Skip to main content

Full text of "A short history of amateur radio / Ernst Solberg."

See other formats

Ernst Solberg 


Amateur radio has grown up with the science of radio. 
Its history, due to the changes made during World War 1, can be di- 
vided into two parts, the pre-war period and the post-war period. Dur- 
ing the pre-war period, enthusiasts first appeared with the news of 
Marconi's first transmissions. In 1912, the government regulated ama- 
teur radio and issued a booklet containing the names of all Amerioan 
amateurs. In 1914, the American Radio Relay League was founded, and, 
in the following year, the first issue of its official publication, QST, 
appeared. In 1917, the war shut down amateur operation, and, of 6,000 

"hams" in the country, over 4, QUO went into tne services. After the war, 


the princip^ activities dealt with long distance communication, much 

suocess being found on wave lengths below 200 meters. In 1923, the first 
amateur Transatlantic conversation was achieved. In 1927, amateur short 
wave bands were considerably cut by the International Radio Conference 
in Washington, "ham" is derived from an English corruption of the 
word "amateur". Due to the war, all amateurs are off the air at present. 



innateur radio has grown up with the science of radio 
itself. It is a hobby more closely bound with engineering than any 
other, and its ranks are dotted with devotees from all walks of life 
from the skilled technician to the grade school boy anxiously search- 
ing the band for an answer to his first CQ. wiarconi, pioneer in radio 
investigation, liked to call himself the first amateur. Many other 
"istin^uished men followed him as "hams", and these men did much to 
build radio t-o its present important position. It is proposed in che 
following pages to give a short history of amateur radio and to show 
some of Lhe things amateurs have accomplished. 

The difference between smateur radio before and after World 
War I is the difference between the inefficient crashing spark gap and 
ohe quiet effectiveness of the three element vacuum tube. Radio before 
and after the war was considerably different because the war stimulated 
development, and improvements were made in many respects. Vacuum tubes 
were coming into extensive use and radio had, as a whole, made muc h 
progress. It is for this reason that the history to follow will be divided 
into two parts, Pre- War and Post- War Amateur Radio. 

About the year 1900, imarooni began to show the feasibility 
of wireless communication, and his work was widely publicized. This 
publicity created much interest in persons all over this country who 
read eagerly of the stran c new invention. The idea of communication 
without wires or other visible medium hold a fascination which has always 
been the motive impelling those who vrould become "hams". When Marconi 


sent his first "S" across the Atlantic, there were several amateur 
receiving stations set up in attempts to receive him. These were quite 
unknown to each other, and it might really "be considered that amateur 
radio was born then, according to Maxim, none of them succeeded in 
picking up the signal* but this did not discourage them. As a matter of 
fact, the failure spurred these early amateurs to even greater efforts. 

Up to the year 1912, there was no legal regulation of ama- 
teur radio, but by that time it had become evident that it was necessary 
to prevent interference by amateur radio with the marine and commercial 
services. These latter were already established and increasing rapidly 
in importance. Consequently, an international congress was called which 
resulted in the Wireless Law of 1912, limiting amateur operation. Sta- 
tion and optrator's licenses were required, and a call book listing all 
amateurs was issued, amateur operation was prohibited on all wave lengths 
higher than 200 meters, anything lower being considered worthless. Per- 
haps the most valuable result of the law at that time was the call book, 
because it revealed the true magnitude of the hobby by publishing the names 
and addresses of al ] iimerican "hams". lo the orderly mind of Hiram Percy 
Maxim, this list immediately gave the idea of organization into a unit, 
whioh resulted in the founding of the American Radio Relay League in 1914. 
In 1915, the League's official organ, QST (ihe 1 "o^e signal for "Attention, 
all stations") came into being, and it is still published every month . 
With the organization of the League, various systems of relay stations 
were spread across the country until, in 1916, three East-West and three 
North-South trunk lines existed. In 1917, a transcontinental message was 

— "2 — 

sent fron hartford to Los Angeles and "back: in one hour and twenty 

minuses. The route was from Hartford to Albany, to Jefferson City, 

to Denver, to Los Angeles, and, at that time eighty minutes was a 



The first iYorld ',Var brought an abrupt halt to all amateur 
transmission and other activities. Over 4,000 "hams" enlisted in the 
armed forces , and 75 percent of the pre-war amateurs were sent to 
France. There, radio at first played a very secondary role to wire 
communication, but gradually it increased in importance. After the 
Armisi-ice, an iimerican net connecting Chaumont, Treves, Luxemburg, Spa, 
and Coblenz, handed a large part of the administrative business of the 
time. American forces in Rrtuacb useu French r^dio^ equipment because it 
had been field tested and was better adapted to military use. 

