1908 was a big year for wireless clubs. They formed on the backs of magazines, typically electrical trade journals, whose pages hobbyists scoured for construction information. It was natural that editors would encourage their attention. Periodical sections devoted to these early clubs are very detailed pictures of the amateur community. From their pages we can tell exactly who these people were, how they organized themselves, and what they could do technically.
The famous club is that of Luxembourg immigrant and future radio luminary Hugo Gernsback, who founded Modern Electrics in April, a catalogue that, due to demand, also contained features and articles. On this circulation list in the following January he set up a “Wireless Association of America,” which, he claimed, gathered 10,000 members in its first year.
A less famous example is Electrician and Mechanic, which had its own newish club in place by August 1908. Membership was 114, spread fairly evenly among 27 states and Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Massachusetts had the most members, for some reason. It was free to join, existing merely as a roster of stations and their descriptions. Its function was simply to encourage local chapter meetings and exchange of information. It grew quickly. By October, the magazine ran a special article on the proliferation, and sophistication, of the amateurs in Baltimore, reckoning their number at 30, and their age-range from under fifteen to about 45.
Why Baltimore? There was a professional nexus. “Certain employees of the C. & P. Telephone Company, who advanced from the filings coherer stage to the tuned circuit and detector,” encouraged local enthusiasts, person-to-person, rather like a club. Two others were ex-professionals as well, former operators of the De Forest station in town. It was common that professional men used the good offices of their firms for non-commercial radio generally. Providence reader ‘W.W.B.’ wrote in to ask for contacts in his city, offering a downtown place to meet at no cost. “I am the department manager of a large firm,” he said. “We could meet at my office and talk over the matter of forming a local branch.”
They really did need to talk with each other. The wireless art was elevating so quickly that even the magazines were having trouble keeping up. Reader ‘R.H.M’ in St. Paul, Minnesota, fretted that he could not get articles fast enough, particularly on high frequency transformers. He wished that Electrician and Mechanic would devote a big section monthly to practical construction. ‘C.W.W., of Melrose Highlands, Massachusetts, wished for an explanatory piece on the hot-wire ammeter, having tried in vain to find out how this instrument was made and how it worked. The closed core transformer was the nucleus of the 1908 station. ‘M.A.’, in Campobello, Massachusetts, wanted an article on building one, for about $10, that would work on 100 volts, 60 cycles per second, which is to say, house current. Some stations, such as that of ‘W.S.B.’ (shown), stilled used batteries. His used nine cells, delivering a goodly “7 or 8 amperes.”
W.S.B.’s station was in Brooklyn. He had managed to talk with the De Forest station four miles away. He received signals from Fire Island plainly, and could detect transmissions up the Connecticut coast, as far Wilson’s Point (off Norwalk) and Bridgeport. His receiving range was thus about 50 miles. He thought he may have heard ships farther off than that.
1908 must have been an exciting year.
“ The Wireless Club,” Electrician and Mechanic, September 1908, pp. 137-8.
“Wireless Telegraph Stations in Baltimore,” Electrician and Mechanic, October 1908, p. 146.
“Wireless Club,” Electrician and Mechanic, October, 1908, p. 179.
Picture source: Electrician and Mechanic, October, 1908, p. 179, available at http://earlyradiohistory.us/1908wc2.htm.