Early Amateur Radio

     The idea of communicating over distances without interconnecting wires, not only interested government agencies, but piqued the curiosity others. Up to this time a copper wire connection was required, whether it be across town, or across the ocean. Soon folk were thumbing through what literature there was and building their own equipment. A really handy experimenter could find the bits and pieces required by looking around the house. The transmitter spark coil could be from a car's ignition system.  A receiver detector could be made by using a razor blade and safety pin. Necessary coils were wound on paper tubes scrounged from the kitchen. Capacitors can be made Leyden jar fashion, tin foil on either side of a glass jar which necessitated another kitchen raid. Many of the components would be mounted on a plank of wood, and often that was mother's breadboard. Even today the term 'breadboarding' is a term engineers use for prototype development.  A serviceable antenna can be made out of clothesline wire. About the only item that couldn't be made out in the garage was a pair of headphones. These would have to be bought and a good sensitive pair were a source of pride.


   Early amateur operators on the Canadian west coast used their initials as call signs and communicated with anyone they heard, from other amateurs, local shipping and even passing warships.


Build Your Own Station    Popular Mechanics was a monthly magazine chock full of useful ideas and plans for the handyman. On the side they published a series of handbooks, one of which was "How To Make A Wireless Set" by Arthur Moore, published in 1911. Within these 28 pages are the complete instructions to fabricate a spark transmitter and receiver.

   The builder is provided with detailed instructions for every component, the only hardware purchased was wire, bees wax, shellac, screws, brass sheeting and other bits and bobs. View the PDF here. The author figures a range of five miles can be obtained.


(Thanks for the University of California for making this document accessible.)

   1915 amateur station taken from "Hawkins Electrical Guide 1917".


   This particular station uses a rotary spark transmitter. The receiver provides a choice of detectors: a vacuum tube (20) or a crystal diode (18). For the time this was a top of the line station.


    For a larger view, click on the image.

   Then there was an enterprising Second Engineer on the S.S. Kumeric in 1909.


   Victoria Colonist May 11, 1909




   Bank Liner Has Unique Equipment of Wireless Telegraphic Apparatus


    The steamer Kumeric, of the Bank line, Capt. Mathie, which reached port from Manila, Hongkong and way ports of the Far East yesterday morning, is not officially listed among the vessels equipped with wireless telegraphic apparatus--but she is equipped, and last night, when fifteen miles from Pachena she reported her arrival.


   The apparatus was manufactured by Second Engineer Reid with whatever material offered; at first it was some glass bottles the steward had discarded, a few cigar boxes, some wires gathered here and there, but it has been gradually improved by the second engineer until the aerial reaching from his cabin to the jumper stays looks real ship shape. The glass bottle has given way to a more trim condenser made with pieces of glass, and the equipment is very useful one to the Bank liner.  


   Messages have been caught by Mr. Reid when he is sitting in during his hours off watch--for he is a wireless telegraph operator for amusement only--up to a distance of 200 miles. When at Hongkong the Kumeric was in communications with the British warships then in port and with the Japanese steamer Tango Maru. When nearing Manilla her arrival was reported by the engineer to the wireless telegraph station at Cavite. The apparatus has been much admired by experts who have seen it and Mr. Reid has been warmly congratulated at the results obtained with the material at his disposal. He is gradually improving the apparatus.