Oral-History:George T. Royden
About George T. Royden
George Royden, a pioneer in wireless communication, received his degree from Stanford University. While attending Stanford, Royden worked part-time at Federal Telegraph. He took a full-time position with Federal upon graduation. At the end of WWI, he took a position with the Navy at Mare Island
Royden's self-taped comments begin with a discussion of his early work with Federal Telegraph, preparing wiring diagrams for Federal's arc transmitting equipment. He then discusses his various assignments while employed with the Navy at Mare Island, including an expedition to Alaska to install arc transmitters, and his work in Hawaii, where he was involved in the program to modernize the Navy's transmitters. Upon resigning his position at Mare Island, Royden returned to Federal. The interview continues with a discussion of his work in radio broadcast receivers for Federal Telegraph and Mackey Radio. Royden describes at length the work involved in establishing a Mackey broadcasting station in Hawaii. He also includes a discussion of the patent issues between ITT and Mackey, the methods devised to avoid patent infringement, and the resulting use of temporary transmitters in Hawaii. His remarks conclude with a discussion of Mackey's establishment of inter-city, overland radio telegraph service, his work in the construction of the Seattle Washington station, and the design of the Seattle antennas.
About the Interview
GEORGE T. ROYDEN: An Interview Conducted by George T. Royden, IEEE History Center, June 1973
Interview # 010 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
George T. Royden, an oral history conducted in 1973 by George T. Royden, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.
Interview: George T. Royden Interviewer: George T. Royden Date: June 1973 Place: Flagstaff, Arizona
About a year ago we made a trip around the world on a Chinese vessel. Knowing that I would have quite a bit of time while the ship was at sea, I took along a notebook and wrote out what I had labeled “Radio Reminiscences, an Autobiography by George T. Royden.” What I am telling you now is just a few excerpts from what I recorded during that voyage.
Childhood, Stanford and Federal Telegraph
As a boy I got a job peddling newspapers, earning enough money to buy a bicycle. Later on, as I got more experienced and I was older, I was asked to take on the agency for one of the San Francisco newspapers, The San Francisco Post. I agreed and operated that agency for a number of years, eventually building up the subscriptions to the point where I was netting about thirty dollars a month and had accumulated nearly a thousand dollars in my savings account. All of this helped when I entered Stanford. During the middle of my sophomore year, the paper sold out to its competitor and my steady income from that source vanished. However, I earned enough money doing that kind of work.... Since I was nearly broke, I said yes without hesitating. He told me to go down to the Federal Telegraph factory and see Harold Elliot. They had an important job for the Navy at the time and wanted me to work full-time, but I wanted to complete my studies at Stanford, so we agreed to a part-time job at fifty cents an hour. By working Saturdays and Sundays and a few evenings each week, I earned enough to see me through until graduation, at which time this turned into a full-time job. This was very interesting work. One of the big jobs Federal was doing for the Navy was the construction of arc transmitting equipment rated at one thousand kilowatts input to the Poulsen arc. I was assigned the task of preparing the wiring diagrams for these transmitters and the auxiliary equipment. Schematic diagrams for the principal components had been sketched out by other engineers, and I put them into the form required in the instruction book. Also I worked up the wiring diagram for the whole station.
Federal Arc Transmitter
During World War I, Federal also made quite a number of two-kilowatt arc transmitters for commercial service. After the war was over the factory laid off quite a number of people, including me. I was told that the Navy wanted me at Mare Island. So I went up there and George O’Hara put me on the payroll and sent me along with the expedition to Alaska. During the war, the Navy had purchased the arc transmitters Federal had used in its communication system, and they wanted me to go along and make one of these transmitters operate at St. Paul Island. Federal had used this transmitter at a central point near Medford, Oregon. When we went ashore at St. Paul Island there was broken ice around the shore and a lot of snow on the ground. There was a work party of about forty persons, most of whom were laborers and carpenters. I was the only electrician, so I had to take care of the wiring in the transmitter building which the gang constructed, and the wiring in the two buildings which were double quarters for the staff. I also directed the men assigned for putting up a three hundred foot wooden mast for the antenna.
