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Radio During World War One (1914-1919)
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Civilian radio activities were suspended during the war, as the radio industry was taken over by the government. Numerous military applications were developed, including direct communication with airplanes. The war also exposed thousands of service personnel to the on-going advances in radio technology, and even saw a few experiments with broadcasting entertainment to the troops.
Government Control and Preparations -- Early Military Equipment -- U.S. Initial Neutrality -- Wartime Usage -- Civilian Activities -- Broadcasting Experimentation


The introduction of vacuum-tube equipment promised to revolutionize radio. However, all amateur and commercial use of radio came to an abrupt halt on April 7, 1917 when, with the entrance of the United States into World War One, most private U.S. radio stations were ordered by the President to either shut down or be taken over by the government, and for the duration of the war it became illegal for private U.S. citizens to even have an operational radio transmitter or receiver -- in fact, it was Treason to Possess Wireless Stations according to one zealous city manager, reported on the front page of the April 23, 1917 San Jose Evening News. (In contrast, seven years later Radio World would declare: It Is the Patriotic Duty of All Citizens to Have a Radio). Radio in the U.S. had become a government monopoly, reserved for the war effort. Amateur radio operators were particularly hard hit by the restrictions. Before the ban, amateurs read the monthly issues of The Electrical Experimenter in order to find out about the latest improvements in equipment design, but now that magazine was featuring articles like How the Government Seals Radio Apparatus, which appeared in July, 1917. The American Radio Relay League's July, 1917 QST magazine brought Arthur C. Young's report of What Happened at Buffalo When Closing Orders Were Received. QST also began carrying monthly reports from former amateurs who were now enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and in September, 1917, in its final issue before suspending publication for the duration of the war, mused about the uncertain future of amateur radio in Another Season Opens, But---, while Guglielmo Marconi, in the September, 1917 Wireless Age, asked that the United States "Send the Wireless Men Abroad Immediately". The war was an opportunity for some to advance beyond standard peacetime restrictions. In this heavily segregated era there were a limited number of jobs open to African-Americans, however in the May, 1918 issue of the same magazine, Negroes for Army Signalmen announced that radio operator training was being established in Richmond, Virginia.


Radio communication played a vital role for all combatants during the war, although, in the era before mechanization, army transportation still largely depended on mules and horses. In the 1906 Manual of Wireless Telegraphy by A. Frederick Collins, the Clark Portable Army Set sections reviewed "apparatus as compact and portable as possible so that it may be transported on the backs of mules", and in the 1911 edition of Drill Regulations for Field Companies of the Signal Corps (Provisional), the two main radio field units were the Pack Set, carried by a "section normally composed of 10 mounted men and 4 pack mules", and the Wagon Set, whose "section is normally composed of 18 mounted men, the wagoner and engineer, who ride on the wagon, and one wagon wireless set, drawn by 4 mules". In the November, 1911 Sunset Magazine, Louis J. Stellmann's War as a Modern Science reviewed the use of an early radiotelephone system by the Coast Artillery Corps of the California National Guard, operating at the Presidio in San Francisco. The October, 1916 edition of the United States Signal Corps' Radiotelegraphy manual reviewed advances in Pack and Wagon Set designs, including the adoption of quenched spark transmitters, and the reduction, by one, of the number of mules needed to carry a Field Pack set. Also included was a short section on the beginnings of mechanization, with development of transmitters carried by automobiles, plus information on an early form of spread spectrum transmission. After the entrance of the United States into the war, U.S. Signal Corps Radio Outfit in France, from the September, 1918 Electrical Experimenter, reported on field units deployed on the battlefield.


