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History :: Early Radio Regulation 1902 - 06

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Radio History
- Radio Invention
- 1902-06 US Navy
- 1906-08 Interference
- 1908 Early Reg
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Derived From: Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Bureau of Ships and Office of Naval History (1963) (Govt Work: public domain)


"The Marconi endeavors to create a monopoly, and the unsavory business dealings of the De Forest Co. were not the only reasons which called for some degree of Government regulation of the young science. Amateurs with their home-constructed equipment began increasing by the scores, and the interferences created by them in large metropolitan areas began to pose additional problems and complications. Early in 1902, concern over this problem of interference was manifested by naval authorities as evidenced by correspondence from the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment to the Secretary of the Navy. This invited his attention to the matter and stated that he believed that all radio stations should be brought under some form of governmental regulation. He stressed the point that foreign governments were exercising careful supervision over such stations and recommended that action be taken by the Government to regulate the industry before vested interests became sufficiently entrenched to prevent such legislation.[Howeth]

"In April 1902, Bradford continued to pursue the subject and addressed the Secretary of the Navy in reference to recent correspondence between the Navy and State Departments relative to desirable governmental control over radio stations established within the territorial limits of the United States. He urged that the Treasury Department be requested not to grant private individuals or corporations, the use of any of the lighthouses or lightships, or any portion of the reservations under its control for the establishment of private radio stations. In this connection, he advised that the Marconi Co. had established and was operating a station on the New South Shoals Lightship for the New York Herald. Continuing, he pointed out that the commanding positions generally occupied by lighthouses and lightships made them especially well adapted for such use, and that they would be required in any well-devised scheme of a national coast signal system. These considerations, and the fact that rights once obtained are very difficult to annul, and the further fact that such stations once established could monopolize the ether for purposes of radio transmission for many miles in all directions, made it necessary for the Bureau to make the request.[Howeth]

"The 15 September 1902 issue of the Army and Navy Journal contains this editorial:

Admiral Bradford's plea for government control over all wireless station loses none of its force. In time of war such control would be almost indispensable to the safety of our squadrons at sea. It seems morally certain that wireless is destined to play a part of increasing importance in naval operations from this time forward. That being conceded, ordinary prudence requires that the Government shall possess the right to exercise absolute control over all wireless stations on our coasts in time of national peril.     

Another ardent supporter for naval control of the radio stations along our coast was Rear Adm. Bowman H. McCalla, U.S.N., Commandant of the Navy Yard and Station, Mare Island, Cal. In a letter, "Regarding Wireless Telegraph Stations," he presented some interesting points and suggested the matter be settled at the earliest moment because of the generally unsettled conditions in Asia and Europe. To him, it was quite clear that neither the Weather Service of the Agriculture Department nor the War Department were prepared to exercise the necessary control. Assuming that in time of war, the radio stations on our coasts would only be needed for communication with our ships of war, those of our possible allies, or vessels of the merchant marine, he recommended that as a maxim of war, naval messages should not pass through the hands of representatives of other departments. Referring to the disagreements which an unsatisfactory state of communications on the south coast of Cuba had engendered between the Army and Navy, he added that he felt it was his duty to call attention to the above-mentioned facts in order that cooperation between Army and Navy might be established without doubt.[Howeth]

Objections to Monopoly - Blocking Messages

"The success the Marconi interests were having in their efforts to establish a global monopoly of radio communications began to cause considerable concern among some of the world powers and especially in Germany. In commenting upon the sentiment at the time, Barber reported:

The Germans are wild over the Marconi monopoly. Such a monopoly will be worse than the English submarine cable monopoly which all Europe is groaning under and I hope the Navy Department of the United States will not get caught in its meshes.

"Early in 1902 an incident occurred which caused the German Government to take official cognizance of the situation. Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the German Kaiser, was returning to Germany, in the S.S. Deutschland , after a visit to the United States. Soon after sailing, he desired to send President Roosevelt a radio message thanking him for the numerous honors and courtesies which had been accorded him. The Deutschland transmitted this message to the Marconi station at Nantucket, but that station refused to accept it because the ship was fitted with Slaby-Arco radio equipment. The irate Prince brought the matter to the attention of his brother. Kaiser Wilhelm thereupon instructed his government to initiate action in an attempt to establish international control over radio communications.[Howeth]

"The German Government shortly thereafter dispatched notes to several governments, the United States included, pointing out that the Marconi interests were endeavoring to monopolize the transmission of messages and news by radio, and proposed the holding of an International Conference for the purpose of considering an International Convention for the regulation of radio telegraphy between ships at sea and ships and shore stations. [Howeth]

"Upon its receipt the German note was forwarded to the Navy Department for comment. On 8 April 1902, the Bureau of Equipment advised the Secretary of the Navy of its position:

The Bureau concurs in the opinion of the German Ambassador that any monopoly such as aspired to by the English Marconi Company in its supposed arrangement with the British Lloyd Company for the transmission of wireless telegraphic messages would hamper the development of other systems of wireless telegraphy not similar to that of the Marconi Company. The Bureau further believes that such monopoly once established would be injurious to the best interests of the country, and therefore agrees in the desirability of an international understanding whereby all systems of wireless telegraphy would be placed on the same level.
     Inasmuch as in the present state of the development of wireless telegraphy, any station with sufficiently powerful transmitting apparatus to prevent messages being received within a considerable radius while it cannot insure non interference with its own messages by a rival station, the Bureau would respectfully urge on the Department, the desirability of such action by the government as would prevent the installation and operation within the territory of the United States or its dependencies of any wireless telegraphic apparatus except under such conditions as would insure harmonious working between it and neighboring installations whether of the same or rival ownership and under such governmental supervision as to preserve the best interests of the country.
     In connection herewith the Department's attention is respectfully invited to the Bureau's letter No. 53467, of January 10, 1902, and its endorsement No. 55649 of March 10, 1902, on a letter from the Governor of Massachusetts to the Secretary, stating that he had no authority over the Marconi apparatus installed at Cape Cod.