The antenna was supported at one corner by the three hundred foot mast and at the other two corners by previously built two hundred foot masts. The transmitter building was constructed of reinforced concrete. A gasoline engine was used to drive the six hundred volt direct current generator with a leather belt. Most of the radio apparatus was carefully packed in boxes and marked “radio apparatus.” There were no drawings and the ship’s manifest listed about five dozen boxes of radio apparatus and it was up to me to piece them together. Big items like the antenna helix were very easy to identify, as were the heavy items comprising the magnetic field for the arc transmitter. As we unpacked the boxes I laid out the various items so that I could pick them as needed in assembling the equipment. I had never seen one of that particular type of transmitter, but I had seen a picture while I was at Federal. I had little trouble in getting it ready to work.
After we put the transmitter on the air and adjusted it to our assigned frequency we established contact with another naval radio station at Cordova, then listened for the station at Vladivostok, and soon established communication between General Barro's Army in Siberia and the mainland of the United States. After I returned to Mare Island, George O'Hara asked me to go to the University of California and try and recruit someone to work at Mare Island. I have forgotten the name of the professor I contacted, but he put me in touch with you and you know the rest.
It was a great pleasure to work at Mare Island Navy Yard. I might back up and tell of my experience with the thousand kilowatt transmitter which was manufactured by Federal and shipped to France. Archie Stevens and Harold Butner were there. After some delay this transmitter was completed and put into service. We got word at Mare Island that the test would begin on a certain day and on a certain frequency. Because of my prior work with that transmitter I was very much interested in observing it during the test. I assembled a receiver in the laboratory. I knew that the standard Navy receivers which could receive that frequency would not have very good capability. The receiver that I made up was made on the top of the laboratory table and had three tubes, the first two being amplifiers and the third being a detector. A separate heterodyning oscillator was employed so that the stage connected to the detector could be tuned to the operating frequency. After considerable experimentation, I found a combination that would not oscillate by itself in the amplifier stages. Each amplifier stage was tuned to the frequency of operation. When the test started I was listening and I heard them start the arc prior to the official time of beginning. Then when this test started and gave the signature, I released a telegram that I had prepared, addressed to the officer in charge of the station in France and giving the signature of the radio materiel officer at Mare Island. In this telegram, the commanding officer in France was congratulated on his performance. Later I was called up to the office and O'Hara took me in to see the radio materiel officer. He had a copy of the telegram that I had sent in his name. He also had copies of telegrams sent by other stations on the Pacific coast, all announcing the test unheard. I was not surprised, knowing the facilities that these other stations had for receiving that frequency. Arthur Rice was there and suggested that the radio materiel officer come to the laboratory and listen for himself. He did. He brought along the radio gunner, I think his name was McElby. They came and listened in and were convinced that the signal which I had reported on actually was coming from the radio transmitter near Bordeaux, France. We called it the Lafayette transmitter.
Some time later a batch of receivers was manufactured at Mare Island for the receiving stations along the high-power transmitters between the Philippines and the Pacific coast. Perhaps you will remember these receivers. The case was actually a cabinet such as was used in offices for storage of letterheads and so forth. It had removable shelves that could be placed at the desired height. A complete stage was installed on each shelf. That is, one amplifier stage on one shelf, the second amplifier stage on the second shelf, the detector on another shelf, and the oscillating tube or separate heterodyning stage on a fourth shelf. The power supply was in the lower part of the cabinet. The antenna tuning circuit was at the top of the cabinet. These operated very well. I recall seeing two of them at the Wylupi receiving station the Navy had in Hawaii at the time I visited Commander Coleman up there.
