After breaking with the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1902, Reginald Fessenden had to look for new backing. He eventually helped form a new company, the National Electric Signaling Company, financed by two Pittsburgh millionaires, Hay Walker, Jr. and Thomas H. Given. Initially based in Washington, D.C., the company's center of operations moved to Brant Rock, Massachusetts in 1905, in order to try to set up a commercial transatlantic radiotelegraph service. But in December, 1906, the transatlantic effort came to an abrupt end, due to the collapse of the aerial at Machrihanish, Scotland, which was the eastern half of the link.
In this extract, Helen Fessenden talks about climbing to the top of the 400 foot (125 meter) Brant Rock aerial with her son Ken, who was born in May, 1893, so would have been about thirteen years old when the climb took place. The color view of the Brant Rock tower is from a contemporary postcard, while the black-and-white photograph of the ill-fated Machrihanish station is from the 1909 edition of James Erskine-Murray's "A Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy".
Builder of Tomorrows, Helen Fessenden, 1940, page 119:
WIRELESS AS A BUSINESS ENTERPRISE
THE WASHINGTON STATION was intended to be permanent headquarters, so required a more complete equipment than any previous station. A larger staff must be recruited and trained since technical men and operators must be available to erect and install other stations on order, abroad as well as at home.
Mr. Le Conte Davis, Mr. Edward Bennett, Mr. Adam Stein were all technical men of the Washington period. Mr. Glaubitz a mechanical engineer of Western University was construction engineer. Among others, Mr. Lee, Mr. Wescoe, Mr. Isbell and Mr. Beakes joined the ranks of the operators.
In order to sell the system as a whole something dramatic had to be done, and already in 1904 this something had been decided upon, i.e. Trans-Atlantic Working. It cannot be said that Fessenden really approved of this decision. Difficult and discouraging as the sales situation was, it was still his conviction that the proper and sensible thing for the company to do was to engage in business and obtain its share of orders for wireless apparatus instead of loading the company up with debt for all kinds of development work.
Hitherto our stations had been planned for limited transmissions--120 miles being the greatest distance planned. Now, at a single jump, 3000 miles was to be attempted! A glorious objective beyond question. But was it sensible?
Fessenden believed that it was not. The practical and business side of his brain told him that the interests of the company and of the public would best be served by progressive, stage by stage development. No art is ever complete and perfect beyond change and improvement. But the public does not want to wait for ultimate perfection, it wants the best that the present state of the art affords, and that is what the Fessenden System admittedly could supply.
But Given and Walker wanted the grandstand play of Trans-Atlantic working. They were putting up the money and in the ensuing burst of glory they expected to sell out to the highest bidder.
I have said that the practical and business side of Fessenden's brain disapproved of the proposed step. That is correct, but on the other hand, the side that leaped ahead to far-flung goals, that gloried in the buoyancy of supreme confidence in his own ability to overcome difficulties--that side could not be other than thrilled at the task to which he was pledged. Once embarked upon the undertaking, he was single minded in his devotion to its accomplishment. Thenceforth the Washington station and our own house at Riggs Place fairly seethed with plans and preparations. Large scale maps littered the floors like autumn leaves--eastern and western Atlantic seaboards were scanned and measured for sites--gnomic projections were consulted--and, since in view of Government obstructions it was by no means a matter of what we would like but rather of what we could get, our Mr. Boyle in England, with the assistance of our London patent attorneys, was instructed to see where in Great Britain the British Government would permit the erection of an experimental wireless station.
There were difficulties, but finally the choice of one of two sites was submitted. Of the two, Machrihanish on the far side of the Mull of Kintyre opposite Campbeltown seemed the more desirable. With this as a fixed point, the line of the great circle led out from the coast of Scotland across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, down a valley of its contour, across the Isthmus of Chignecto and the Bay of Fundy and out across another waste of waters to our own shores of the Massachusetts coast, specifically Brant Rock. Land was leased at both places and construction operations begun.
But this was only the where.
The how was infinitely more important.
Trans-Atlantic working at that time and for fully two decades afterwards, required very high masts or towers. Reg believed in using where possible, construction methods that had stood the test of time and that were already standardized, and in his opinion the smoke stack was a well tested type of tower.
