Jurassic radio: Mahlon Loomis

loomis library of congress

Mahlon Loomis applied for letters patent in July of 1872 for a kind of wireless telegraphy between towers on two mountaintops.  His idea was to allow a voltage gradient to build in each tower, passively, a system of static electricity drawn from the atmosphere, that could be discharged by an operator down the hill sitting at his key.  The signal itself he conceived as travelling from one tower to the other underground.  He claimed to have managed the feat, too, with kites instead of towers, between two mountains in West Virginia, 14 miles apart.  He asked Congress for research money, which was denied.  It is a truism of wireless telegraphy schemas all the way to and including Preece that signals were expected to move through ground (or water), not air.  It was for Marconi to render practical Hertzian waves.  Loomis’s is unusual among the old designs for conceiving no process of induction, between long parallel wires.  On paper this one looks the most like radio.  Maybe it was.

Who says:  The picture above, diagramming the West Virginia triumph, resides in the Library of Congress.  The narrative, in its pre-Preece context, comes from John Joseph Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy, 1838-1899 (Blackwood, 1899), pp. 73-8.


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