purpose of eliminating a determined British endeavor to control this medium on a worldwide basis. Naval officers were also instrumental in bringing about cross-licensing agreements between the principal patent holders which resulted in improvements to vacuum tubes and other components. They also endeavored to make the tube freely available to all purchasers but were opposed in this by the ex-Marconi faction of the Radio Corp. of America, and it was not until it became evident that the new company was embarking on a monopolistic career that the Government took effective means to ensure the generalized use of patents on an equitable royalty basis.

7.  NAVAL  RADIO  RESEARCH 

At the beginning of this period the only radio research activity of the Navy was the naval radio research activity, at the Bureau of Standards, headed by Dr. Austin. Prior to the advent of the war in Europe the Radio Test Shop was established at the Washington Navy Yard for the purpose of designing naval receiving equipment and testing the equipment of commercial manufacturers. This unit did much to bring about improvements in receiver design, and their equipments were duplicated commercially and sold under several manufacturers' trademarks. Following the outbreak of hostilities, several small temporary laboratories were established for the purpose of conducting studies of static-reducing antenna systems.
    After our entry into the war it was decided to strengthen our naval air arm materially. The Naval Aircraft Radio Laboratory was established. In conjunction with the Radio Test Shop, this Laboratory did much to improve aircraft radio plants and to reduce the noise made by aircraft in flight.
    In 1923 these activities were consolidated in the Radio Division of the newly established Naval Research Laboratory at Anacostia, D.C., under Dr. A. Hoyt Taylor. Here, the work of improving aircraft radio communications was successfully continued. Additionally, the Research Laboratory was assigned the task of developing the use of higher frequencies for naval usage. This was accomplished, and equipment for this purpose was designed and constructed by Taylor and his associates. While engaged in this task the phenomenon of radio echoes was first noted. Although not developed until several years later, credit goes to Taylor as its discoverer.

8.  THE  RADIO  DIRECTION  FINDER

The radio direction finder patents of Dr. Frederick A. Kolster were obtained in 1916 and, with his assistance as a consultant, the radio shop of the Philadelphia Navy Yard adapted them to meet shipboard requirements. These equipments were quickly fitted in most of our men-of-war. They were especially useful in destroyers for hunter-killer and convoy operations. The equipment was made more useful by Dr. Austin's development of an antenna system which made it possible easily to eliminate reverse bearings. During the war direction finder equipments were installed around the seaward approaches to the important harbor of Brest, France, where they were utilized to determine enemy submarine positions for the purposes of taking offensive action and rerouting convoys to safer entry courses. At the completion of the war, groups of direction finder stations were being erected around the approaches to our important ports. For years thereafter these stations rendered services to all mariners and eliminated delays due to reduced visibility.

9.  DEVELOPMENT  OF  RADIO  CONTROLLED  OBJECTS

During the war the Government became interested in the development of radio controlled torpedoes and radio-guided aircraft.
    The first of these was developed by Mr. John Hays Hammond, Jr., and this project was, at first, supported by the Coast Artillery Corps, U.S. Army, assisted by the advice of naval officials. After the war the Army became convinced that there was no further requirement for such a weapon. The project was then taken over by the Navy and ultimately carried to a successful conclusion.
    The idea of radio guided, missile-carrying aircraft was first suggested by Dr. Peter Cooper Hewitt. The Sperry Gyroscope Co. undertook its development with the financial support of Dr. Hewitt. It quickly became evident that the program would be extremely costly and, at the suggesting of the Naval Consulting Board, it was taken over by the Navy during World War I. Little progress was made during the early stages of the problem. However, after suffering many setbacks, it did result in the development of the drone, predecessor of flying missiles.

10.  UNDERWATER  SOUND  DETECTION  RESEARCH  AND  DEVELOPMENT

The German submarine menace was sufficiently great at the time we entered World War I to make questionable our capability of providing Allied ground forces with the necessary logistic support.
    Underwater sound signaling had been developed by the Submarine Signal Co. during the first decade of this century. The equipment for this purpose was of short range and required a transmitted signal of much greater intensity than the noises emitted by submarines. Numerous laboratories were established by the Navy to conduct research and development of satisfactory devices. Considerable success was achieved in developing short-range acoustical devices but these were not capable of being operated at the speeds required for tracking and destroying submarines. Towards the end of the war electronic devices were being developed. Following the war, the Navy continued this research and quickly developed an echo ranging device for obtaining soundings. In 1923 a Sound Research Division was established as a part of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory where, under the directions of Dr. Hayes, the echo ranging device was developed into the Sonar of World War II.

11.  THE  NAVY'S  ROLE  IN  THE  EXPANDED  RADIO  WORLD

Improvements of the wartime low-powered voice modulated transmitter resulted in the "broadcast boom" in late 1921. Radio became an American household word. Its uses expanded rapidly and necessitated the establishment of a strong Federal radio control which eventually resulted in the establishment of the Federal Communications Commission. This body took over the licensing function of the Department of Commerce and to a large extent began controlling internal radio policy. Under the conditions which arose, the Navy's use of the radio soon became less important nationally than did that of commercial interests. Naval personnel contributed by agreeing to avoid the use of broadcast frequencies in areas where such use would create interferences. With a lucrative market for equipment, the commercial companies resumed their research, development, and design functions. Navy research personnel gradually assumed their proper role of providing guidance in the development of equipment fitted to naval needs.

12.  EPILOG

During most of the decade the Navy was the sole U.S. agency forcing the development of radio and protecting our national interests. Only by its support of commercial manufacturers during a period of intense patent litigation, by its honest efforts towards solving the patent problem, and by its protection of national interests, could the broadcast era have arrived in this country by 1921. In fact, most of the early household radio receivers were "chinese copies" of receivers which had been designed and developed by naval personnel. Early broadcast transmitters used the techniques developed for or by the Navy during World War I. Succeeding chapters relate in greater detail the Navy's role during this important period.

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    1 Although the Atlantic Communication Co. had an American board of directors its actions were completely dominated by the Gesellechaft Fuer Drahtlose Telegraphie m.b.h. (Telefunken).
    2 Station was being constructed for the Compagnie Generale de Telegraphie sans Fil but the German Homag firm delayed turning it over after World War I commenced.
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