So he designed and patented an antenna which was to consist of a cylindrical steel tube, 400 feet high, with the N.E.S. Co.'s patent "Umbrella Capacity" at the top. Each tower, i.e. the one at Brant Rock and the one at Machrihanish, was to rest by ball and socket on an insulated base and to be supported by sectionally-insulated wire-rope guys of the company's standard type. There were four sets of guy ropes of four each at 100 foot intervals.
The contract for the steel work and erection of the two towers was given to the Brown Hoisting Machinery Company of Cleveland, Ohio, and for the insulators to the Locke Insulator Company of Victor, N.Y.
The specifications called for the tower to stand a wind pressure of 50 lbs. per square foot of flat surface, and for the tower to be capable of being extended to a height of 500 feet if desired--and to be capable of standing a pressure of 50 lbs per square foot of flat surface even if one set of guys broke.
On these specifications the Brown Hoisting Company gave the following calculated stresses:
|Second Guy ||14,750|
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor Miller made tests to determine the breaking strength of the insulators. The tests showed that the insulators were stronger than the forgings to which they were attached--the holes in the steel forgings elongating ¼ inch at 46,000 lbs. With a different method of attachment the porcelain insulators cracked at from 51 to 56,000 lbs.
The tower was insulated to stand approximately 500,000 volts and safety gaps were provided for discharges if the potential rose above 500,000, to prevent injury to the insulators. The design was carried out in a very creditable manner by the Brown Hoisting Machinery Company but with unexpected delays, so that the towers were not completed until December 28, 1905.
The Brant Rock station was begun first and during the early months of 1905 this work was actively pushed by the Brown Hoisting Company and by our own construction engineer, Mr. Glaubitz. By midsummer when the work had advanced far enough for the bare essentials of equipment to be in place, we left Washington for Brant Rock and soon after our arrival Mr. Glaubitz proceeded to Machrihanish.
Since the Fortress Monroe days Mike the cat, had retired to private life but now, with a railway permit for "one small cat" from Washington to Boston, he resumed his official position as Mascot of Western Tower.
Two summer cottages were on the tract of land leased for the station, one of them became the office and our living quarters, the other was used for precision testing and as living quarters for the stenographer's family.
Mr. Hadfield our engineer at Brant Rock recalls the day in late summer when the insulators successfully withstood their test. He writes.--
"This was the occasion for an invitation to all hands and the cook to come to the office. 'The Old Man' as we always called him when he was not looking, broke out a case of Pabst Export and we all drank to the success of the venture. But the Professor raised his glass and said "Here's to the Trans-Atlantic Telephone."
But of course, it wasn't a dream really; Reg had already done enough to know that it was possible.
After we returned to our respective stations one of the fellows said--'Now isn't that just like the Old Man, dreaming about telephoning across the Atlantic before he knows whether or not we will be able to telegraph as far as Plymouth. A thousand miles ahead of himself, that's the way he has always been. But the toast was prophetic, the dream came true, and it is a fact that although he was a thousand jumps ahead of himself he was always able to catch up with himself and make a wild-looking dream an accomplished fact in a very short time."
Sometimes instead of "The Old Man" Reg was designated by the sine "Z." Mr. H. C. Gawler one of our operators of the Brant Rock days and now Sales Manager of the Federal Telegraph Company writes of this--
"All of us operators had sines, i.e. Pannill's was "CN", Wescoe's "W5", Lee's "MW", mine "W", and so on. It is natural that we referred to Glaubitz as "G", Stein as "S" etc. I believe that Pannill was the first to use the letter "Z" to designate Prof. Fessenden and soon all of us used Z even in our conversations. As evidence that the practice was not objected to by Prof. Fessenden you will find numerous memos, I feel confident, still in existence signed with Z.
Sea air off Massachusetts Bay was invigorating after sultry Washington and the summer and fall months were delightful but with cold weather we became aware that "rock bound coasts and bleak New England Shores" were more than mere poetic license.
The professor's signature resembled a train of erratic but rapidly decaying oscillations, as you must admit, so that may account for the acceptance of Z for some of the more informal acknowledgements on memos. There were few in Naval service having to do with Fessenden equipment who did not know that Z was Fessenden, and this applied generally within his zone of activity."
Water supply was cut off at the first sign of frost, since piping was too near the surface to permit winter service. A water cart brought periodical supplies for the entire plant and new zinc ash barrels constituted our household tanks. It often seemed to me that an appropriate title for our work was "Wireless and Waterless Telegraphy and Telephony."