"At the time arrangements were being made for an international conference, Kaiser Wilhelm was visiting the King of Italy. He met Marconi and brought up the subject with the remark, "Signor Marconi, you must not think that I have any animosity against yourself, but I do object to the policy of your company."[Howeth] See also Network Neutrality discussion; and Customer Premises Equipment.

Marconi Wireless Station, So. Wellfleet, Mass. Date Uncertain
Digital Public Library of America (PD)

Berlin Conference 1903

"The endeavors of the German Government were fruitful. The First International Radio Telegraphic Conference assembled in Berlin on 4 August 1903. The governments of Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Spain, and the United States participated. The American delegates were Brig. Gen. A. W. Greely, U.S.A.; Com. F. M. Barber, U.S.N. (retired), and Mr. John I. Waterbury of the Department of Labor and Commerce.[Howeth]

"Great Britain's delegates had been instructed to maintain an attitude of reserve, since under existing British law, that government was unable to impose regulations on communications except when they were confined within the territorial perimeter. The American delegates were contrarily instructed in that they were advised that the U.S. Government had absolute authority to impose controls upon any operator of any station which transmitted messages between States of the Union or with foreign countries, since the Supreme Court of the United States had rendered a decision that such transmissions were in the nature of commerce, and therefore within the plenary and paramount authority of the Federal Government to regulate, whether it be foreign or interstate.[Howeth]

"The conference was opened with an address of welcome by the secretary of state of the postal department of the German Empire. The assistant secretary of state of the German postal department, Sydow, head of the German delegation, was elected to preside over the Conference. In his opening speech, he urged that in the interest of the world's shipping, there should be inter-communication between all systems of radio telegraphy and that any radio station should be compelled to accept messages from any ship, irrespective of the equipment employed. Due largely to Sydow's ability in humoring the varied interests and his admirable tact and judgement, a protocol was prepared in an extremely short period of time. Although the delegates of Great Britain and Italy, the Marconi strongholds, could not concur with this protocol, all agreed to submit it to their respective governments as the basis of a future international convention to be adopted by a convention to be held the following year.[Howeth]

Competing Interests; Petitioning for US Navy Control of Radio

"In late 1903 there were 75 commercial stations constructed, under construction, or for which sites had been bought or sought for construction by the following firms: Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America, De Forest Wireless Telegraph Co., the International Telegraph Co., and the National Electric Signaling Co. Over half of these were already equipped and operating and of such concentration and power as to present an actual problem. Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture, which had conducted experiments of considerable scope under the personal direction of Fessenden until August 1902, had in early 1904, directed an expansion of its radio system for meteorological reporting. The Department of War was expanding its system, and the Navy Department had established 20 shore stations and had plans for more than doubling this number during 1904. Not one of these departments was coordinating its work with the other departments. In several instances they were endeavoring to install stations on the same Government reservations.

"In a letter of 7 March 1904, addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, via the General Board, Rear Adm. George A. Converse, U.S.N., the new Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, recommended that the Navy Department consider requesting the President to issue an Executive order placing all radio stations belonging to the Government on or near the coast, under naval control. The same letter also recommended that legislation be sought for the control or abolition of private radio stations on the coast. The following portions of this correspondence well illustrate the confused situation and the necessity for action:

With a comprehensive scheme of stations laid out the Bureau thinks that a foothold should be obtained without unnecessary delay so as to prevent priority of right to certain desirable locations being acquired by other departments, private corporations and individuals. On account of the principle defect of wireless telegraphy, i.e. liability of interference, this may become a very important consideration. The Bureau has already encountered serious trouble due to interference which at times seems to be malicious in the vicinity of New York. The station at the Boston Yard is within the range of private stations which can seriously interfere with it. A report from the Commandant of the Naval Station, Key West, received today states that a private station is being erected about a mile from the station at that place which will have sufficient power to seriously interfere with communication between Key West, Dry Tortugas, ships and Bahia Honda (should the Department erect a wireless telegraph station and when the coal depot is established). Other private stations with power of interference with naval wireless telegraph stations will probably soon be established unless some legislation is enacted to prevent it. Of course the Government can control private stations in time of war by exercise of martial law but probably at considerable expense for damages to the interests involved. Some legislation to control interference from them in times of peace is of growing importance and ought to receive early consideration.
     Owing to the fact that the principal use to which wireless telegraph is likely to be put for many years is connected with the sea and account of the confusion that may arise from numerous independent stations being established in the same locality, the Bureau is of the opinion that it would be advisable to put all government wireless-telegraph stations on or very near our seacoast under the Navy Department and perhaps to have the Government take control of the entire wireless-telegraph service along the coast as some foreign governments do with the land-telegraph service.

"In support of his recommendations, Converse pointed out the difficulties the Navy was having in establishing its shore radio system. In 1902, the Bureau had begun the establishment of stations at Mare Island and on Yerba Buena Island, in San Francisco Bay, and to negotiate for a site at Point Bonita, on the military reservation at the entrance of that bay. After correspondence lasting over a year, it had abandoned the idea because the Army was insistent upon establishing a station there. The Bureau then considered the possibility of erecting a station on South Farollone Island off the entrance to San Francisco Bay. This idea was also abandoned, because the Department of Agriculture had erected a station there and it was considered undesirable for another one to be established near it. As a result, the Navy Department, which was most dependent upon radio, was placed in a position of dependence upon stations operated by men not under its control for the transmission of messages between its ships at sea when beyond the range of the station on Yerba Buena Island.

