TOC | Previous Section: Chapter XVII | Next Section: Chapter XIX
History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 221-226:


Development  of  the  High-Powered  Chain


As previously related, sufficient success in increasing radio operating ranges with the Fessenden rotary spark transmitter had been achieved by 1912 to warrant the Navy Department to request Congress to authorize and appropriate funds for a high-power chain to extend southward to the Canal Zone and westward to the Philippines. On 22 August 1912, Congress authorized $1 million and appropriated $400,000 for the construction of this chain. The authorization act stated that one station should be located in each of the following areas: Canal Zone, on the California coast, Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Philippines.1 The Radio (Arlington), Va. station, covering the North Atlantic and under favorable conditions, and capable of communicating with the Canal Zone and the west coast in case of interrupted cable or landline communications, was the seventh of the high-powered stations.


Originally it was intended that transmitters similar to the Fessenden synchronous rotary spark at Arlington would be used, but the performance of the Federal Co.'s arc, which gave longer ranges at less power and initial cost, resulted in changing to that type of equipment. Hooper desired to use an Alexanderson alternator at San Diego and a Telefunken frequency doubler alternator at Cavite but this did not prove feasible. The General Electric Co. could not guarantee that they could manufacture a satisfactory 200-kw. alternator and refused to sell it unless it met specifications. The Telefunken Co. submitted a bid on their frequency doubler alternator and immediately withdrew it, fearing the British would seize the vessel carrying it.2
    With the opening of the Panama Canal in August 1914, the requirement for adequate radio communication between the Canal Zone and Washington was pressing both for defense purposes and for the administrative business of the Government. Unsuccessful attempts by Army and Navy officials to agree upon plans for a high-powered station in the area resulted in the matter being referred to the Joint Army and Navy Board in 1911. This Board's recommendations, which were approved by the President, prohibited private or commercial stations in the Canal Zone and authorized the Navy to install, maintain, and operate a high-powered radio station there to be used in conjunction with other naval radio stations in the Atlantic and Pacific and for controlling the movement of the fleet in waters adjacent to the canal. The Board recommended that all radio stations in the Canal Zone transmit and receive commercial traffic.3
    Following the successful demonstration of the arc transmitter at Arlington, Hepburn ordered ten 30-kw. transmitters for shipboard use and, on 30 June 1913, contracted for one 100-kw. for installation in the Canal Zone station. The Federal Telegraph Co. accepted this contract at the Navy's risk, claiming that such a huge device, three times more powerful than any they had previously constructed, would generate excessive heat and would never be satisfactory.4 Figure 18-1


Following the President's approval of the recommendations of the Joint Army-Navy Board, a site was selected at Darien, 25 miles south of Colón. Construction was begun in December 1913 by the Quartermaster Department of the Panama Canal. All buildings were constructed of concrete, and the arc and receiving rooms were completely shielded by means of bonded and grounded wire mesh imbedded in the concrete. Three 600-foot, self-supporting, grounded steel towers located at the apexes of an approximately equilateral triangle, each side measuring about 900 feet, were erected to support the three sections of a flattop antenna. The completion of the station was delayed by the delinquency of the tower contractor, but it was finally placed in commission on 1 July 1915. The total cost was approximately $400,000. With the exception of minor and easily eliminated defects, the 100-kw arc immediately provided a signal easily received at Arlington except during the worst static periods. The Federal Telegraph Co. receivers, with tikkers, were supplemented by Navy designed heterodyne receivers.


The cost of the Darien station made it evident that the $1 million authorized for the construction of the high-powered chain was insufficient. Congress increased the authorization by another half million dollars on 3 March 1915, providing a total of $1,500,000 for the construction of five stations. Based upon previous plans, this amount was still insufficient. The successful operation of the Darien transmitter with its increased range and improvements in receiving, brought about by the use of the heterodyne receiving method used with the three-element vacuum tube as an oscillator and as an amplifier, made it possible to change the plans. It was decided to equip Pearl Harbor and Cavite with 350-kw. arc transmitters capable of direct communications with each other, thereby eliminating the requirement of relaying through Samoa and Guam. At these locations 30-kw. arc equipments would be installed in the existent buildings and the antennas would be improved to provide sufficient radiation.5 The Federal Co. had refused to guarantee the 100-kw. arc for Darien. When asked to construct the 200-kw. for San Diego and two 350-kw. ones for Pearl Harbor and Cavite, they were horrified, and again the Bureau had to gamble that they would be successful.6 The contract for these was signed on 21 February 1916.