The winds blew gale force and for days on end. The foundations of the cottages had been sodded up to afford some protection but even so, the linoleum on the office floor undulated to a height of six and eight inches and elsewhere the breezes frolicked freely through cracks of the flooring. A coal stove of the railroad waiting-room type heated the office and Mike was made supremely happy with a box lined with one of his master's coats and placed back of the stove; its perfections never staled and each return to it was marked by a paean of purrs. For Ken and myself, the kitchen stove was a refuge, especially during the inactive hours of lessons, when we were apt to sit with our feet at the open oven door for warmth.
The men at the plant met all discomforts--and they were many--with utmost good cheer and only after a week or more of high winds did nerves grow a bit edgy. Not to be outdone by the office, they too adopted a cat giving her the aristocratic title of Ermyntrude; this quickly simplified itself to "Minty."
Mr. Lee, one of our tried and true operators tells a story of a cricket that took up residence in the receiving room. One winter night Reg blew in and heard the cricket doing a little rival Morse sending. "You'd better see what he's talking about, Lee." "Yes sir," said Lee, "I have and all I can make out is something about Icicles."
An interesting relic was unearthed during the foundation digging at Western Tower. Arrow heads were a frequent find but the real treasure was an Indian pipe, a most delightful and whimsical bit of artistry. The small black bowl and about three inches of stem were perfect. Up the side of the bowl clambered a bear cub, using obviously every ounce of strength to hold on; along the stem making straight for the smoker's mouth was the second bear cub, absolutely fearless. Were those the two qualities the Indian carver of long ago sought to depict?--endurance and fearlessness?
The workman who ran across it was glad to sell it for a few dollars to Mr. Campbell, one of our technical men and through him this treasure has been admirably preserved to the public. When it was learned that Mr. Cyrus Dallin was commissioned to make a statue of Chief Massasoit, to be carried out in bronze and erected on Cole's Hill, Plymouth, as a feature of the Ter-centenary celebrations, Mr. Campbell offered Mr. Dallin his pipe as a model for Massasoit's Peace Pipe. The offer was accepted and a copy of the pipe is now a noteworthy detail of a notable work of art.
WESTERN TOWER WAS a veritable beehive and to and fro the workers went gathering their precious stores of measurements and facts. As activity increased at Brant Rock men were transferred from the Washington Station till only the skeleton of a machine shop force was left behind.
It would be vain to attempt to describe these activities. Fessenden's technical papers of the period, as listed, will satisfy the technical reader on this point, and in touching on these matters I am much in sympathy with Mr. Bryan's explanatory remark to the Secretary of the Navy on a certain occasion when he demanded a battleship and was pacified with a gunboat. "Roosevelt, after this when I talk about a battleship don't think I mean anything technical."
Neither do I mean anything technical but it is essential to convey something of the tremendous surge of development that went on.
What should be brought out above all is Fessenden's inflexible requirement that every component part of sending and receiving apparatus must be brought up to maximum efficiency. The strength of the whole is measured by its weakest link and there must be no weak links. He often attributed superiority of his results to this rule. Know by quantitative measurements what a thing is capable of and see that it does it. Be satisfied with nothing less than the best.
For sending, every type of spark gap was investigated, a compressed gas spark gap invented, a rotary spark gap giving 20,000 sparks per second was built, different electrodes were tried,--in short no thing was neglected that might make any one of these types the most perfect thing of its kind.
So, every device came up in turn for intensive consideration. It might be compressed air condensers. Then, by long distance 'phone, telegram and letter, aluminium rolling mills would be besieged for sheet production that would be absolutely free from buckle. It might be head 'phones; the best commercial types would be tested and better demanded or made. And so with amplifiers, tuners, relays, interference preventers, what-not. The draughting room under Mr. Mansbendel designed and designed again and yet again, then the machine shop and lastly the experimental department relentlessly analyzed the quantitative output.
Mr. Edward Bennett head of the experimental department and Mr. James C. Armor, his assistant, came on from Washington to take part in 'tuning up' the tower for trans-Atlantic work. Since Mr. Armor worked first at Western Tower and then at Machrihanish, his account of the two stations will be quoted.
