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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, Chatper 12 (1963) (Govt Work: public domain)


"The Senate's failure to ratify the Berlin Convention in 1908 caused all Government departments concerned with radio to intensify their efforts to obtain legislation for Federal supervision of radio usage. The Navy Department continued to provide the leadership in these efforts. The commercial and amateur interests, having won the first round of the struggle, continued their opposition to any legislation which would affect their interests, and they were abetted by a sympathetic Congress, dedicated to and controlled by "big business." Being prior to the ratification of the 17th amendment, this was especially true of the Senate, whose members were appointed by the State legislatures, many whom were controlled by business interests, as reflected by their appointments. A series of articles appearing in some of the 1907 issues of the Cosmopolitan entitled "The Treason in the Senate" stated that of the 90 members were representing "big business" rather than the people. [Howeth Chap 12]

"Before the Government departments would be able to gain success in their efforts to regulate the radio industry, an awakened and aroused public opinion would have to clamor for the enactment of the legislation. Numerous events, some private, some national, and others international in scope, would occur in the several subsequent years which would slowly produce such legislation. [Howeth Chap 12]

"One of the first indications of a changing opinion concerning this control was a shift in the character of the editorials of the Electrical World, the leading electrical and radio trade journal of the period. Prior to mid-1908 these editorials had supported the commercial companies in their fear that Federal control meant Government monopoly. In the 20 June 1908 issue, its editor made the following comments: Only trivial radio service is available due to the lack of concerted effort to make it a worthwhile service; satisfactory tuning devices required development; a more serious and regular employment of radio for practical purposes should not be expected until there was less stock selling and more communications on a purely commercial basis; the primary use of radio should be in oceanic communications and these should be regulated by international action; the whole North Atlantic area should be provided with a network capable of furnishing complete and always reliable communication service; a complete weather service should be established so that vessels might be informed, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, of the weather to be expected within the following 48 hours; information concerning dangers to navigation should be provided; and, by governmental action in this direction, it should be assumed that a considerable part of the benefits would accrue to private enterprise. He concluded this timely analysis of the situation with the statement: It is perfectly safe to say that no considerable part of the possible benefits can be realized by private effort. One might as well pin one's faith to a lighthouse corporation instead of trusting such work to a government. [Howeth Chap 12]


"The second ("lameduck") session of the 60th Congress convened in early December 1908. There were no early resolutions involving radio introduced to replace those which had died at the adjournment of the first session, and there is no indication that any would have been introduced in this short session had not an event occurred which aroused public opinion. [Howeth Chap 12]

Play the Role of Jack Binns and tap out the distress signal in order to save the passengers on the Republic at this PBS Flash Game. Here a song about Jack Binns' heroics at this PBS page.
"On 22 January the palatial 15,000-ton White Star liner Republic departed New York, bound for Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, with some 440 passengers and a large quantity of supplies for our "Great White Fleet," homeward bound from its triumphant world cruise. The fleet's passage through the Mediterranean had coincided with the earthquake at Messina and large quantities of its supplies had been expended for relief. Running into thick fog, in the early morning hours of January 23, the Republic collided with the Italian SS Florida, crowded with 830 immigrants, most of whom were refugees from the Messina catastrophe. Jack Binns, the Republic's sole radio operator escaped death by the merest chance, the Florida's sharp bow having cut into the bulkhead only a few feet from where he slept. His radio apparatus remained undamaged, but the inrushing waters shorted the ship's generators, forcing him to use the emergency storage batteries. He transmitted the message: "Republic rammed by unknown steamship, 26 mile southwest of Nantucket. Badly in need of assistance." This was received by the Marconi station at Siasconsett, Mass. This station quickly contacted the SS Baltic and SS La Touraine , both fortunately being "two operator" vessels. A U.S. revenue cutter was quickly dispatched to the Republic's assistance. By daylight as assortment of vessels, informed of the disaster by the Siasconsett station, was gathering at the scene of the collision. About 1,650 persons were transferred from the two ships, with but six reported lost from the Republic . Radio played a major role in limiting the loss of life and created such a favorable impression upon the public that it, like life preservers, became considered a necessity by individual sea voyagers. [Howeth Chap 12] See also [Rescue at Sea]

