Who was in the amateur game in 1904

young pioneers

There’s a fascinating snapshot of radio culture in 1904 in the June issue of Amateur Work, about a couple of Boston eighth-graders who built a wireless station in shop class, that had an eventual range of a good 8 miles.

This Amateur Work is probably a descendant of the serial of the same name whose publication began in 1881, a do-it-yourself manual in lathes, clocks, and violins, greenhouses, book-binding and electro-plating, glass, microscopes and fishing tackle, sun-dials, fly-tying and photography – you get the idea. These early issues are being digitized by the Smithsonian [https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/amateur-work-illustrated] right now, and they’re very good reading.

By 1904 this publication was carrying articles on wireless. The art was still young. The editors felt obliged to put quotes around “wireless,” and the young inventors, Samuel Breck and Newell Thompson, called their transmitter a “disperser,” and their receiver a “responder.” The project apparently surprised the Boston school system.

Nevertheless, it got off the ground swiftly. The boys had seen a wireless exhibit in a Mechanics’ Building fair only at the start of the school year. When they came asking for help, their shop teacher and their headmaster were both quick to get involved. Visitors came to the school to watch the prototype in action. The lads’ parents helped them arrange subsequent distance tests of growing lengths across the Charles River.

The lesson is that wireless culture was developed enough in mid-1904, in the popular press, in trade and educational institutions, and in the public imagination, that even schoolboys could be mentored onto the air, and fairly readily.

Says who:

“Wireless” telegraph plant by Amateur Work readers.  Amateur Work, June, 1904, p. 223.  Available at http://earlyradiohistory.us/1904ama.htm


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