"The equipment of the two stations was identical. The sending apparatus consisted of a 40 horse-power steam engine driving a 35 K.V.A. 125 cycle alternator which, in turn, supplied current to transformers in which the voltage was raised to the value required to operate the spark gap. This was a rotating spark gap driven from the generator and arranged to give one spark each alternation at a predetermined point on the voltage wave. These rotating gaps produced clear, almost musical signals, very distinctive and easily distinguished from any other signals of that time. They were very superior to other signals commonly used which, by comparison, were very rough and ragged.
Mr. Armor sailed for Machrihanish the Saturday before Christmas. He was thoroughly trained in the handling of the apparatus and was to be in charge of the experimental work at the Scottish station. On the Sunday following Christmas Day, Fessenden put in a very hard day and night of mathematical work checking the figures on which the different "Tunes" were based. He found that an error had crept in through a faulty conception of the tower's electrical characteristics. The corrections necessitated a new set of figures for the "tunes" and these I coded on New Year's Day but the cable was not sent off until the morning of the 2nd.
At first we used oil insulated condensers but these were superseded by Prof. Fessenden's compressed air condensers which were greatly superior to the oil insulated ones.
The receiving apparatus was housed in a small building located perhaps 100 feet from the building containing the sending apparatus so that the operator would not be disturbed by the noise of the revolving machinery. The receiving apparatus was of a type developed by Prof. Fessenden and was very efficient and very selective. While the equipment of the two stations was identical the terrain was quite different. At Brant Rock the country was flat with sandy beach, while at Machrihanish the shore was generally rocky with hills back of the station rising to a height of about 600 feet.
At Brant Rock during the months of November and December 1905 we made many measurements of all kinds, calculated to throw light on the performance of the equipment and of the station as a whole. As a result of this study of the characteristics of the station three wave-lengths were adopted as standard. These were designated A, B and C tunes.
Sometime in the latter part of November or early December, 1905, we started to send regularly to Machrihanish, which station at that time was equipped to receive although it could not send signals. The schedule adopted was as follows:--
At 8 P.M. U. S. Eastern Standard Time, Brant Rock would call Machrihanish using the "A" wave-length. They would then send the letter D repeated three times every ten seconds for a certain length of time after which any desired message would be transmitted and Brant Rock would sign off. The total time of sending on "A" wave-length between 8 and 9 P.M. occupied thirty minutes, leaving thirty minutes scheduled for Machrihanish to reply on the same wave-length. The rate of sending the letters D was accurately timed so that the three D's took up exactly 7½ seconds with a silence of 2½ seconds before the 3 D's would be repeated.
Beginning exactly at 9 o'clock Brant Rock would send in the same way except that "B" wave-length was used and the same program was repeated at 10 o'clock using "C" wavelength.
From the time the regular schedule of sending was started until the night I arrived at Machrihanish no signals from Brant Rock had been heard there."
So at last we come to the momentous opening days of 1906, when for the first time in the history of the world two-way trans-Atlantic wireless telegraph messages were sent and received.
We knew that Mr. Armor was due to reach Machrihanish just about this time, also the 'Umbrella Capacity' of the tower was now in place, so we earnestly prayed for success.
On the afternoon of the 3rd a long cable in code began to come in over the telephone. Happening to be in the office at the time I said in an undertone to Reg--"It sounds as if they've been getting us, doesn't it?" "Oh, probably something about the tune" he replied, but took the code book and began to decode the first few words. In a few minutes he came into the dining room saying "They're getting us all right."
Strict secrecy in case of success had been enjoined by Given and Walker, so the message was brought into our dining room to be decoded but long before it was fully deciphered we were certain of the good news, and so exalted and excited with the joy of it that it was difficult to settle down to final particulars. When it came to "Get you 150 ohm shunt" Reg said to Miss Bent, his secretary and to me--"That's all I want to know. I told them they should get us 140 ohm shunt. You can finish the cable by yourselves now--that's all I want to know."
It was a tremendous relief, this realization of hopes that had been built up on theory and calculation. Newfoundland had lost its terrors, it didn't deflect our waves in some unexpected manner. The Bay of Fundy was no longer a nightmare for what it might possibly do.
However carefully this System had been built up fact by fact, nevertheless no one knew better than Fessenden that wireless still had its riddles and that we might have struck a particularly hard one in this trans-Atlantic work. But, so far, luck was with us, and we were like to burst from having to bottle up our glorious exaltation.