Frequency Checking and Calibration
Another interesting development at the Mare Island Radio Laboratory was our frequency-checking set-up and the standard wave-meter and its calibration. A number of motor vibrators were purchased from France. One went to the Bureau of Standards, the second one to the Washington Navy yard, and the third one to Mare Island. The Bureau of Standards made a wave-meter and sent one to us at Mare Island. This had a high-grade variable capacitor and some well-designed coils to go with it. Although we started by tuning the wave-meter to the harmonics of the motor vibrator, which had been previously adjusted to synchronize with a tuning fork, we later did our calibration by using a five hundred cycle motor generator set whose speed was observed with a revolution counter. After calibrating the wave-meter we arranged for the naval radio stations in the Pacific area to transmit on schedule and we measured their frequencies at the Mare Island Radio Laboratory. It was during one of these measuring sessions that I observed a peculiar noise, and by carefully tuning the heterodyning oscillator I could make these signals intelligible. These turned out to be single-side band signals that were being sent from the east coast preliminary to setting up a transatlantic radio telephone circuit. I mentioned this to my friend, Donald Cole, who was then working for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. He confirmed that these tests were underway. Federal installed a uniwave arc transmitter at Mare Island, using a circuit developed by Haraden Pratt with a nodal point. That is, a local circuit between the arc transmitter and a nodal point followed by the antenna inductance, which was divided into two parts: one connected to the nodal point and the other to a discredited ground system. Keying was accomplished by short-circuiting the nodal point resistor to the ground, and at the same time closing a couple circuit with a resistance in series so as to absorb power from the local circuit.
Subsequently, the Navy decided to modernize its other transmitters. I was sent to Hawaii to take care of the transmitter at Pearl Harbor. I made a short trip to Hawaii and discussed the work with the people there. We decided what should be done by the local staff at Pearl Harbor and what should be provided by the radio shop at Mare Island. I then returned to the coast to check on the design and follow up. When all was ready I returned to Hawaii. By that time an extension to the building had been completed and their portion of the work was ready for the installation of the shipment from Mare Island. This was completed and operated quite successfully. I remained in Hawaii and converted the old Federal-built transmitting set on the north coast of Oahu to use the same circuit, making the parts that we needed there at the station.
While I was in Hawaii, I became quite friendly with Marion Maroney, who was the radio engineer at Pearl Harbor. On the side he was dabbling with a broadcast transmitter, KGU, with a five-watt output. He had tried to increase the power to fifty watts but the set-up wouldn't work for him. When he turned on the amplifier it oscillated. When he told me about it I went to look and soon found out why, and I was able to fix the circuitry so that it would operate. Actually, I rebuilt the oscillator stage in a five-gallon tin so as to shield it from the antenna and the power amplifier. This made him very happy. Later on, after he had learned more about it, he rebuilt his transmitter again and again, eventually getting to five thousand watts before he sold out and retired. After I returned from Hawaii to Mare Island I was asked to take on the modernization of the transmitter at Tadidi in the Philippines, but I declined and offered my resignation, which was accepted.
Mackey Radio and Hawaii
Subsequently, I went back to Federal and worked on their radio broadcast receivers for several years. Then when Mackey made his arrangement with Federal to purchase the operating equipment and Federal agreed to manufacture radio apparatus for the Mackey system, I shifted over to Mackey Radio and became division engineer at San Francisco. The first thing that Mackey wanted was a station in Hawaii. After our request for a permit was granted, I went out to Hawaii for the third time and arranged to purchase ten acres from Harold Castle. Meanwhile, Federal had been manufacturing a transmitter and some receivers for us. Being in a hurry to get this circuit in operation, I first constructed the garage and then arranged for the regular transmitting building to be built under contract. When the transmitter arrived we moved it out to the station near Kailuha but were not able to put it into operation because the transmitting tubes had not yet been completed and tested.
Problems with Trans-Pacific Cable
A receiver had been sent to us, and every day at about four o'clock messages were broadcast from California to us. The Hawaiian district manager, George Baxter, listened in and copied these messages. I heard him whistle and went to look over his shoulder and see what he was typing. It was a long message with a lot of code words. So I got our code book and started filling the decoded words on the sheets that he had previously copied and taken out of his typewriter. It was a story telling us that the trans-pacific cable was in trouble at some point near the California coast. In view of that, the head office wanted to put this radio transmitter into service as soon as possible. The message went on to say that vacuum tubes would be put on the next ship leaving San Francisco for Hawaii. Also, two radio operators would be coming to provide service. At the end of the day we went back to town and went into the cable office. The manager for the commercial pacific cable took us into his office, locked the door, and told us that the cable was in trouble. He didn't want other people to know about it, particularly his customers. We were able to tell him a lot more than he knew because of the message sent to us from the coast — that pleased him.
