How were the Americans doing in 1899? Sad to say, they were trailing the Europeans by a long way. Professor Jerome Green machined some parts in the Notre Dame physics labs to match what he thought Marconi was using, and he was able to send messages between a pair of campus buildings. Then he signaled from a flagpole on campus to a point two miles off campus. Then he went portable and signaled three miles across the city of South Bend. Mishakawa, 6 miles away, proved too far. After that he made trials around the Polk Street rail station and the ‘Tribune’ building in Chicago. This little jump, of three-quarters of a mile, turned out to be impossible. He reckoned it was because there were too many wires and buildings along the signal path. These he imagined must absorb the waves, because in subsequent trials in the city over routes clear of wires detectable signals passed freely. Finally, he tried signaling over water, from the Chicago River lifesaving station to a moving tug. Two miles was about the limit of what he could do, but it was better than what he could manage in the city. Over water, Professor Green observed, Marconi was achieving his best results; Ducretet, in Paris, by contrast, was managing about five miles, much less than the over-water record.
It was primitive equipment the Americans were using, even this technically savvy American (and he said ‘primitive’ himself). He didn’t know how waves propagated, and he had no notion (nor did Marconi) that wavelength and optimal antenna size are related. He thought the name of the game was adjusting the receiving apparatus mechanically to register clear dots and dashes.
Says who: Jerome J. Green, “The Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy,” American Electrician, July, 1899, pp. 344-6.
Image source: http://earlyradiohistory.us/1899nd.htm.