For the Machrihanish side of the picture we must see through Mr. Armor's eyes. After a very rough voyage he reached Campbeltown about 5 P.M. on January 2nd and drove on to Machrihanish in an open cart and through a driving hail-storm.
"As soon as possible after reaching Machrihanish Mr. W. E. Beakes (who was the operator on duty that night) and I went to the station and that night we, for the first time in Machrihanish heard signals from Brant Rock, picking up all three wave-lengths, that is tunes A, B, & C.
Work continued, each night Brant Rock sending signals and messages and Machrihanish cabling us the results. Each day the signals seemed to improve until on one occasion they got us on 14 ohm shunt and the sound could be heard with the telephone held 2½ inches away.
The operator that night felt, of course, that if anything could be heard from Brant Rock he did not want me to hear it first, so he listened through almost the entire first period without getting anything. When I did listen Brant Rock was signing off but I picked them up almost immediately. I turned the phones back to the operator, Brant Rock, however, had by that time signed off and had stopped sending. I therefore was the first person to hear Brant Rock signals received in Machrihanish.
I had watched the operator and saw that he passed too quickly over the instrument settings on which I expected to hear Brant Rock. I told the operator on what instrument settings I thought he could hear the next period and as I had had a very hard trip from Glasgow and was very tired I lay down on the work bench in the operating room and went to sleep. The next period the operator picked up Brant Rock almost immediately and woke me up and we heard the whole period, also picking up the third period without difficulty.
The next morning Mr. Glaubitz cabled Prof. Fessenden using the phrase "credit due Armor".
On January 10th, Brant Rock asked Machrihanish if it could manage to send the next night after our sending period was over. The cable came in reply "Every effort will be made to send." But we knew there were heavy odds against getting them on their first attempt at sending. They did not know about the snappy type of signal that the operators at Brant Rock found to work best--atmospheric might be extra heavy, anything at all might happen to disappoint. But hopefully after 11 P.M. when our own sending period ended, I went down to the receiving room to get news and report to Reg who was ill in bed.
I found Mr. Bennett, Mr. Pannill and Mr. Wescoe there, Mr. Pannill listening in. They greeted me with "We haven't got them yet." We all sat quiet as mice, Pannill listening as hard as he could, Mr. Bennett sometimes listening and Mr. Wescoe turning the inductance roller, I think. Suddenly about twenty minutes to twelve Mr. Pannill said "There he is--just as pretty as possible--way down," and he removed the telephone he had been using to adjust the more sensitive Lambert Schmidt one to his ears. "That's it all right. You couldn't mistake that spark," and Mr. Bennett was given the telephone to listen.
"Oh, that's it, you couldn't mistake that musical note."
After listening a minute or so he handed the phone to me. The boys had said that there was little atmospheric though lots of interference, and true enough I found it; four or five different sets of signals that I could distinguish, and very near ones apparently, but presently--way, way off sounded ZZZ-ZZZ-ZZZ and I knew I was listening to Machrihanish. Then the point was adjusted and I heard the spark several times again and then handed the telephone to Mr. Wescoe who had been whispering "Hurrah!"
The boys at first said that we were getting Machrihanish at about 400 ohm shunt and this on tune "A," which was the poorest one. The best one was to be used from 12 to 1. I did not wait for that period but went back to the cottage to tell Reg the results so far.
Next morning Mr. Bennett said that we got Machrihanish on 150 ohm shunt but that interference continued and atmospheric increased considerably so that only one message came through well. We got "Condensers working very satisfactorily." That was about as good as could be expected for the first time, seeing too that Machrihanish did not have the best selector installed.
To another generation and more than thirty years later, all this may seem very tame, but then it was HISTORY--new from the mould of Time. Once again in "Communications" it could be said "What hath God wrought" and in all humility the medium of the miracle was the Fessenden System.
Given and Walker had said that if we succeeded in getting across that they would feel like riding down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D. C. with their legs hanging out of the cab windows. So still in the spirit of secrecy, Fessenden wired them on January 3rd that they had better get ready for that drive. But perfect moments don't last forever.
To return to Mr. Armor's account:--
"About the second week in January 1906 we were able to start our scheduled sending to Brant Rock and messages were exchanged nightly for some time, allowing us to transact our regular business between the two stations in that way. However, at times the weather conditions were such that we could not get across. As summer approached with correspondingly short nights the interchange of messages became very difficult and the company decided to greatly increase the capacity of the sending apparatus. In the meantime the regular schedule was suspended for the summer."