"Despite the Navy Department's increasing concern, the Government continued to delay taking action to regulate the use of radio. Meanwhile several, instances occurred which tended to awaken public opinion. The first of these, previously mentioned, was the "failure" of radio during the International Yacht Races in the fall of 1901 which, in the eyes of the public, not only discredited all the systems involved, but what is much worse, discredited radio telegraphy as a whole. Moreover, the mercenary side of the radio telegraph movement had been made so unduly prominent, the self-advertising which had accompanied the development, had been so unblushing, and the squabbles between rival concerns so undignified, that the subject of radio telegraph as presented, particularly in the press, had well-nigh degenerated to a public nuisance.

"In January 1904, the London Times, with the consent of the Japanese Government, dispatched Colonel James, one of its leading correspondents, to the Russo-Japanese war theater with radio equipment to provide that paper and the New York Times with first-hand news of hostilities. This action caused the Russian Government to issue notes of protest to the British and American Governments. This was discussed by President Roosevelt's Cabinet on 15 April 1904.

"Faced with the increasing indignation of the public created by the quarrels among the commercial radio firms, the Russian ukase, the lack of coordination between the several departments of the executive branch of our Government, and the indication of the probable intent of Congress to deal with the situation at its next session, the Cabinet, at its meeting of 19 April 1904, reached an agreement on the desirability of the Government establishing general supervisory control over the operations of radio during peace and absolute control in time of war.

"The Secretary of Agriculture then forwarded a memorandum to the President, via the Secretary of War, expressing his views as to the capabilities of his Department operating the Government radio stations along the coasts. In forwarding this, the Secretary of War advocated a joint Army-Navy recordkeeping in peacetime with the Navy Department assuming full control in wartime. President Roosevelt had, in the meantime, forwarded a copy of the Secretary of Agriculture's memorandum to the Secretary of the Navy for comments by the Navy General Board. After considerable deliberation by its members, Adm. George Dewey, President of the Navy General Board, forwarded the opinions and recommendations of his associates:

The following facts must, in the opinion of the General Board, form the basis of the decision:

The principal defect, of wireless telegraphy, the liability to interference, renders some central control indispensable to the integrity and effectiveness of any wireless-telegraph station. Without control over the placing of other stations, any wireless-telegraph station may be rendered absolutely useless either by accident or design.
     The control of all wireless-telegraph stations belonging to the Government can be accomplished by Executive order. In order to control private stations, general legislation by Congress will be required, both because wireless telegraphy bridges the boundaries between States and because it stretches beyond the territorial limits of the Nation.
     The principal use of wireless telegraph is now, and long will be, at sea - between ship and ship, or ship and shore. On shore other means of communication always exist, often better, always possible substitutes. The common telegraph or telephone, or the heliograph, permanent or portable, is everywhere available to the soldier or the meteorologist. Permanent outlying stations can be connected by submarine cables. Although wireless telegraphy may be an added convenience, on shore it never can be indispensable. But from ships at sea, out of sight of flags or lights, and beyond the sound of guns, the electric wave, projected through space, invisible and inaudible, can alone convey the distant message.
     In the present state of the science, development and experiment must be carried on largely at sea. We know as yet little of the limitations or possibilities of marine and transmarine communication. The Navy is the only department of the Government that has facilities for this branch of work, and irrespective of what is done by other departments, the Navy must, in its own interest, continue to experiment and to communicate between its ships and the shore.
     To the Navy wireless telegraphy is absolutely essential. All the battleships and larger cruisers, perhaps even torpedo boats, are or will be equipped with it - as foreign navies are - to communicate with each other, as well as with the shore.
     The Navy has already 20 wireless-telegraph stations on the seacoast and proposes to establish no less than 60 more. The Navy has already made arrangements to receive at its stations and to transmit over the land telegraph lines wireless messages from passing merchant vessels. The Army has two stations in use in Alaska, and two others for experimenting, and has considered placing one at the Golden Gate on the Pacific coast. The Weather Bureau has two stations and proposes to erect seven more. All these stations, except the two in Alaska, which are for communicating with each other, are for the purpose of communicating between ships at sea, or in a few cases outlying islands and the mainland. Several of the Army and Weather Bureau stations interfere, or will interfere, with those of the Navy.
     From these facts it appears clear that it would be in the interest of all to put the seacoast wireless-telegraph stations belonging to the Government under the control of one department. That control must extend to the determination of sites, and probably to the choice of systems, in order to prevent the several departments from frustrating one another's efforts. It does not seem to the General Board that there will be much difference of opinion on this question.
     It remains to consider which department can best exercise control. For the reasons given - that the Navy has the preponderant interest in wireless telegraphy, that to the Navy it is indispensable, to other Departments merely accessory; that the Navy alone has facilities for experimenting with seacoast stations, and what ever other departments do, the Navy must continue to experiment; that the Navy already has five times as many seacoast stations as all other departments of the Government together - for all these reasons, the General Board is of the opinion that the Navy should exercise such control over the placing of all Government seacoast wireless-telegraph stations as to prevent their mutual interference, it is better and simpler for the department that has the predominating interest, even if it does not actually operate all the Government stations, to control their positions, rather than to attempt to exercise control by mutual agreements.
     But if more than one Department is to operate wireless-telegraph stations on the seacoast, duplication and interference are inevitable. The two existing wireless telegraph stations of the Weather Bureau and the one proposed by the Army prevented the Navy from establishing its own station in the best place to communicate between ships at sea and the principal navy yard on the Pacific coast. Several of the new stations proposed by the Weather Bureau are on sites already occupied by the Navy, or within their range of interference; and all the rest would clash with stations projected by the Navy. A promontory best for the Weather Bureau is likely to be best for the Navy. For the purpose of receiving wireless telegrams from the ships at sea, the same seacoast station serves the need of all concerned. Obviously then, it is more economical that the department that controls the placing of all Government seacoast wireless-telegraph stations should operate them all.
     It would, in the opinion of the General Board, be far easier for the Navy to transmit the messages of the Weather Bureau than vice versa. The seacoast wireless stations of the Weather Bureau are now but a 10th, and with the new stations planned will still be less than half, as many as the Navy has already. Granting that the Weather Bureau would be willing, as the Secretary of Agriculture says, to establish the greater number of additional seacoast stations needed by the Navy, and that there are still two important reasons why the Navy cannot depend, either in peace or war, upon stations controlled by the Weather Bureau:
     It is absolutely necessary in time of war that the observers stationed to receive messages from the fleet should be subject to military law - that is, enlisted men of the Navy. Civilian marine observers, however, skillful in reporting merchant ships, could not so well be trusted to distinguish the wireless messages of friendly from hostile men-of-war, or to transmit accurately technical naval signals, and could not be trusted at all with the secret signal codes of the Navy. Whoever mans the seacoast in time of peace, the Navy must man them in time of war.
     Unless the Navy mans the stations in time of peace it will not have the trained force ready to man them in time of war. Practice with instruments on shipboard alone will not suffice. The man to be trusted at a seacoast station in time of war, alert to detect the unexpected, must be familiar with the usual local business in time of peace. The opportunity for training the signalmen is no less important than testing the apparatus.
     The single instance cited by the Secretary of Agriculture of the weather observer at Jupiter Inlet reporting what he saw and having the good fortune to be the first to see the arrival of the Oregon is far from proving that the Navy can trust to anyone but its own trained men to receive wireless signals from ships at sea. From every point of view, therefore, it appears to the General Board that the seacoast wireless-telegraph stations of the Government are essential to the Navy and to no other department; and the General Board therefore concurs in the recommendation of the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment that an Executive order be issued placing them all under naval control, to be manned and operated by the Navy.
     The subject of legislation to control private wireless telegraph stations on the seacoast is of growing importance to the Government because of the increase in the number of them and their liability to interfere, maliciously or accidentally, with the Government's stations. In order to safeguard its own interest, both in peace and war, the Government must have some means to prevent the erection of a private wireless-telegraph station within the range of interference of one of its own. It would not be wise in the opinion of the General Board, for the Government to undertake to manage all the seacoast wireless-telegraph business of the country, nor for an industry of such growing commercial utility to be controlled directly by a military branch of the Government. The Department of Commerce and Labor, now charged with the administration of the Lighthouse Service, the Coast Survey, the inspection of steamboats, and the jurisdiction over merchant shipping generally, would perhaps be the most natural ones to control private wireless-telegraph companies. The law should clearly give the Government priority of right and prohibit the erection of any private station without the approval of the Government.

"In forwarding the comments of the General Board to the President, Navy Secretary William H. Moody suggested that it appeared that economy and good administration would forbid duplication of such an activity as radio, therefore the control over all Government radio should be vested in one department, whose facilities would serve all Government users. If it be conceded that the control of radio should be vested in a single department, it seemed clear that it should be the Navy Department, for reasons so obvious that they required no restatement."[Howeth]

1904 Roosevelt Board

1904: Roosevelt Board, which coordinated radio work of USG, placing control in the hands of the US Navy Department. See Roosevelt Board recommendations. [Hazlett p 135]

"Acting upon a recommendation of his Navy Secretary, the President, on 24 June 1904, appointed Rear Adm. Robley D. Evans, USN, then chairman, U.S. Lighthouse Board, Department of Commerce and Labor; Rear Adm. Henry M. Manney, USN, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment; Brig. Gen. A. W. Greely, Chief Signal Officer, USA; Lt. Comd. Joseph L. Jayne, USN, head of the Radio Division, Bureau of Equipment; and Prof. Willis L. Moore, Weather Bureau, Department of Agriculture, as members of a board to consider the entire question of radio in the service of the national Government. At the same time all previous correspondence on the subject was forwarded to this Board.

"The Interdepartmental Board of Wireless Telegraphy, generally known as the Roosevelt Board, began its deliberations on 6 July. Commenting on the progress made by it during its first few meetings, one member is reported to have remarked:

We met yesterday, today, and will meet tomorrow. We have taken a most solemn oath not to divulge the slightest word concerning our proceedings and to tell the truth I could not break this oath if I tried for the very reason that we have not done a thing.

"In its editorial column the same periodical which printed the above, ventured the following opinion:

With each department of the government working independently upon this problem of wireless-telegraphy and apparently jealous of anything accomplished in the same line by another department it is difficult to see anything but a future filled with strife and bickering for the special commission of the President's. The situation is further complicated by the wireless companies themselves, which, not content with every-day competition, have carried, in at least one instance, their troubles to court.