Haraden Pratt and Nodal Point Circuit
Haraden Pratt left the Navy in the early 1920s and went to work for the Federal Telegraph Company, where he developed the nodal point circuit. Although some of the Navy officers called it the mush eliminating circuits, we engineers knew that it did not eliminate all mush but only reduced it to a few bands. Some of it leaked through the local circuit inductance because of the distributor capacity of that coil. I remember your differential semi-coupled volt meter connected across the variometer at the nodal point. Many years later I made use of that scheme in some high-power transmitters designed and built by Mackey Radio and Telegraph Company as a means for adjusting the Alfred network that converted the unbalanced output to a balanced six hundred ohm wire transmission line.
I also remember the time that I went to Goat Island and was refused admission to the underwater antenna laboratory. I had to trudge up the hill to see the district communication officer, Commander E.H. Dawn, whom I remembered as having been the lieutenant who installed the radio station at St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea many years before. He gave me a pass to the underwater laboratory.
I think it is possible that a recording was made of the former Federal employees’ reunion on the fortieth anniversary of the move from Palo Alto to New Jersey. I will try and locate the man who had a recorder and see if I can get a copy.
Mackey Operations in Hawaii
I remember when Lee De Forest made a presentation at a meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers in New York City during the latter part of 1912. This was published in the IRE Proceedings, volume 1, no. 1. That early radio circuit operated on a relay basis. There was a station at South San Francisco that worked with the KEF station in Hawaii. They also worked with the Englewood Station near Los Angeles and the Central Point Station near Medford, Oregon. Other stations were located in San Diego and Portland, Oregon. The station in Phoenix worked with El Paso and Englewood. Other stations were at Kansas City and perhaps there were others that I have forgotten.
When we set up operations in Hawaii, an antenna was put up at [unintelligible], connected to our receiver. Good signals were heard from the coast, so Baxter rented the place and I ordered materials for installation of the antenna. There was a space in the backyard for a sixty-foot pole made with three lengths of one-and-a-half inch iron pipe. One antenna was placed between the top of this pole and the nearby cliff on the other side of the main road. This was connected to the long-wave receiver that was brought over from Kailuha. For the short-wave receivers we put up several "J" type antennas. It was observed that the tuning of the short-wave receivers was affected by the stray capacitance between the receiver and the hand of the operator. I went out and cut a forked stick which could be used as a sort of remote control for adjusting the receiver and thereby avoiding the effect of stray capacitance. During a recent visit to his office Harry Bush, the present district manager, showed this stick to me. He has been keeping it as a momento of our early work.
On the morning that the ship arrived Baxter and I went out with the pilot and went on board. Baxter's brother Art was purser, so we had no difficulty in getting the vacuum tubes, which had been placed on top of the packages of express. When the ship arrived at the dock, I carried one of these tubes under each arm as I walked off the ramp. Baxter stayed in town to help the operators find living quarters, and I went over to Kailahua to get the transmitter ready for operation. This transmitter had a master oscillator with an air-cooled vacuum tube operating at one-fourth of the final frequency. This drove an intermediate amplifier with a water-cooled vacuum tube whose plate circuit was tuned to twice the frequency of the master oscillator. The power amplifier tube was also water-cooled and it was adjusted to operate as a doubler. We had previously selected the proper coils and determined approximate settings of the variable tuning capacitor at low power with air-cooled tubes temporarily substituted for the water-cooled tubes. These water cooled tubes had a cylindrical coil of copper tubing for the anode. This design had been patented by McCullough, no relation to the McCullough associated with the Itel, sold to the Mackey companies before their deal had been made with Federal. This McCullough had been associated with a firm marketing vacuum tubes under the Arcturus name. George Gould had been an operator at the transmitting station in Hillsborough and came to Hawaii to manage the transmitting station at Kaialuha. After he made the final adjustments to the transmitter with the recently arrived water-cooled vacuum tubes, he called San Francisco and they answered. I had prepared a radio message addressed to the Federal Radio Commission announcing completion of the construction and beginning the official ten-day equipment test. After this was transmitted San Francisco replied, "Skip the test and go ahead with traffic." I was obliged to tell them that this was a necessary procedure in accordance with the Federal Radio Commission rules. I then transmitted another message announcing the beginning of a thirty-day service test and informing the commission that an emergency existed. San Francisco acknowledged receipt of these two official messages and said they would be forwarded.