Atmospheric absorption was the factor on which calculation had gone astray. Tests made on shipboard at distances of 1500 miles had shown that 90% of the radiation was lost in atmospheric absorption--that is, that 10% got through. Since messages could be received if only one-fifth of one per cent got through it was believed that the margin of safety for this 3000 mile transmission partly over land, was sufficient.
But after the first few months of working in 1906 it was found that with the same sending power, the range of received signals on different nights was all the way from 400 times stronger than audibility to signals so weak that they could not be read.
During the period of good working successful demonstrations were given to representatives of the General Electric Company and others at Brant Rock and to Mr. Shields, the technical expert of our English Patent Attorneys at Machrihanish, but it was evident that the stations were not yet sufficiently powerful for regular commercial work.
IN THE EARLY DAYS Brant Rock Tower possessed all the attractions of a new toy. To climb it was one of our small stunts--not for the men of course for in the line of duty they were up and down it all day long--but for the 'laity.'
One squeezed through a manhole at the base and started a perpendicular climb via a steel ladder built at one side of the tube. Darkness all the way except for the light that came through the manholes at each 100 ft. interval; then at the top one crawled precariously out on to a small platform that surrounded the tube and enjoyed the panorama of land and sea below, and in a small way gloried in one's own sense of achievement. Crawling back into the tube was the most ticklish part of the performance--a 400 ft. drop wasn't a comforting thought, especially as in our case, my young son would not be denied the adventure and climbed with me.
Mr. Pannill contributes a story in this connection.
"It was not intended that people of large 'rotunda' should proceed to the top of the tower by this means and therefore the hole was not of very large proportions. This made no difference to Professor Fessenden who one day when something went wrong decided to go to the top of the tower. He squeezed in all right, but the difficulty was coming out, as he had evidently 'swelled' somewhat since he entered the tower.
Another stunt, this exclusively for the men, was to be in the tower when sending was going on and it was functioning as an antenna. I recall seeing Mr. Bennett standing inside the tower holding in his hand a lamp bulb. On extending his arm through the manhole the lamp filament glowed brilliantly. Brant Rock was popular as a summer resort and in consequence we were pestered by the idle and curious, who disregarded notices and signs against trespassing with the traditional aplomb of the tourist. This was not only disturbing and time-wasting but might be fraught with danger, and more than once Fessenden staged a realistic tempest in a tea-pot to teach the public proper respect for our regulations.
To make a long story short, it was necessary to grease the hole thoroughly with axle grease and for him to get most of his clothes off, before we were able to push him thru the hole.
It goes without saying that within a few days after this incident, the riggers suddenly appeared to install an outdoor swinging elevator to the top of the tower, which the Professor used thereafter."
Another important reason for keeping the public out was that spying by other companies was by no means uncommon. A watchman was always on duty and hourly rounds for inspection was one of his chief functions, the exact performance of which was certified by the registers of the time clocks at ten different points on his route.
Fire, too, was one of our hazards and once in the middle of a winter night Western Tower underwent its baptism. The watchman sounded the alarm whistle and quickly all the men within its radius of sound responded. Fire drill was so well organized that no time was lost and only all amount of damage done. It was exciting while it lasted and there was no more dejected man on the plant for days afterwards than Mr. Hadfield, our engineer, who lived furthest from the station, had not heard the whistle and had missed the excitement.
There were, of course, many official visitors and these grew more numerous as the work progressed.
Patent work increased daily and with it, legal expenses. In order to reduce these costs somewhat Given and Walker decided to make a change in the company's patent attorney, switching from the expensive firm of Christy & Christy of which Mr. Wolcott was a member, to a young attorney, Mr. F. W. H. Clay who with his way to make, was willing to work at lower rates. Mr. Clay was a hard worker and a keen and skillful lawyer but until he had mastered the technical details of the 150 odd Fessenden applications in his charge an extra burden developed on Reg to see that no mistakes were made, no oversights, no office action overlooked.
Also at this time Reg, as will be seen from the appended list of his papers, kept the scientific world informed as to his work by numerous contributions to foreign and domestic technical journals.
One incident in this connection may be of interest. A certain statement was received by an English technical publication, typewritten on National Electric Signaling Company stationery and with Fessenden's stamped signature. It appeared to be genuine, but to the Editor the statement in this communication did not ring quite true. It seemed to clash with previous printed statements by Fessenden; he sensed something queer about it and before printing the communication, wrote to Fessenden to make inquiries.