"Despite pessimistic expressions, the Board not only reached conclusions and arrived at recommendations, they did it in unanimity. Its recommendations, insofar as they pertained to the Government's use of radio, were adopted, and they exercised a profound influence on the future of radio in the United States. The dominance of the Navy in this field was established and it was enabled to launch its own radio system, one for which Congress saw fit to appropriate many millions in the following years. It has been stated, "In few fields of national endeavor have public funds been expended more wisely than in developing the wireless arm of the Navy."

"Not only was the Board's action of momentous import to the Navy, but as will be demonstrated hereafter, radio and its future offspring owe an everlasting debt to this arm of the services for its aid and contribution in the advance of the art. Not only have the contributions of Navy scientists and technicians been outstanding and numerous, but what is probably equally as important, is that service's continued patronage of promising private inventors and the laboratories of commercial organizations.

"The report of the Interdepartmental Board of Wireless Telegraphy was submitted to the President on 12 July 1904. Its recommendations constitute the first well-defined radio policy of the United States Government. In brief these are:     

(a) The Navy be designated to provide efficient coastwise radio communications for the United States Government and when not in competition with commercial stations to receive and transmit all radio messages to and from ships at sea.
     (b) The Army be authorized to erect such stations as deemed necessary provided they do not interfere with the coast wise radio system of the Government under control of the Navy Department.
     (c) Legislation to prevent the control of radio telegraphy by monopolies or trusts should place supervision in the Department of Commerce and Labor.[Howeth]

Marconi Objects

"Before President Roosevelt could take final action on the report of his board he received a letter from the law firm of Betts, Betts, Sheffield and Betts, legal representatives of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America, protesting an order of the Department of Commerce and Labor to remove the Marconi apparatus installed in the Nantucket Shoals Lightship for the New York Herald in 1901. This action had been taken in order that the Navy might install a station on the lightship. This letter and its appendices attempted to point out the consequences of such action. It stated that "efficient communications cannot be established between two wireless telegraph stations equipped with apparatus of different design without reducing enormously the scope and utility of the more advanced system," and "even if technically possible would impose upon the Government the necessity either to accept money for the service or to transmit messages without cost, in direct competition with commercial organizations whose business it is to transmit such messages. . . This would seem to be not in accord with the generally accepted policy of the Government."[Howeth]

"On 21 July 1904 the President forwarded the Sheffield letter to the Senior Member of his Board with the following instructions:

I have read with great interest the report of your Inter-Departmental board. Before taking action on it, I should like the comment of the Board upon the enclosed letter from Mr. James R. Sheffield regarding the Marconi matter. You can either reconvene the Board or write your own comment and have it submitted to the members of the Board for such expressions as they may desire to make.

"The Board reconvened and concluded that, under the circumstances, it would be a great mistake to allow the Marconi station to continue to operate in the lightship as it was stationed in a position of great importance, both to the Navy and to commerce. Since the Marconi Co. refused to transmit messages from ships using equipments of other manufacture, its use of the lightship would amount to giving the Marconi Co. powerful governmental aid in its effort to maintain a monopoly.[Howeth]

"The Board further noted:

Learning that there was some probability that the Herald station on the lightship would be discontinued as a result of the complaint of the German Ambassador, the Bureau of Equipment, Navy Department, requested permission to establish a station there having for its object, service in connection with ships of the Navy, the transmission of news of interest to the merchant marine, and transmission of wireless messages received from ships engaged with any system whatever. Permission was granted and the apparatus will probably be installed by the middle of August. It is intended to make Newport the shore connection, and the distance covered will be about double that between the lightship and the Marconi station on Nantucket Island.

"Refuting the Marconi contention that communications were unsatisfactory between equipments of different manufacture, the Board made the observation that the Navy had communicated most satisfactorily between stations equipped with the Slaby-Arco apparatus and one with a combination of other makes, stating that in tests in the vicinity of New York, conducted by the Navy Department, no difficulty was experienced in communicating between equipments of different manufacture. Concerning the problem of charges for services, the Board stated it could see no objection to a reasonable charge being made for service. It did not consider that competition would exist between a department of the Government and private companies. It felt Mr. Sheffield had confused Government competition with Government action which permits of private competition, and that the Marconi Co.'s adamant refusal to receive messages at any of its stations from other than Marconi-equipped stations, was a strong argument in favor of Government supervision of private stations.[Howeth]

"On 29 July 1904 President Roosevelt approved the recommendations of the Board, and directed that such recommendations as concerned the executive branch of the United States Government be effected immediately.[Howeth]

Legislative Battle 1904

"The Navy's assumption of control of the Government radio system caused commercial interests to fear that the next step would be directed towards governmental control over their operations. Led by the Marconi interests they immediately launched a campaign to defeat any such legislation which might be proposed.[Howeth]

"When the Navy Department announced that the radio service between the Nantucket Shoals Lightship and Newport would be available to public use and opened to vessels equipped with apparatus of any make, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America, in a series of letters during November 1904, was quick to inform the Bureau of Equipment that such service would be in direct competition with them and that they did not view this with favor. Also, as compared to them, whose experience was based on several years of operating a commercial system, comprised of about 100 stations, the Bureau could hardly claim any experience in commercial radio telegraphy. Their chain of communications already comprised shore stations of the British, Italian, Belgian, Canadian, Newfoundland, and other governments, plus Lloyds, and their own on shore stations, and ships of many nationalities, including American, British, German, French, Italian, Dutch, and Belgian.[Howeth]