On the way from the ship to Kailahua, I had stopped at the cable office and picked up a stack of messages awaiting transmission. Mr. Gould then proceeded to transmit these messages to San Francisco. He established occasionally and listened for San Francisco to acknowledge receipt. When I telephoned the office of the cable company and told them that our transmissions to San Francisco had begun, the manager informed me that a messenger was coming up on a motorcycle with some more messages for us to transmit. I then told him that I would return to the city and then go out to Kulioho to see how things were going there. Baxter and one of the operators were at Kulioho receiving messages from San Francisco. Baxter told me that he had arranged for the cable company messenger to shuttle back and forth, visiting Kulioho, the city office, and Kaialahua, taking messages from one place to another. Many thousands of messages were handled over this improvised radio circuit during the emergency. It was about two or three weeks before the submarine telegraph cable was repaired and service restored via the submarine cable. As I recall, this occurred during late May or early June of 1928.
Purchase by ITT and Patent Issues
Shortly before this, ITT had purchased the Mackey Company. When they heard about what we were doing in Hawaii, their patent department questioned the patent position of Federal Telegraph with respect to the patents for which ITT had licenses in foreign countries. The ITT patent department decided that none of the equipment supplied by Federal should infringe on any of the patents for which ITT had a license. Federal Telegraph Company had designed its apparatus on the basis of a reasonable risk if sued for infringement. ITT ordered us to stop transmission, and I was called back to California to assist in resolving this problem. Before leaving Hawaii I contracted for the construction of the permanent building at Kailahua. I also went back to talk with the president of Mutual Telephone Company, Jack Balch, and arranged for lines to Kulioho. He said they would proceed and construct more lines so that we would have service when we were ready to operate on a regular basis. As I was about to leave his office, Balch told me of his big problem in providing inter-island telephone service. He had organized inter-island telegraph service many years before, and now that the telegraph business was merged with the telephone company he wanted to provide telephone service between the islands. The Bell System had made a survey and quoted on the basis of transmitting equipment similar to that used for broadcast stations. This would cost so much that Balch could not see how it would pay for the investment. As I was about to depart I commented that very-high-frequency equipment with low power and beam antennas would soon be available and might be the solution to his problem.
When I arrived back at my apartment that evening, Bill Herrington, the radio engineer for Mutual, was there waiting for me. He wanted to know more about these high frequencies that I had mentioned in my conversation with Jack Balch. After our discussion, Harrington modified his amateur radio transmitter by adding a tripler stage and changing the coils so that he would have an output in the vicinity of forty-two megacycles. An adaptor was made so he could hear this frequency on his receiver. With his wife operating the transmitter on a schedule, Bill went to Maui with his car and the receiver. The signals could be heard when he got high enough on the mountain. Jack Balch followed that up by going to the east coast and arranging with RCA for a survey. On his return he stopped in our office in San Francisco and subsequently visited the Marsh station with A.Y. Tool, Herald Ramden, and Captain E.H. Dawn. I joined the group at the Marsh station. Balch told me that he had made a deal with RCA for inter-island telephone service using beam antennas made with four wires eight wavelengths small and so spaced and oriented as to concentrate the radio energy in the desired direction. The same kind of beam antenna was used for reception. A pair of these antennas were used at each end of the circuit between Oahu and Hawaii. On a later visit to Hawaii, Balch permitted me to talk over these circuits with the manager at Hilo. He was very pleased with my suggestion and sent me a copy of the annual report, in which my name was mentioned.