Sites were selected for the three stations but a title flaw in the property selected in California, the only one in the chain for which private property had to be acquired, caused some delay. Since it was desired to effect savings by placing a single contract for the towers of the three stations, this necessitated delaying all work. About the end of October 1915, proposals for tower construction were advertised. The plans for all three stations followed the basic layout of Darien, with departures to fit the terrain and with the distances between towers increased wherever possible.
    The San Diego station was the first to be completed. Although it did not go into commission until May 1917, the official trials commenced on 26 January when Hooper sent the first message to Arlington using a silver key especially prepared for the occasion.7
    San Diego made quite a celebration over the completion of this station which presented an imposing sight with its three 600-foot towers crowning the hills across the bay from the city. On the day before the commissioning ceremony, everything went wrong, and there was a question as to whether the transmitter could be used because of a faulty keying circuit. One of the events was to be the transmission of a message from the new station to the Secretary of the Navy, and the receipt of his reply by the remote receiving station in San Diego. Hooper, not desiring that the Navy be held in ridicule by the possible failure of the transmitter, telegraphed the Bureau the message he intended to transmit and requested an advance copy of the Secretary's reply be wired him at once. The next morning brought no response. With great trepidation he joined the mayor, the city council, and other local dignitaries for the trip to Chollas Heights. On arrival at the station he discovered that the reply to his message had been delivered there. He could go through the motion of transmitting and then, after a proper time, he could deliver the press a message from the Secretary. He breathed a sigh, a very quiet sigh, of relief. The hour appointed for the station's first official transmission arrived. Hooper took his seat at the keying position and began transmitting his message. To his astonishment the huge relay key obeyed the commands of its tiny counterpart, and the transmitter was on the air. The Federal engineers, assisted by the station personnel, had labored long into the night checking and rectifying, rechecking and testing. One minute passed with no reply being received. Two minutes passed and then the operator, connected by wire line to the receiver at the remote receiving station, commenced writing. In another minute he handed Hooper a folded message which he, in turn, handed the mayor for that dignitary to read aloud to the assemblage. As the mayor read, Hooper secretly checked it with the advance copy. Wily Secretary Josephus Daniels had added an additional question which required a reply.8
    Upon his return to Washington, Hooper was directed to the Secretary. As he stepped into that dignitary's office he was greeted with the remark: "That was trickery, Hooper! I didn't like it at all!" The expected reply of "Aye, Aye, Sir" was received, and the incident was closed.9
    Meanwhile, construction of the stations at Pearl Harbor and Cavite was proceeding. The war caused delays in the fabrication of the towers and those for Cavite were further delayed by the British seizure of the ship carrying them. The towers were finally released after prolonged diplomatic negotiations. Pearl Harbor was placed in commission 1 October, and Cavite on 19 December 1917.
    The transpacific chain was completely successful but its construction had necessitated overcoming many obstacles and the taking of numerous calculated risks. Both Austin and Clark had claimed that the antenna voltages would be more than existing insulators could withstand and that the corona would prevent efficient radiations. When the Federal Co., submitted a plan requiring chains of interlocked porcelain insulators, each approximately 15 feet long and at a total cost almost equal to that of the transmitter, Hooper asked the Locke Insulator Co. to design a practical strain insulator for the purpose. To the great credit of this company, then a small concern, they developed, within a few months, a practical insulator with metal corona shields which could be installed on the wings of the towers.10