"Since they had been deprived of the use of the Nantucket Shoals Lightship station, they were extending the range of their Siasconset installation to communicate with Marconi-equipped vessels. The Marconi firm contended that their apparatus was removed from the lightship at the request of the German Ambassador on the grounds that messages from German ships equipped with German apparatus were not being accepted. The Navy Department was informed that the German equipment it had purchased infringed Marconi patents granted by the Government of the United States, and that it was efficient only in proportion to the degree of exactness with which Marconi devices had been copied. They considered the action of the Navy Department to be detrimental to commerce and therefore would have to refuse to allow vessels equipped with Marconi apparatus to communicate with the Government station at Nantucket.[Howeth]

"In another letter, dated 28 November 1904, the Marconi Co. berated the Navy because it would not accept the conditions it had proposed for the use of its equipment; namely, that if the apparatus were used for commercial purpose, it should be used in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by all the transatlantic liners equipped with radio and at the stations in different countries with which the steamers equipped with radio communicated, and that the commercial tolls should belong to the Marconi Co. A few days later the firm submitted a list of 12 shipping interests which it claimed had petitioned the Government not to remove the Marconi equipment from the lightship. This list included the Cunard, Hamburg-American, Cosmopolitan, Italian Royal, Mail, Neptune, Philadelphia Trans-Atlantic, and Insular Navigation Lines. The reply of the Secretary of the Navy to the Marconi correspondence was to the effect that the radio service established by the Navy Department had the approval of the President, and that this approval was given after careful consideration of the report of the Interdepartmental Wireless Telegraph Board. The question of establishing a Government station on the Nantucket Shoal Lightship had been given special consideration by the President, after the Marconi Co.'s attorney had submitted arguments in favor of retaining the station operated by the Marconi Co. for the New York Herald. He ended, by stating, that in view of this he could see no reason for resubmitting the question to the President.[Howeth]

"Early in 1905, Mr. John D. Oppe, General Manager of the American Marconi Co., wrote a long letter to Secretary Morton again belaboring him concerning his policies on radio communications. This was answered by the Secretary within the week by a letter commenting upon each of Oppe's criticisms. The Secretary assured him that the Navy Department did not desire supreme jurisdiction, but only such legislation as was necessary "to protect its military interests by protecting its stations against noninterference, and to regulate intercourse between commercial wireless stations, especially those reaching out seaward beyond the frontiers of the country." He went on to stress that, in time of war, the Navy Department would not desire to be burdened with all the stations that may have come into being, and it wished only those necessary for use in the defense of the coast and the enactment of such legislation as would prevent their being interfered with. With commercial stations in various States near the coast interfering with each other, both intentionally and unintentionally, and with State legislation unable to regulate interference from other States, it was absolutely necessary that some branch of the National Government have cognizance of interstate radio commerce and interference. Therefore, the Navy Department, because of its paramount military interest in radio, assumed the initiative in seeking governmental action. He stressed the point that the Navy Department had asked that the Department of Commerce and Labor be given entire control of the subject of commercial radio, with the single reservation that commercial stations would not be allowed to interfere with those of the Government, and it was to be expected that the Department of Commerce and Labor would perform that service in protecting the Government and dealing equitably with the commercial establishments.[Howeth]

"Mr. Oppe, in commenting upon a suggested issuing of licenses by the Department of Commerce and Labor, stated that it provided "no safeguard for the protection of any station." The Secretary replied, in effect, that the performance of its duties by that Department in the matter of the control of radio stations, was in keeping with the current work of that Department, and that it was preferable that such control and regulation as called for, be in the hands of a civil rather than a military department of the Government.[Howeth]

"In the same letter, Mr. Oppe deplored the fact that, in the Board's deliberations, "the very important question of patents has apparently been entirely disregarded." His letter went on to state that the patent laws had been made for the purpose of encouraging inventors and providing, for those who owned patents, security for their investments. Under ordinary circumstances the rights of the owners of radio patents could be upheld in the courts against persons who made a commercial use of their apparatus. Injunctions could be obtained restraining unauthorized infringements, and the full benefit from the commercial use of the devices restrained by the rightful holder of the patent. Such, however, they maintained "does not apply to the use of patented apparatus by the Government, as means have yet to be found for preventing the Government from using any apparatus made in infringement of patents or otherwise." This being the situation, if radio passed into the hands of the Government, the patents already granted by the United States would cease to be of value.[Howeth]

"Replying to the foregoing and the claim that the Marconi patents were being infringed by other companies, Secretary Morton answered the latter point first in observing that the contrary was stated with equal positiveness by representatives of other radio firms. As to the other point made, he brought out the Navy's position in regard to the patent problem, in pointing out that until the Marconi Co.'s patent rights were settled by the courts, the Navy Department should certainly be accorded the same freedom in the use of the various systems as would be accorded to an individual using them.[Howeth]

"The Navy Department did not concede the correctness of his conclusions concerning the patent situation. In contracting for radio appliances it had included in recent contracts a clause requiring the contractor to protect and defend the Government against claims for infringement of patent rights due to the use of any apparatus supplied under the contract. Only when the patentee was in the service of the Government at the time of making the invention, could the Government use a patent without the payment of royalty, and in case of violation of patent right by the Government, recourse could always be had to the courts.[Howeth]

"The Secretary again explained that the Navy's equipping the Nantucket Lightship was a perfectly legitimate action in the interests of commerce, since it was a public vessel, stationed off the shoals for the purpose of increasing the safety of navigation, and no commercial company was entitled to any place aboard her. To allow the occupation of a Government vessel by one commercial company would give a valid cause for complaints of injustices and favoritism by others. The fact that this ship was most favorably located for the financial advancement of the Marconi interests did not strengthen their claim.[Howeth]

"The Secretary's letter closed with the following paragraph:

The Department is of the opinion that the statements contained in your letter are arguments in favor of the necessity of legislation with the object of regulating the wireless telegraph business of the coast.