"Within a fortnight of this incident there was considerable editorial comment and clamor. The Electrical World stated that either immediate legislation or revised marine insurance rules which would require all passenger steamers to be fitted with radio equipment was to be expected. The Scientific American commented, in substance, that legislation should be enacted requiring all oceangoing passenger steamers to be fitted with radio equipment. President Roosevelt added his weight to that of the public when, on 8 February, he sent a special message to Congress recommending immediate legislation requiring, within reasonable limits, oceangoing passenger vessels to be fitted with efficient radio equipment. Prior to this, and before 4 February, three separate bills had been introduced before the Congress. [Howeth Chap 12]

"Public opinion was having its effect. By 18 February the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries had favorably reported out a bill providing a penalty of $300, or 1-year's imprisonment, or both, for failure of any oceangoing vessel, carrying more than 50 passengers and going more than 200 miles, excepting on the Great Lakes, to be fitted with radio equipment and to carry a radio operator. This bill was supported by the commercial interests, for it did not regulate their activities and, if it became law, would enhance their business. The steamship companies, fearing the formation of a radio combine, argued for a provision against such a possibility. The Commissioner of Navigation urged an amendment requiring all companies to exchange messages in time of distress or emergency. Time was too short to consider controversial issues, especially when such issues concerned business, and the 60th Congress failed to enact the legislation prior to its demise on 3 March 1909. [Howeth Chap 12]



  • Wireless Association of America founded [Rescue at Sea]
  • Guglielmo Marconi receives Nobel Price in Physics [Nobel]
  • "Inauguration Day, 4 March 1909, was marred by one of the worst blizzards ever to hit the National Capital. All communication with the outside world was lost. In its editorial comment upon this condition, the Electrical World noted that although the Government radio station was operative it was little used; the one available private station operated under difficulty due to interference from the Government station; nothing had been accomplished to permit tuning to allow two nearby stations to operate without interference; the amateurs were using more powerful equipment and were thereby adding to the chaotic condition and should be controlled by Government regulation; action should be taken to insure the availability of radio for emergency use under such circumstances. Continuing, the editor again deplored the lack of accurate tuning to help in alleviating the problem. While receiving stations might be able to tune out interference from certain transmitters, they could not remain in contact with shipboard apparatus over any considerable distance if bothered by numerous amateurs operating on a wide variety of frequencies. As additional vessels became equipped with radio, and depended more and more upon it, the situation would grow more complicated and serious. In the use of equipment this could mean the difference between life and death. As frequent as interference might be at other times, it was assumed that most persons possessed sufficient sense of responsibility to refrain from interfering with distress communications, but there would always by a few irresponsible people. In closing, he warned: It is high time to undertake friendly but extremely thorough regulations, for amateur seaboard stations are much in the position of amateur lighthouse plants, interfering with the legitimate safety precautions with respect to navigation, which are peculiarly the business of government. It may be contended that private persons have the right to experiment even with lighthouse lenses, but granting this, they should be compelled, and can be legally compelled, to desist from so experimenting as to interfere with navigation. Congress has ample powers under the constitution to pass federal statutes forbidding any and all acts inimical to public safety and federal authority is fully competent to enforce them. With the present tendency to make the installation of wireless apparatus compulsory on oceangoing passenger vessels, close regulation becomes imperative.   President Taft called the 61st Congress into special session on 15 March 1909 solely for the purpose of redeeming the Republican Party's promises of tariff reform. During this session, Senator Frye, of Maine, chairman of the Senate's Commerce Committee, introduced a bill similar to the one upon which the 60th Congress had taken no final action. This differed only in that the penalty for violation was a fine of $2,000, and the steamship companies were afforded the protection they had previously sought by the following proviso in the penalty clause: That it shall constitute a good defense to a prosecution under this act for the defendant to show that the corporations supplying efficient apparatus for radio-communication have entered into a combination for the purpose of maintaining or enhancing the rental price of such apparatus. Congress was completely occupied by the tariff legislation until August and other business was deferred. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "During the passing months, public opinion was gradually shifting to the position held by the Government departments. An editorial appeared in the Electrical World advising its readers that the Frye bill, in itself, was insufficient, and pointed out that its column had, several times, taken up the need of proper regulation by the Government over the hundreds of amateur, commercial, and Government radio stations which "daily afflict the overburdened ether with their sputtering." [Howeth Chap 12]