On investigation it was evident that the original communication on the sheet of paper had been washed off and a different communication substituted, neatly fitted to the available space.
It was not very important since it had been caught in time, but it intrigued us to try to trace the thing. We anticipated that the original letter might have been the reply to some applicant for a job. All files were ordered sent on from the Washington office and though no one had much time for sleuthing I undertook to hunt the needle in the haystack. This was tedious but not difficult. The first thing was to narrow the choice down to carbons of N.E.S. Co. letters that came within the dimensions--about twelve double spaced lines. Then such idiosyncracies of the machine and typist of the original letter as could be discerned were carefully charted. Under the microscope a period caused a minute puncture, a comma or certain letters were struck more forcibly and not completely obliterated by the wash. With this skeleton chart on onion skin paper some hundreds of selected letters were compared, and beyond shadow of doubt the search brought us at last to the Patent Office. The letter used was an unimportant one as it was concerned with routine matters only, and would hardly be missed from Patent Office files.
Trans-Atlantic working was not resumed until October 1906.
Great difficulty had been experienced in getting suitable aluminium discs for the compressed air condensers, so that even in October only half of the required number of condensers were in place. This gave the station a margin of safety of 2000. With the full number installed it would have been 4000 and Fessenden further intended to use a new form of receiving apparatus which he estimated would have brought the margin of safety up to 400,000.
But even with the 2000 margin of safety the stations, barring shut-downs for a couple of nights for mechanical reasons, operated continuously until December 5, 1906.
During these two months, demonstrations were numerous and to widely diversified interests. U.S. Army and Navy officials, Associated Press, Foreign Attaches, technical experts of American Telephone and Telegraph Company and of the General Electric Company, and scientific experts, Dr. A. E. Kennelly, Dr. G. W. Pickard, Mr. Hammond V. Hayes, Dr. Louis Bell, Professor Webster, Professor Pierce among others. It can readily be imagined that these were strenuous days for all. Everyone was keyed up and on his toes to get best results.
Winter isolation and limited accommodation at Brant Rock were not the least of our problems, for visitors must not be allowed to experience discomforts. They were met and entrained with minimum effort to themselves; offices and testing rooms were specially heated if the weather proved uncommonly New Englandish; meals were planned with care for anticipated events and when unexpected guests arrived and the proverbial bare cupboard yawned at me, housekeeping magic was in order as well as wireless miracles. Nothing must detract from the effect of the tests.
Reg was always at his best as host, whether at a meal at his own table or at a feast of scientific achievements, though in regard to the latter he often in my opinion erred in laying too little emphasis, touching too lightly and casually on the wonders he revealed, almost as if they were a matter of course.
Indeed this habit of disclosure of his most advanced findings to other workers in the wireless field in the belief that such disclosure established his priority of invention, led to many serious consequences. In 1904 one of his patent attorneys referring to two occasions of that period when such disclosures had been abused, wrote to Fessenden--"we remarked that you would never learn to keep your great discoveries to yourself."
One evening in November when no tests were on, permission was given me to send a personal message by wireless to friends in London. The message itself went in code and was decoded at our Machrihanish Station but the name and address, both entirely unknown to anyone at our Scottish station went straight, of course. Two nights later a reply via Machrihanish came from my London friends, who I think, may not be aware that they were the first to receive a personal message by trans-atlantic wireless telegraphy.
Mr. Pannill too has a recollection of this period.
"One morning about 3:30 I was on watch in the receiving station listening for signals from Scotland. It had been snowing all day with a heavy gale and very cold. I was startled by the opening of the door of the receiving room, when there appeared Professor Fessenden in bath robe and slippers and smoking a Pittsburgh stogey. He explained that he would like when I heard the signal from Scotland, to listen intently for an echo 1/5 of a second later and he explained that the echo would be the signal coming round the world.
On December 5, 1906 came another cable with vital tidings but this time of far different import. The Machrihanish Tower had crashed in a storm.
My first thought was that he had been giving too much attention to his work and was a little goofey, but what he had to say was not only true but has been demonstrated in many ways since that time, in other phases of wireless telegraphy. You could not help but have the greatest admiration, regardless of how startling some of his ideas seemed to be at the time, for his wonderful insight into the future of wireless."