"The American Marconi Co. was not alone in this fight against Government control. The National Electric Signaling Co., in a letter to the President, stated that it was of the opinion that should legislation be enacted preventing the establishment of any radio station anywhere, either on the coast or inland, without first obtaining the consent of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, it would result in only Government stations being permitted at points where stations are needed for marine service. This would further result in Government stations receiving and transmitting commercial radio messages free of charge. This would in effect amount to practical confiscation of all property rights in its inventions which the firm had obtained through the U.S. Patent Office. The National Electric Signaling Co. felt that the Board had based its report on the belief that one station would always interfere with another near it, and that without regulation the usefulness of the invention would be destroyed. It maintained, however, that such was not the case, as under Fessenden inventions, two or more stations could be used in close proximity without interference, as had been demonstrated to members of the Navy Wireless Telegraph Board who possessed knowledge of the effectiveness of the Fessenden inventions in eliminating interference, of secret sending and other claims. The company stated that it believed there should be no legislation regulating radio at the time, for when apparatus was used that embraced the most improved inventions, interference would be no factor. It further contended at the time it was easier to cause interference which would prevent communication over an ordinary telegraph or telephone line than it was to cause interference to a wireless station, yet the former were permitted to get along without special laws to prevent interference. The letter continued with belaborings, inferring that those who sought to control radio were lacking in understanding of the new science.[Howeth]

"As to the matter of national defense, it was submitted that radio telegraphy should be on the same footing as cables. In case of war or other necessity, the company assumed that the Government would seize the radio stations as well as the cables, so that there would be no more necessity of controlling one in time of peace than the other. It asked to be allowed to develop its system commercially, unhampered by restrictive laws and in competition with the existing means of transmitting messages. Such, it maintained, would not interfere with the Navy Department erecting and operating its own stations and would not prevent them from using their own inventions.[Howeth]

"A "Memoranda on Conclusions of Interdepartmental Wireless Telegraph Board", prepared by the National Electric Signaling Co., noted a conclusion of that Board which stated that the science of radio telegraphy had been advanced by the able and consistent work of the Signal Corps, the Weather Bureau, and the Navy Department and claimed that this could be disputed. It maintained that the Signal Corps had appropriated features of different manufacturers and purchased some Fessenden liquid barretters from the De Forest Co., assembled them, and called it their own system. The Navy was accused of having purchased upwards of 100 Slaby-Arco equipments which infringed some of Fessenden's important patents. Both of the actions had been protested by the National Electric Signaling Co., which was powerless to do more. The "Memoranda" even went on to state that, "As a matter of fact, apparatus that does not infringe the Fessenden patents has never yet transmitted messages over twenty miles."[Howeth]

"Continuing, the memorandum noted that while radio telegraphy was of paramount interest to the Government, through the Navy Department, the company felt its importance for use in commerce on land and sea would be many times greater. Relative to the Board's conclusion that a complete coastwise system of radio telegraphy should be maintained by the Government, it maintained this to be purely a matter of policy. Since it did not do so in the case of telegraph, telephone, or cable, it was not necessary in this case, since private companies could probably do it more efficiently and cheaply.[Howeth]

"Subsequent to the report of the Interdepartmental Board, the subject of radio legislation was considered by the Navy Department and the Department of Commerce and Labor. In January 1905, the Secretary of the Navy transmitted to the Department of Commerce and Labor a memorandum, prepared by Admiral Manney, containing a proposed draft for this purpose. This was referred to a committee, which had already been appointed to consider the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Board and the position the United States should take on the protocol drawn up at the first International Radio Telegraph Conference. This committee consisted of Mr. James Randolph Oerfield, Commissioner of Corporations; Mr. Eugene T. Chamberlain, Commissioner of Navigation, and Admiral Uriel Sebree, USN, Naval Secretary of the Lighthouse Board. From the report of this committee, it appears that it had the assistance of Admiral Manney and Lt. Comdr. Joseph L. Jayne, and that meetings were held at which representatives of the Marconi, De Forest, and Fessenden interests appeared and stated their views with reference to the proposed supervision of radio by the Government. This proposed legislation was strenuously opposed by the Marconi and Fessenden firms and others, but some of the radio companies of the country believed it would be beneficial alike to both governmental and private interests. The committee submitted, with its report, a draft of a measure for the national supervision of radio which was offered and accepted as a substitute for the measure suggested by the Secretary of the Navy.[Howeth]

"The Navy Department and the Department of Commerce and Labor jointly transmitted this proposed measure to the War Department for comment, stating their intention of transmitting it to Congress for enactment into law, unless there were contrary reasons from the viewpoint of the War Department. The Chief Signal Officer of the Army submitted several comments but stated, "There is not special reason from the standpoint of the War Department, why the bill should not be enacted." [Howeth]

"This proposed legislation was not transmitted to Congress because of the determined opposition of vested interests and because the Second International Radio Telegraph Conference had been indefinitely postponed because of the war between Russia and Japan. Nevertheless it remained a live issue with the contending forces drawn up for a battle which would necessarily and inevitably take place. [Howeth]

Revitalizing the Wireless Telegraph Board

"By the beginning of 1904 all the radio equipment which the Navy had purchased had been installed. The assigned responsibility to provide radio communication service to the other Government departments necessitated considerable expansion and, in numerous cases, the establishment of circuits over distances not yet conquered. Politically, the international situation had deteriorated and our relationship with Germany was questionable. As a country, the United States was becoming more and more self-sufficient from a manufacturing viewpoint, and with this there came a stronger feeling of nationalism.[Howeth]