When I arrived back at the Pacific coast, Edmond DeLorraine had already arrived there with several men from Europe to solve the patent problem. Justin Therring was the expert on the patents for ITT working with that group. After considerable discussion, the ITT lawyers permitted Federal to use a vacuum tube oscillator circuit with a tuned plate circuit and an untuned coil in the grid circuit. This had been devised by a German scientist named Meisner, and was one of those judged by the Patent Office in the interference case together with De Forest and Armstrong. Although the Patent Office granted the patent to Armstrong, the Supreme Court decided in favor of De Forest on the basis of the work he had done at Federal with a date preceding that of Armstrong. We used this circuit with temporary wooden frames until expiring patents permitted us to use better circuits.
DeLorraine had brought an expert on vacuum tubes from England, and much time was devoted to discussion of how to make a usable high-power transmitting vacuum tube. The most difficult patent to get around was one owned by our competitors, which had claims covering a filament, a grid around the filament, an anode around the grid and filament, and the means for cooling the anode with a liquid. The McCullough tube was ruled out because it infringed on this patent. I recall DeLorraine remarking, "There must be some way around this patent" at one of the conferences. Somebody pointed out that the word “around” was included in all of the claims. It then became obvious that we could use a water-cooled vacuum tube designed so that neither the grid nor the anode surrounded the filament. The ITT patent department approved the use of a vacuum tube having an "M" shaped filament with a grid on one side and the water-cooled anode on the same side extending only 178 degrees. Rather than using no water-cooled tube at all, we were satisfied to use these half tubes until the basic patent expired.
Another problem was that of sealing the metal to the glass in such a way that it did not infringe the Housekeeper patent. Housekeeper had used a copper sleeve with the edge tapered to a thin edge on which the glass was put both inside and outside, tapering so that there was a gradual transfer from thick to thin. Litton prepared a design in which the copper tube was very thin and with a thick coating of glass on both sides. The thickness of the glass was so great, expansion and contraction with change of temperature was determined primarily by the glass, and the copper was so thin that it yielded without cracking the glass or pulling loose from the copper.
The Fessenden heterodyne pattern was another stumbling block. Federal got around this by the use of an air compressor, an air-driven turbine and a carbon button modulator driven by the high speed turbine. The incoming signal was modulated so it could be heard. This was a cumbersome way to operate, but usable. It was abandoned when expiring patents permitted the use of a better apparatus.
Keying the transmitters was an easy problem to solve. A movable contact and two fixed contacts were mounted within a T-shaped glass envelope, which was evacuated to remove all gas. This was mounted within a cylindroid so that the plate circuit of the transmitter was opened and closed by one pair of contacts. Although the use of contacts in a vacuum had been known for some time, this was the earliest application that I know of. Since that time, switches have been constructed for interrupting power circuits with high current and high voltage. Many millions of small contacts have been in use for switching telephone circuits without failure for many, many years.
Receiving Station at Lobetas and Admiral Byrd
I returned to Hawaii and installed several of these temporary transmitters, which were used until better equipment became available. Federal Telegraph Company had built a receiving station at Daly City to serve the San Francisco area. By the time the station was taken over by Mackey Radio, many houses had been built in the vicinity, and their proximity and defective appliances caused noise in the radio receivers. Mackey Radio decided to build a new receiving station at a more remote and quieter site. A location at Lobetas about seven miles south of Half Moon Bay appeared to be suitable, and the property was purchased. A reinforced concrete building was constructed with two stories. The upper story was devoted to the point-to-point reception, part of the lower floor was devoted to the Office for Marine Radio Telegraph, and the rest of the building was for servicing. Unknown to us, bootleggers had arranged to land liquor at this place, and their lawyers served papers on our company, trying to get us to depart. However, I suspected what was in the wind and hired one of the Italian men who lived on the property to serve as night watchman while our workmen were absent; this solved the problem. The bootleggers landed their whiskey without interference from us.
While we were setting up the Lobetas receiving station, Admiral Byrd was doing scientific exploration work in the Antarctic. ITT had arranged to assist with communications, and I designed an antenna which made it possible for our operators to receive their transmissions. Admiral Byrd sent a very nice letter to me expressing his thanks for my assistance in providing these communications.