With the outbreak of war in Europe in August, 1914, the United States had initially declared its neutrality in the conflict. In order to enforce this neutrality, on August 5, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued an Executive Order instructing the Navy Department to censor international telegraph messages sent and received by radio firms, as reported in Wilson's Proclamation, from the September, 1914 The Wireless Age. The Marconi Wireless Company of America -- the dominant radio company in the U.S. at this time -- immediately and vigorously challenged the legality of this order, with their arguments spelled out in The Censorship of Messages, from the September, 1914 issue of The Wireless Age. (Although American Marconi was a U.S. corporation, its parent company had very close ties to two of the countries, Great Britain and Italy, allied against Germany). A short time later, the U.S. government complained that the American Marconi station at Siasconsett, Massachusetts had handled an unneutral message from the British cruiser Suffolk, but the Marconi company once again disputed the right of the U.S. Navy to monitor its operations, as detailed in The Censorship Situation, which appeared in the October, 1914 The Wireless Age. Dissatisfied by American Marconi's response to the Suffolk incident, the Navy shut down the Siasconsett operations for three and a half months, while the Marconi company unsuccessfully contested the action in the courts. The station reopened in January, 1915, with American Marconi now agreeing to follow the Navy regulations. On January 20, 1916, the U.S. Secretary of State sent a letter to Congress explaining the current censorship policy toward U.S. radio communications, and how it differed from cable restrictions. A New York Times article including the text of the letter was reprinted in Wireless Censorship, from the February, 1917 issue of QST. The Navy's expanding roles during this period are reviewed in the Operations and Organization of United States Naval Radio Service During Neutrality Period chapter of Linwood S. Howeth's 1963 History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy.


The military importance of radio was immediately apparent. In August, 1914, the Belgians had to completely destroy a major international communications station located near Brussels, in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the advancing German army, as reported in Destruction of the Brussels Radio Station, by Henry M. De Gallaix, from the November, 1919 Radio Amateur News. Directing the War by Wireless, written by George F. Worts and appearing in the May, 1915 Popular Mechanics, reviewed the multiple applications of radio in both short and long distance wartime communication. In the 1916 New York Times Current History, René Milan told how, On a French Cruiser in War Time, merchant ship sailors in European waters who had access to radio receivers were able to obtain relatively complete and timely war news, based on announcements transmitted by the high-powered radio stations operated by the major powers, "while the rest of the world must be content with the meagre, delayed communications authorized by the censorship". A British overview of various uses by Great Britain and its primary foe, Germany, Wireless Waves in the World's War by H. J. B. Ward, appeared in the 1916 edition of the annual The Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. In the May, 1917 Popular Science Monthly, Capt. A. P. Corcoran's Wireless in the Trenches reviewed radiotelegraph operations at the British front lines, where operators with portable transmitters proved invaluable, for "If a gas attack is coming, it is he who sends the warning to the men behind to put their gas helmets on." During the war, the Germans used radio transmissions to help airships navigate to their bombing run targets, reviewed by How the Zeppelin Raiders Are Guided by Radio Signals, which appeared in the April, 1918 Popular Science Monthly. However, the French would employ counter measures, as an article in the November, 1919 Electrical Experimenter reported how a special station had been used to confuse a group of enemy airships by transmitting phony signals, which put "another dent in Fritz's wild war dream" when Seven Zeppelins Were Lured to Death by Radio.

In the July 15, 1917 issue of Journal of Electricity, Wireless Telephone Will be Used by The Navy in War outlined research efforts by AT&T, including one key development, two-way voice communication with airplanes, which would be quickly achieved, meaning that "squadron formations of all sorts could be maintained in the air as easily as infantry units on the ground", according to American-Developed Radio Telephone Success in Airplanes, from the November 23, 1918 Telephony. An Associated Press report, appearing in papers including the November 23, 1919 Idaho Statesman, reported that the President had taken part in this sort of demonstration on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., as Wilson Directs Air Maneuvers by Radiophone.