After tne war, 
the government was not enthusi- 
astic about amateur radio, and 
it was almost a year after the 
Armistice before the b^n on 
amateur transmission was lifted. 
With the war, the vacuum tube 
had come into considerable use 
end proved to be much more ef- 
ficient than the old rotary 

Godley's tent receiving post at 
Ardrossen, Scotland, where he heard 
the first American signals. 

spark gaps. With more efficient equipment, concepts of long distance 


operation changed rapidly from 1,000 to 1,500 to 2,000 miles, so that, 
"by 1920, serious consideration was being given to transatlantic contacts. 
As yet, by 1921, no Europenn had heard an American amateur signal. It 
was suspected that this was because of European operators' unfamiliarity 
with 200 meter e uipment. For that reason an American amateur was sent 
to England and there heard 30 American stations. In 1922, another test 
was carried out and 515 American signals were logged, and, moreover, one 
French end two British stations were heard here. Wo transatlantic con- 
tacts had been made up to this time and they did not appear likely at 
200 meters. Consequently, the lower wavelengths were investigated by vari- 
ous amateurs with remarkable results, and in 1921, the Navy enlisted 
amateur aid to study the higher frequencies. As the wavelength dropped, 
distance results grey/ constantly better. In 19?3, contact was established 
for several hours between a Frenchman, Deloy, and two Americans. Since 
that time transatlantic communication has been quite common. Wavelength 
of 110 meters was used by Deloy, find investigations were carried on all 
around 100 meters at the time. In 1924, a 9,000-mile contact '.nas made 
between Connecticut and Mew Zealand. As a result of this increased work 
below 200 met-ers, it became evident that the band* below that wavelength 
were far from worthless. With the increasing interest of commercial com- 
panies, it became necessary to partition the available frequencies into 
bands, iwnerican Radio Relay League officials obtained bands at 80, 40, 20, 
10, and even 5 meters, although little had been done with them prior to this 
time. These bands were soon tested and excellent distance results obtained. 
Up to 1926, eight amateurs had contacted all continent sj at the present 
time about 5,000 have done so. 

In 1927 at the International Kadio telegraph Conference 
in ftasnington, amateur radio became a semi -permanent institution 
when the Conference reco, nized it es an accepted form of radio com- 
munication. The frequency bands assigned by the Conference were narrower 
than those previously held but the deficiency has been made up to some 
degree by the improvement in equipment, such as the introduction of 
crystal control, single signal receivers, etc. After this date, de- 
velopment has consisted for thtmosi- jj&rt, of technical improvement and 
expansion of activities already begun. Some of these activities before 
this War included: Army and Nsvj amateur nets, emergency work in times 
of disaster, cooperation with expeditions (200 have been assisted), end 
experimental development. 

The term "ham" should be explained. It was originated by 
19th century English sport swr iters, whose abbreviation for amateur was 
"Am". Cockney dialect changed it to "ham" and in some way it reached 
American landlines where it referred to newcomers and cubs. It eventually 
got around to amateur radio telegraph operators, who have accepted it with 
considerable pride. 

Today the amateur bands are temporarily silent. Amateurs 
assist Civilian Dufense, experiment alung vario us lines, and try curious 
methods of communicating with their fellows (Ex. - Through the gas end 
water pipes, supersonics, etc.). Every "ham" looks eagerly forward to 
the end of the War when his and 60,000 other transmitters can go back on 
the air. 



De Soto, Clinton B. Calling CQ. New Yorki Doubleday, Doran and 
Company, 1926. 


Codel, Martin. Radio and Its Future. New Yorkt Harper and Brothers, 


Editors. "A Quarter of a Century with QST." QST, 24 (Dec. 1940), 
12 - 21. 


Warner, K.B.. "It Seems to Us." QST, 23 (May, 1939), 49 - 53. 

(&) The editors. The Radio Amateurs handbook. Concords Rumford 
Press, 1940.