Growth of Mackey Radio
The Federal Telegraph Company had an office and operating room in the Hobart building in San Francisco. After the Mackey Company purchased the communications system from Federal, they wanted to consolidate operations in the building at 22 Battery Street, where they had their operations for the Postal Telegraph Company and the Commercial Pacific Cable Company. I had the job of planning and supervising the move from the Hobart Building to the postal building. The actual transference of operations was made on the weekend. Since most of the telegraph business for Mackey Radio was during business hours, the transfer could be made without interfering with service.
In 1932, the Postal Telegraph Company moved its operating room from 40 Broad Street to the ITT building at 67 Broad Street in New York. I was asked to come to New York and plan the move of the Mackey Radio equipment at about the same time. Most of the ITT building was served with direct current power, but we needed a considerable amount of alternating current power. I arranged for new feeders to bring this up to the sixth floor from the basement. In our planning I put in fluorescent lights to provide high intensity lighting in the area where the operators would be working. New York engineers installed a low-power radio transmitter on the Postal Telegraph building to provide service to ships in or approaching the New York Harbor. Prior to my arrival, the local engineers had requested a building permit for a radio antenna on top of the ITT building, and the city officials denied this. After reviewing the correspondence I pawed through the city building regulations and soon realized what the problem was. In another section of the building regulations concerning the flagpoles, it appeared to be quite simple. After consulting with the building superintendent and one of the directors, I arranged for four flagpoles to be erected, one on each corner of the building. This application for flagpoles went to a different department and the permit was granted. Having flagpoles to support the antennas solved that problem.
Soon after the deal was made for Federal Telegraph Company, Mackey Radio applied for radio stations in many cities so that service could be provided to back up the Postal Telegraph Company, whose wire lines were in poor shape. However, approval was withheld by the Federal Radio Commission, which had a policy of not using radio frequencies for overland services in the bands we had requested. While I was working for Federal Telegraph, I suggested an experimental radio circuit between the Brandeis Laboratory at Newark, New Jersey and the Federal Telegraph Laboratory at Palo Alto. The licenses for these experimental services were not included in the transfer of licenses from Federal to Mackey. However, when the Federal Radio Commission held up our applications for inter-city service, Ellery Stone was told of our need for radio service between San Francisco and New York, and he agreed to the transfer of these experimental licenses. This transfer was done via a series of routine applications for change of location, intended service, power, and ownership of the licenses. The transfer was completed without objection by the Federal Radio Commission. This enabled us to provide a much-needed interconnection between the San Francisco office and the New York operating room.
Holden Printer Equipment
Fred Holden had been working in the Postal Telegraph Laboratory, developing equipment for eliminating errors due to spurious signals such as lightning clicks on radio circuits with printing telegraph equipment. He came to California with his equipment. The transmitting terminal was installed at San Francisco, and the receiving terminal was installed temporarily at San Francisco for tests. Later the receiving equipment was moved to Los Angeles. One of the arc transmitters at the Marsh Station was being keyed for tests. Holden observed a number of errors, which he concluded were caused by dropouts in keying the transmitter. We suspected the big relays used for keying the transmitter. I arranged for a small mirror to be mounted on the end of a DC motor shaft and placed it so that a beam of light would be reflected onto the relay contacts. A test was conducted at night with the room unlighted, and the relay operated with steady on-off dots. The speed of the DC motor was adjusted to match the dot speed. We could see the position of the relay contacts at various times during its cycle. We clearly saw that the contacts would bounce open after making contact. To correct this condition, the fixed contact was redesigned to be supported by a spring that would absorb the momentum of the moving contact and coil, thereby maintaining continuous contact. This solved that problem.