During the war, the Navy's station NAA, near Washington, DC, broadcast nightly news summaries in Morse code which were received and reused by troops over much of the east coast and Atlantic ocean, with the March 25, 1918 The State in South Carolina reporting that the Signal Corps' Camp Jackson Has Its Own Daily Newspaper, while the September, 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics reported that, aboard ships sailing the Atlantic, Jackies Get News Daily by Wireless. Meanwhile, Navy's Control of Radio a Big Factor in War, in the December 12, 1918 New York Herald, mentioned that a bill before congress "would establish for all time to the Navy Department the control of radio in the United States and enable the navy to continue the work it carried on during the war". Although before the war ocean-going radio had generally been limited to passenger vessels, submarine warfare spurred merchant ships to add radio operators. In 1919, David W. Bone reviewed British World War One maritime activities in his book Merchantmen-at-Arms, and noted in the On Signals and Wireless chapter that "If to one man we seaman owe a debt unpayable, Marconi holds the bond". During the war, radio operator Dale Clemons kept a diary of his harrowing Atlantic run aboard an armed freighter, which his daughter, Bette J. Clemons, drew upon to document his adventures in a 1991 book, Wake of the Wirelessman (radio operations extracts).


During World War One, a Committee on Public Information ("Compub"), headed by George Creel, was formed to promote the United States war effort at home and abroad. In the December, 1918 Illustrated World, Donald Wilhelm recounted how the high-powered radio stations of the United States Navy were used for Sending the News to the Seven Seas -- "broadcasting the truth and the light", as provided "by the most powerful educational institution in the world, the Committee on Public Information". In the September, 1922 Popular Radio, Creel's The Battle in the Air Lanes noted that the World War had been the first to include "Public Opinion as a major force" where "moral verdicts took on all the value of military decisions", and the United States, with limited access to the international cables, had turned to radio for "reaching every country on the globe with the American message". A short reference in the February 21, 1919 Boston Herald noted that the American Radio and Research Corporation of Medford, Massachusetts, in conjunction with Major Foster Veitenheimer, signal officer of the department of the northeast, was planning to "send greetings" to President Wilson aboard the George Washington as the vessel approached Boston for a planned visit.

Although much of the fear in the United States about radio being used for spying was baseless hysteria, there were also legitimate concerns, one case reported in Remarkable Radio Outfit Built By German Spy, which appeared in the June, 1917 Electrical Experimenter. After the war ended, Pierre H. Boucheron reviewed radio espionage and counter-espionage in Guarding the Ether During the War, from the September, 1919 Radio Amateur News, and A War-Time Radio Detective, a four-part series which began in the May, 1920 issue of Electrical Experimenter.


While radio remained off-limits for the general public during the war, there were occasional hints of what lay ahead. Wireless Music for Wounded Soldiers from the April, 1918 The Wireless Age reviewed a short-range electrostatic induction system that could be used to entertain hospitalized soldiers with music and news. And between the cessation of hostilities in November, 1918, and the end of the civilian radio restrictions in 1919, there were scattered reports of military personnel firing up transmitters in order to broadcast entertainment to the troops -- for example, the January 10, 1919 Springfield Republican reported that Ensign Sanford Lawton Had Christmas at Sea, and in his letter to his parents noted that, as part of the festivities, "All of the latest music from the states was played over the wireless." A short time later Lieut. R. C. Roberts, of the Rockwell field radio department, transmitted a "Moonlight Wireless Dance", featuring "an abundance of entertainment for all", from the Battleship Marblehead, off the coast of San Diego, California, to dancers in Hanger Number 4, as reported in Wireless Phone to Transmit Music for Dance from the February 1, 1919, San Diego Evening Tribune, and Music by Wireless, in the March, 1919 issue of Telephone Engineer. In addition, the May 7, 1919 Dallas Morning News reported that U.S.S. George Washington, during its transatlantic crossing, had employed its radio transmitter to provide nightly a Concert by Wireless for Vessels at Sea.

In 1919, the amateurs began returning to civilian life. And, in contrast to the enthusiastic reports which had appeared in QST at the start of the war, Irving Vermilya's review of two years in the Navy, appearing in the December, 1919 issue, summed up his experiences in its title, "S.O.L."

"Germany, seven hours before the declaration of war at midnight on August 14, 1914, flung round the world on its chain of wireless stations the vital message to its mercantile marine: 'War declared on England, make as quickly as you can for a neutral port.' This terse dispatch unquestionably saved Germany many millions of pounds of property and secured for possible future use a fleet of passenger and cargo boats which might yet play a great part in her recovery from war's ravages."--"Long Distance Services", The Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, 1916.