    "Late in 1909, Congressman Roberts, of Massachusetts introduced House Joint Resolution 95, which in the light of subsequent history must be considered the most sensible proposal made, to that time, for the solution of the radio-usage problem. It proposed the creation of a board to be assigned the task of preparing, within 30 days of its organization, a comprehensive plan to govern the operation of all radio stations under the cognizance of the United States, with due regard for all. Under the measure, the board would have consisted of seven members, one each from the War, Navy, and Treasury Departments, three from commercial interests, and one unbiased scientist. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "This resolution was far more in keeping with the needs of the Government and the suggestions of the Electrical World. That journal praised it highly, stating that the need of regulation was a "crying one" and further observed: As pointed out by Representative Roberts, the abuse of the present freedom of wireless operation on the part of amateurs is abominable, not only through interference with commercial working but, not infrequently, in violation of decency. 7 This publication continued its weekly editorials in support of the measure and constantly invited attention to its salient features and to the necessity for enactment of legislation to remove the causes of the chaotic condition. [Howeth Chap 12]

    In 1910, the US Navy selected Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia as the site of their new radio station. With three radio towers (one 600 and two 450 feet tall), the station would provide the powerful ability to communicate with the fleet at sea. See 1915 First Voice Transmission.

    "On 16 February 1910, hearings on the Roberts resolution commenced before a subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House of Representatives with Congressman Roberts presiding. All interested companies had been requested to send representatives, and no individuals were barred from making comments or suggestions. Mr. Roberts opened the hearings with the following statement: The resolution was introduced by myself, and I wish to state that the only purpose in my mind in introducing this legislation was to bring about some reasonable regulation of the air in the interest of not only the government service in wireless, but of the commercial and the amateur as well. I judge, from communications I have received and from articles I have read in papers, that there is an impression in the minds of the amateurs of the country that the purpose of the bill is to put them out of business entirely. I wish to disabuse their minds of that idea; it is not to prevent any person having a right to use the air for wireless communication from so using it, but simply, through a board, to make appropriate regulations to control that use of the air so that one will not be needlessly and unnecessarily interfering with the other, that all will have their rights. I presume you gentlemen recognize the fact that we are entering, in this proposition, upon new territory entirely from a legal standpoint. It has always been understood that a man owning real estate owned to the center of the earth and the heavens above and controlled everything above and below the surface of the piece of land that he happened to own. We have been brought up with the idea that the air was absolutely free to everyone; but the march of civilization has brought about conditions, particularly in this matter of wireless communication, that render it imperative, in my estimation, that there be some change of the old common law with regard to rights in the air, in the interest of modern progress and development. I apprehend we may meet with some difficulties in attaining that end by reason of this radical change from the old law on the subject of uses of the air. 8     In support of his bill, Mr. Roberts presented a large mass of matter he had collected relating to the need of regulation and listed innumerable instances "of interference on the part of Government operators with commercial operators, on the part of commercial operators with Government operators, and on the part of amateurs with both commercial and Government operators." Assuming the necessity of some means of control, he felt that the principal question to be taken up by the committee was the modus operandi of accomplishing the task. Being of the opinion that the committee would be provided with the "very cream of experience and knowledge in the art of wireless communication," he felt that the opinions and views of those present would enable the legislators "to arrive at the proper method of going about the subject." [Howeth Chap 12]

    "The chief objectors to the Roberts proposal were the National Electric Signaling Co., the Massie Wireless Telegraph Co., the amateurs, and the manufacturers who provided them with their equipments. The Marconi interests did not send a representative to the hearings. The supporters of the measure were the United Wireless Co., the Radio Telephone Co., and the Government departments. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "Volumes of testimony were taken or accepted in the form of briefs by the subcommittee. Those who objected to the proposal were, for the most part, merely repeating their objections as previously raised at the hearings on the ratification of the Berlin Convention. They were summarized by the opposition's spokesmen, the representatives of the National Electric Signaling Co. They noted that the Government representatives had mentioned a complete system of regulations for the control of radio which had been drawn up at Berlin. Even though the Conference had been attended by radio experts from the military and naval services of many governments as well as by men understood to be scientists, and who produced a most elaborate scheme of regulation, this scheme was not adopted by the United States, in spite of the fact that adoption was most vigorously urged by the Government representatives before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1908. In that Convention there were three or more regulations which the National Electric Signaling Co. felt, had they been adopted, "would have prevented most important improvements that have been made in the art and are employed in it today by the Army and Navy as well as by commercial interests." The firm believed that the regulations formulated by the Berlin Convention provided a fine example of what might be expected from the proposed committee. Therefore, if a board were permitted to prepare a comprehensive scheme of regulation, it would impede and interfere with the progress of the art. From a purely selfish motive, the firm admitted, it was convinced that it could practice wireless telegraphy without fear of interference from anybody. "All that we ask is to be let alone--to have no rules or regulations made." [Howeth Chap 12]