During the test, all of the traffic destined to Los Angeles was punched on tape and put on one circuit with the Holden printer equipment. Normally we had three radio circuits to handle this traffic, but the Holden equipment handled all of the messages satisfactorily. After demonstrating the feasibility of the system, the test was suspended. The Holden system employed a three-channel multiplex distributor at each terminal with banks of relays for storing the signals. The elements of the five unit bordeaux code would be sent to the transmitter and simultaneously stored in a bank of relays. After one revolution of the distributor, the next character would be sent to the transmitter and stored in the bank of relays. After eight characters had been sent on the first channel, the characters stored in the relays would be sent on the second channel. Similarly, the characters were transmitted a third time on the third channel. At the receiving end there was a similar bank of relays and a three-channel distributor. The signal pushed was stored in the relay bank. After eight characters, the signals were received on the second channel and stored in the relay bank. Only those signals received on the third channel that agreed with the signals stored in the relay bank were fed to the printer. The relay system automatically rejected false impulses such as those caused by static. The Holden system was shown by this test to be technically feasible for low-frequency radio transmissions. However, considerable effort was required to maintain the relays in perfect operating conditions. Failure of only one relay (and there were forty-eight relays in the storage banks) would cause an error. This, together with the cost of the apparatus and the limited application, were deemed sufficient reasons not to install the system on a commercial basis. After a long delay a compromise was agreed upon, and the Federal Radio Commission authorized Mackey Radio to construct stations at Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington D.C. for overland radio telegraph service, using frequencies for this service that had previously been assigned to Mackey Radio and other ITT companies for transocean service.
I left San Francisco promptly after learning that we were to be granted construction permits so that the station at Seattle could be constructed before the winter season set in and the ninety-day construction permit time limit had been exceeded. We purchased one hundred acres for the transmitting station at a place about midway between Seattle and Tacoma. Another tract of 120 acres was leased with an option to purchase for the receiving station located east of the town of Kent. Prefabricated materials for buildings were purchased and put together on each of the sites. A number of ninety-foot cedar poles were purchased and erected. I had noticed a gasoline engine mounted on skids at a nearby house and had arranged for it to be rented for our use. The owner was put in charge of the crew that erected the ninety-foot poles after I had given him the instructions on how to do it. We used two forty-foot poles attached together at the top in an inverted V to raise the ninety-foot poles, and placed them in holes that had been dug for them. While we were raising the poles, a young man came to me and asked for a job. I found that he had been laid off by the power company, so I hired him to do the work up on the poles.
The antennas that we put up were horizontal V type with a length of seven and three-quarters wavelengths in each wire. These were connected at the apex to the transmission line through copper tube conductors having a length of one-quarter wavelength. Mr. Pratt had found in an old German textbook a description of lecher wires and the effect of conductors of different sizes on surge impedance, as well as a description of what happens when conductors of different sizes are joined together. In view of this, the patent department permitted us to use a section of transmission line one-quarter wavelength long for matching the impedance of the V antennas at its vertex to that of the transmission line. Our competitors had been designing their antennas for eight wavelengths, which made a high impedance at the apex. This difference became quite important when RCA sued Mackey Radio for infringement of their antenna patent. The factory cooperated with us and sent the transmitter to us by express. We were informed about which car and time of arrival at Kent so that advanced preparations could be made. The transcontinental train stopped. We moved a truck up to the baggage car and had enough men to remove the transmitter, place it on the truck, and the let the train proceed on its way within ten minutes. The truck then brought the transmitter to the station. All of the interconnection wires had previously been installed and tagged to expedite the completion of the installation. It had been raining for several days, but the rain changed to snow when we started to tune the antennas. After the adjustments were completed and the station was ready for operation, I dispatched a message to the Federal Radio Commission announcing the start of the ten-day equipment test. This alerted the city office, which informed us that because of the rain some of their wire lines were not operating. They asked if we could send messages for them. I then sent another message to the Federal Radio Commission to the effect that the thirty-day service test had been started and an emergency existed so that we were transmitting commercial messages.
- 1 About George T. Royden
- 2 About the Interview
- 3 Copyright Statement
- 4 Interview
- 4.1 Childhood, Stanford and Federal Telegraph
- 4.2 Mare Island Navy Yard
- 4.3 Mackey Radio and Hawaii
- 4.4 Problems with Trans-Pacific Cable
- 4.5 Haraden Pratt and Nodal Point Circuit
- 4.6 Mackey Operations in Hawaii
- 4.7 Purchase by ITT and Patent Issues
- 4.8 Receiving Station at Lobetas and Admiral Byrd
- 4.9 Growth of Mackey Radio
- 4.10 Inter-City Licenses
- 4.11 Holden Printer Equipment
- 4.12 Seattle Station