"There is nothing of record to indicate that a decision was reached to cease, if possible, the purchase of radio equipment from foreign countries. Such a decision would have been logical, for, under the existing circumstances, we were dependent upon Germany for the necessary spare parts for our radio equipment. In event of a war with Germany or with a country she favored, that supply could be cut off.[Howeth]

"In its endeavor to secure equipment manufactured in this country the Navy Department on 2 April 1904 revitalized its Wireless Telegraph Board which had practically ceased to function after September 1903. The senior member and the member-recorder were assigned full-time duty with the Board, and the former was given the authority to convene the remaining members when and at such places as might be necessary. The naval radio stations at the Highlands of Navesink, N.J., and the Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., were made available to the Board for conducting tests, and training vessels were made available to assist. The original instructions to the Board, except where inconsistent with special conditions, and augmented by instructions relative to interference, interception, secrecy of transmission, and compatibility with other systems, were to govern all tests. With the single exception of Jayne, Head of the Radio Division, Bureau of Equipment, new members were appointed to the Board. These were Capt. J. A. Rodgers, USN, senior member; Comdr. George H. Peters, USN, Superintendent of the Compass Office; Comdr. Bradley A. Fiske, USN, who had as a younger officer conducted experiments with induction telegraphy; and Lt. Webster A. Edgar, USN, who was also the recorder. Chief Electrician's Mates Bell and Scanlin were assigned in charge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Highlands stations, respectively.[Howeth]

"Earlier, the Navy had purchased the equipments for the comparative tests. Beginning in 1904, the companies participating in tests were required to furnish, operate, and bear all expense except for electrical power. However, the tests were to be under the complete control of the Bureau of Equipment, with representatives of the companies privileged to be present at all times when their apparatus was being operated. [Howeth]

"Manufacturers were advised to inform the Bureau of Equipment should they desire to participate. The following firms or individuals expressed their desires to submit equipments: Messrs. Anders Bull, Charles S. Piggott, and James F. King, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America, the National Electric Signaling Co. (Fessenden), the International Wireless Co. (Shoemaker), the De Forest Wireless Telegraph Co., the Telefunken Co. (Amalgamated Slaby-Arco and Braun-Siemens-Halske).[Howeth]

San Francisco Earthquake

"The U.S.S. Chicago departed San Francisco on the evening of 17 April 1906. Early the next day that city was in the center of the most disastrous earthquake this Nation has ever suffered. The damage from it and the fires which followed destroyed much of this western metropolis. Upon learning of the disaster the rear admiral on the Chicago directed her return to port to render all possible assistance. Among other aids she provided the only rapid means of communication from the stricken area. Past Midshipman Stanley C. Hooper, USN, a young officer who had had some experience in telegraphy as a summer vacation operator at a country station of the Southern Pacific Railroad, was then serving on the Chicago . During this incident, he gained his first naval radio experience and from this he was to go on and eventually gain the appellation, "Father of Naval Radio." This work is dedicated to him and to others who aided in building the effective system which was available at the beginning of World War II.[Howeth]

"Since he was there, the story of the Chicago's part in providing a rapid communication channel from San Francisco following the disaster is best told by quoting from his memoirs:

"There is not much to say about the Chicago . She did have a radio set because she was a flagship, but it was not of much use because its range was less than 100 miles . . . I did learn a little about the apparatus but was not allowed to operate it. That was the sacred job of the radio operator and the radio was under the Flag Officer, so ship's officers keep discreetly clear.

"All radio sets in those days made a lot of noise and could be heard the length of the ship and further. I was able to read the signals which were transmitted even though I did not go into the operating room. It seemed they used a slightly different code than I was used to in railroad telegraphing but listening carefully I was able to learn the differences and found that seven of the letters were different. Soon I became accustomed to those differences and became qualified in Continental as well as American Morse code.

"One day the Chicago's radio became very important in an emergency. We had put to sea from San Francisco in the late evening and at five in the morning the operator received a message that there had been a terrible earthquake in San Francisco and that the city was ablaze. The Admiral immediately ordered us back and by ten that morning our ship was docked near the Ferry Building and the crew landed to help fight the fire and curb looting. The Western Union and Postal Telegraph wires were all down and it was decided to use the Chicago's radio as an outlet for all priority messages, by relaying them to the radio station at Mare Island from which place they could be telegraphed. There was no one available to take charge of this project who knew anything about the telegraph business. The officers were assembled in conference and the question was asked as to where we could locate a person possessing this knowledge. I stepped forward and meekly admitted my small experience as an operator at a small railroad station and two hours later found myself installed in the Wharfingage Building by the docks in charge of all outgoing messages. The Army Signal Corps sent an officer to cooperate and he established field circuits from seven different zones within the city. Messenger service was established between the office and the radio station on the ship just half a block away. Thus it was, that all through the emergency, until the cables were repaired a few days later, I, a young past-midshipman, had charge of all the outgoing telegraph business of San Francisco during that disastrous period.    

"The Navy radio stations played a major role in providing this means of remaining in touch with the outside world. As soon as it was realized that this was the city's sole rapid contact with the outside, they were flooded with messages from military and municipal authorities and the general public. In about 2 weeks the Chicago sent and received over 1,000 messages. The naval radio station on Yerba Buena Island was fully occupied acting as a relay between the Chicago and the station at the Mare Island Navy Yard which provided telegraphic connection with the rest of the country. The radio station on Farrallone Island provided the means for directing the shipping headed to the stricken port. [Howeth]


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