It was as if Death were in our midst--a staying hand on all that moved and glowed with such promise but a minute ago.
How? Why? Brant Rock had stood storms as bad or worse with no sign of weakness anywhere.
For the answer to these questions we waited till letters and complete sets of photographs could reach us. These revealed that the primary cause of the disaster was faulty joining of the guy ropes!
When construction details were being settled the Brown Hoisting Company had pointed out that the method used by Roebling in Brooklyn Bridge had proved very satisfactory, so this method was decided on.
The cable of galvanized wire is first introduced into the small end of a cone-shaped socket, open at both ends. The cable is drawn through a certain distance and bound with a piece of binding wire; then the end of the cable is unlaid so that no two wires remain twisted together but are bunched like a brush: this is then pushed back into the socket and where the cable emerges from the socket a second piece of binding wire is wrapped around it. Then into the socket where all the untwisted wires are bunched, melted zinc is poured to fill every smallest crevice.
Tests at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that forgings had gone at 46,000 lbs., the insulators at 56,000 lbs., but the cable hadn't pulled out of its socket, so, properly made as at Brant Rock, these joints left nothing to be desired.
But at Machrihanish the Brown Hoisting Company had adopted a somewhat different method, in which the outer circle of unlaid wires were turned back on themselves, a wedge driven into the balance of the wires to spread them and melted zinc poured into the socket.
That this is an inferior type of joint is proved by the fact that after the fall of the tower it was found that five or six of the joints had pulled out of their sockets, though sockets and insulators remained intact. But even this type, faithfully carried out, would probably have stood the strain.
The cross section of the joint that first failed showed that a wedge had split in the original work and an indifferent workman or superintendent had allowed the defective wedge to remain, merely pounding the top of it flatter, thus shutting off more space from the free flow of the melted zinc. Then, as a final touch, the zinc had been poured almost cold, and instead of becoming a solid binder, it was merely a crumbly filler of space. The only wonder is that the tower did not fall before!
Fessenden said "The accident came at a very unfortunate time, as work had just been begun on a new method for eliminating atmospheric absorption, which had given very promising results, the absorption having already been reduced to one-tenth of what it was formerly. Moreover, the new receiving apparatus had only been partly installed and no opportunity had been afforded of trying it between the trans-atlantic stations.
It was a body blow, but Given and Walker no less than Fessenden took it with fine courage. The word was "Carry on."
Later in the summer [of 1931], with a group of friends our frustrated trip to Brant Rock was accomplished. Western Tower had been dismantled and abandoned by the National Electric Signaling Company in 1912 or 1913. We knew that a Newsreel event had been made of the fall of the Tower--guy ropes severed and at a given signal a pistol shot and the crashing fall of the 420 foot steel tube. Thank goodness we escaped seeing it, but now, standing beside the poor ruins of our Tower of Dreams and of Deeds, it was as if a soldier sorely maimed in service of his country had been deserted and forgotten. Nothing remained but the concrete foundation, the cement and insulator base and the socket in which the tube had rested.
Shards of the insulators strewed the ground, evidence of the small boy at play; we picked up a few pieces in memory; we went to the guy anchor beside which Mikums was buried; bayberries grew thick around it and we gathered a bunch of them, in his memory, and then we bade farewell to a spot where Reg had given the most and the best that was in him.
Writing at this time to Mr. Hadfield, our Brant Rock engineer, to thank him for a stirring protest in print against persistent newspaper mis-statements in regard to Radio history, I described our Brant Rock visit. So moved was he at thought of the pending destruction of even this poor remnant of our once famous station, that he appealed to such powers as he had once known in Massachusetts to see if something couldn't be done. Said he in part:--
"Because I know so well what important radio history was made there--I am deeply stirred by the prospect of the last physical remnant of our efforts going into the limbo of forgotten servants. The historic value of the old base is too great for Massachusetts to allow its loss.--An appropriation of a few hundred dollars would suffice to build a modest structure over it to protect it from vandalage. This should be a monument to Professor R. A. Fessenden whose work in the development of radio far transcends all others; but because he was interested in radio from a scientific instead of a publicity angle, the public have not heard so much about him or his work as it has of others of far less magnitude."
This was 1932. The protective structure most in vogue then was something designed to keep the wolf from the door and such a remote cause as radio history of the first decade of the century evoked little response.