    "The amateurs were loud in their objections. They sent in numerous resolutions voiced against the measure and expressing the fear that amateurs would be legislated against to the extent that they would be placed in a status which would almost completely prohibit their activities. They were supported and abetted by manufacturers who feared that legislation controlling amateur usage would eliminate a profitable portion of their businesses. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "Several individuals, claiming status as experimenters, had a representative appear before the committee and file a brief which in essence requested consideration for membership on the proposed board. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "The supporters of the measure pointed out the need of regulation and of adherence to the Berlin Convention. They submitted hundreds of pages of radio logs and correspondence in support of their contention that the air was full of vituperations, obscenity, and unnecessary transmissions. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "By March 31 the Roberts bill had been favorably reported out by the Committee on Naval Affairs and was expected to come up for consideration. Several bills had been urged in opposition to it, among them one by Congressman Peters and another by Congressman Burke. Every week brought forth new editorials and letters. The responsible trade publications continued to support the Roberts resolution, but many contrary opinions were expressed. Almost all of these recognized the increasing menace created by the small percentage of amateurs who were irresponsible. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "While the House subcommittee had been conducting hearings on the Roberts bill, the Senate passed the measure introduced by Senator Frye. On 20 June 1910, the House also acted favorably on this measure. It was approved on 24 June as Public Law No. 262, commonly known as the Radio Ship Act of 1910, and became effective on 1 July 1911. This law required that, beginning with its effective date, all oceangoing vessels carrying 50 passengers or more be fitted with efficient radio apparatus, capable of transmitting messages over a distance of at least 100 miles, day or night, and staffed by 1 skilled operator. It was not applicable to vessels plying between ports less than 200 miles apart nor to shipping on the Great Lakes. [Howeth Chap 12]

    "Although the enactment of this legislation was desirable and a necessary, though inadequate, measure for the protection of life at sea, it increased the number of stations but did nothing to regulate their usage or to compel intercommunication between commercial companies. Unbridled, the amateur, the commercial, and the Government operators continued to vie with each other and among themselves for air time. The chaotic conditions increased until open warfare, consisting mostly of vituperation and obscenity, took over as much time as did the transmission of legitimate correspondence. However, the passage of this act apparently reassured the public, as evidenced by a diminution of editorial comment for the next few months. This relieved the pressure on a Congress which had no desire to antagonize business interests further. Considering that it had done its duty, Congress went on to adjournments of both this and its second session without action on other radio measures. [Howeth Chap 12]

    This is from a display in the lobby of the FCC.

    Grand Island, Nebraska Monitoring Station
    The First Frequency Monitoring Station

    "Under the Radios Act of 1910 and 1912, the Department of Commerce received the authority to monitor and inspect shipboard radio equipment, license radio operators for that equipment and prevent interference between stations. Prior to 1930, there were few radio services. The primary users of the available frequencies were ships, coastal stations, point-to-point telegraph, AM broadcasting, and radio amateurs with the radio amateurs far outnumbering the other radio operations. The budding AM broadcasting segment of radio operations began to grow phenomenally after he start of KDKA in a basement in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1921. Licensed and unlicensed broadcast stations were in service, causing a need for a frequency monitoring facility.