Following the outbreak of World War I the President, by Executive order, directed the Secretary of the Navy to take over "one or more high-powered radio stations within the jurisdiction of the United States and capable of transatlantic communication."11
    In compliance with this order, the high-powered station at Tuckerton, N.J., was taken over on 9 September. This station, completed just prior to the beginning of the war, was constructed by the German firm Hochfrequenz-Machinen Aktiengesellschaft für Drahtlose Telegraphie, commonly known as the Homag Co., for the Compagnie Universelle de Télégraphie et Téléphonie of France. The Homag Co., on one pretext or another, had withheld the station from the French. The American subsidiaries of both companies had applied for licenses to operate, but, with ownership in dispute, these applications had been denied.12
    The station was equipped with a Goldschmidt 100-kw., high-frequency, reflection-type alternator and utilized an umbrella antenna. Shortly after the Navy assumed control some of the armature coils burned out. A court of inquiry was convened which held the accident not due to the fault of negligence of any person in the naval service. The Navy Department took immediate steps to install a 30-kw. Federal arc transmitter. This installation was completed by 27 October and, by crowding, it could, under normal conditions, be heard by the German station at Eilvese, distance 3,382 nautical miles. This transmitter was replaced shortly thereafter by a 60-kw. arc, powered by a General Electric Co. 500-volt, direct-current, railroad-type generator. Its transmissions were received by Eilvese continuously except during the heavy static season.13 In the meantime the Homag Co. procured another Goldschmidt alternator from Germany which was placed in service early in 1915. After the installation of this second alternator it was used in rotation with the arc. Confirmation of messages indicated the arc to be slightly more reliable.14 In the latter part of 1916 the 60-kw. arc was moved to Arlington where it was urgently required. The Homag Co. then installed another 60-kw. arc which they leased from the Federal Telegraph Co.15
    Prior to the war, the Atlantic Communication Co., an American subsidiary of the German Telefunken Co., had constructed, obtained a license for, and was operating a high-powered radio station at Sayville, Long Island, in conjunction with a sister station at Nauen, Germany. It had originally been equipped with a spark transmitter but in 1914 its owners desired to increase its power. New towers were erected and a new antenna system was installed. The spark transmitter was replaced by a 100-kw. Telefunken alternator. The Secretary of Commerce deemed the act of increasing the power equivalent to the construction of a new station, an act prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1907, to which the United States was a signatory power. On the admitted evidence that the majority of the stock of the Atlantic Communication Co. was owned by the nationals of a belligerent country, the company was refused a license. In order not to leave the station idle, the Navy Department, on 9 July 1915, took over its control in accordance with the Executive order of 5 September 1914 and utilized it to communicate with Nauen.16 For the next 20 months it was operated by the Navy as a commercial station. In 1916 its revenue was almost $1-million. After the entry of the United States into the war it was deemed the property of enemy nationals and title to it was turned over to the Navy Department by the Alien Property Custodian.17

    1 "Naval Appropriation Laws from 1883 to 1912," Navy Year Book 1912, Woodbury Pulsifer (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1912), p. 718.
    2 "Radioana," Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., G. H. Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," p. 241-242.
    3 R. S. Crenshaw, "The Naval Radio Stations of the Panama Canal Zone," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 1916, p. 1209.
    4 "Radioana," op. cit., Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," p. 254.
    5 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1915 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1915), pp. 6-7.
    6 "Radioana," op. cit., Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," pp. 241-242.
    7 The Electrical World (McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., New York), vol. 59, No. 10, 6 Mar. 1912, p. 429.
    8 "Radioana," op. cit., Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," pp. 229-230.
    9 Ibid.
    10 Ibid., pp. 242-245.
    11 Executive order of the President of the United States of America, No. 2042, dated Sept. 1914.
    12 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1915 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1915), p. 264.
    13 Ibid., p. 265.
    14 Ibid., "Radioana," op. cit., Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," p. 262, footnote states: "The first breakdown of the alternator, late in 1914, was repaired in the United States. The alternator broke down again on Jan. 24, 1915, and was left in that condition." This is in variance with the annual report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1915. It is assumed that the Secretary's report was compiled from official sources. Clark fails to reference his source and it is believed that he was writing from memory. Additionally, on p. 276 of the same manuscript, he states: "After the alternator was replaced in February of 1915, night schedules alternating hourly between the arc and alternator, were maintained, but, as the station records graphically show, the percentage of successful reception was so much greater with the arc that in time it was the only transmitter used. The alternator was relegated to a weekly test to keep it in running shape."
    15 "Radioana," op. cit., Clark, "Radio in War and Peace," p. 276. This lends credence to Clark's statement quoted in the previous footnote.
    16 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1915 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1915), pp. 266-267.
    17 "History of the Bureau of Engineering, Navy Department, During the World War" (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1922), p. 94.
TOC | Previous Section: Chapter XVII | Next Section: Chapter XIX