    Grand Island, Nebraska Monitoring Station v2

    "The Radio Division in the Department of Commerce in Chicago, Illinois used Packard radio-test cars and other equipment to determine the best location for a Cemtra; Frequency Monitoring Station. After an extensive search, the flat prairie region of central Nebraska, specifically, an area six miles west of Grand Island, Nebraska was selected because of its superb reception conditions, central geographic location, and freedom from nearby transmitting stations. The original track of land for the monitoring station was comprised of 50 acres, which was purchased in April 1929 for the sum of $1, from the estate of Fred Matthiesen, Jr. The 47th Legislature of Nebraska passed a bill in 1931 that allowed school land to be purchased by the Department of Commerce for the development of a radio monitoring station.

    "The Packard radio test car replica in this exhibit or one like it would have been used to determine the location of the First Central Frequency Monitoring Station.

    Packard Radio Test Car Historical NotePackard Radio Test Car v2

    "At the Sesquicentennial Exposition honoring 150 years of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which was held in Philadelphia in July of 1926, displays on the growth and greatness of our country were emphasized. The Radio Division, Department of Commerce had a varied exhibit of radio equipment which included a model of the latest Packard Radio Test Car. The task of building the model was quite an undertaking in both time and money. The finished model cost more than one of the original Packards. Every single part, both inside and out was hand made. The model Packard Radio Test Car was housed in the museum portion of the Grand Island Monitoring Station until 1994 when it was sent to FCC headquarters to be warehoused."


    "The Republican Party had been in power since early 1897. Shortly after the Taft administration came into office in 1909, dissension commenced as a result of the failure of Congress to represent the people. This political revolt culminated in the 1910 elections, when the Democrats obtained control of the House and reduced the Republican majority in the Senate to the point where, with about a dozen insurgent Republicans, they effectively controlled that Chamber. Big business interests lost their power to control the enactment of legislation. This enhanced the possibility of obtaining some measure of Federal control over the use of radio. However, this Congress was not called into special session and, therefore, did not convene until the first Monday in December 1911.[Howeth Chap 12]


    "In the latter part of 1911 arrangements for the Third International Radio Telegraphic Conference, scheduled to be held in London during June 1912, were being pushed to conclusion. Since the United States had failed to ratify the Berlin Convention of 1906, its adhering members deemed it necessary to withdraw the invitation to this country to participate. 16 The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, awakening to the fact that its two immediate predecessors had left some unfinished business, hastily removed the treaty from its "pigeonhole" and on 21 February 1912 began reconsideration of its ratification. In commenting upon this, the Electrical World stated: The International Wireless Telegraph Convention will again convene in London during the month of June this year. Although no government, through its representatives, had a more prominent part than the United States in framing the terms and regulations of the Convention organized in Berlin in 1906, yet the Senate has steadfastly ignored its ratification. When the invitation to our Government to participate in the London Convention was withdrawn, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations awakened to the fact that from a wireless standpoint this country was an outcast among the nations and hastened to make amends by reporting the Treaty out of the committee. As there is no serious opposition, the Treaty will probably receive favorable action in the Senate, and delegates representing the State, War and Navy Departments and the commercial interests will be appointed to attend the London Convention. The hearing to reconsider the ratification of the Berlin convention was of but few hours' duration. The National Electric Signaling Co. offered the sole opposition to ratification. Their objections were the same as in the 1908 hearings and can be summarized by the following excerpts from a brief filed by its general manager: [Howeth Chap 12]

    It is unjust to the companies who have developed wireless telegraphy.

    It is not practical.

    Its restrictions are of such a character as to prevent future development of wireless telegraphy.

    It forbids the use of a number of most important developments in wireless telegraphy.

    It is premature. The art is young and should be allowed to develop unrestricted. No one can say at present along what lines it will reach its greatest degree of perfection.

    It is believed to involve acts that are opposed to the Constitution.

    "Rear Adm. John R. Edwards, USN Inspector General of machinery for vessels building on the Atlantic coast, was designated by the Navy Department to present the Government's reasons in advocating ratification. His able and forceful testimony, together with his prepared brief and complete rebuttal of the opposition's testimonies as presented in the 1908 hearings, 19 were instrumental in having the Convention favorably reported out of committee. [Howeth Chap 12]


    "After more than 5 years of delay and after all the other signatory powers had ratified the Convention, the Senate approved the treaty on April 1912. Following the formal notification of ratification, the invitation for the U.S. Government to send delegates to the Third International Radio Telegraphic Conference was reextended. [Howeth Chap 12]



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