Monday, November 23, 2009

The Belmar Station

The Belmar Station is a strange short story among the vast thousands of tales that make up World War I. On paper, it was known as the Belmar High-Power Marconi Wireless Station. It was at Camp Evans, located in the town of Wall in Monmouth County New Jersey. Construction began just before WWI and the events of the war changed everything and confused every damn date in the story. I think I got it right. let me know if I do not. The story starts a tad earlier. It was the first transatlantic fixed wireless service. Clifden-Glace Bay service opened commercially on October 7th 1907. Tests had begun in 1899, and verified transmissions to the station at Poldhu on 182 kHz were as early as 1902. It ran a spark gap transmitter on a D.C. generator with 6000 cells. It had 30 masts reaching 330 meters tall. More here.

30 miles away was camp Evans. It was built in 1912, the same year as the infamous Radio Act of 1912. A Radio World article in 1913 made the comment:
"Good progress is being made with the Construction of the high-power stations which, when completed, will add enormously to the public facilities for the use of Transatlantic wireless telegraphy. The Clifden-Glace Bay service, which, since 1908, has been in regular continuous communication, day and night, carrying commercial, public, and press messages, has hitherto been the only service in existence affording direct wireless communication between the Eastern and Western hemispheres."
I take this to mean that in some sense during construction that the Belmar station was intended to have some civilian and possibly commercial use. These original Camp Evans buildings were built by a contractor, J.G. White Engineering Corp and were hired by the American Marconi Co. Construction went on between 1912 and 1914 as part of Guglielmo Marconi's original wireless network. It was duplexed with his New Brunswick station 30 miles away. A telegraph operator in Wall keyed the New Brunswick transmitter, 32 miles to the northwest, through a land line.

The US Navy took over the entire facility at the start of WWI. Some sources give this as 1912, others as 1915, and still yet others at 1917. The 1912 date is doubtful as construction was not yet completed. 1915 is more likely but I lean toward the 1917 date. The reason is that most sources line thsi up with the arrival of Dr. Albert Hoyt Taylor as the new man in charge as . Hoyt was head of the Physics Department, University of North Dakota until February 1917. In March he was made a Lieutenant in the Naval reserve and at the outbreak of war, Director, Naval Communications in Washington, DC. Only after leaving DC that October did he take over Belmar.

He stayed in Belmar until he moved to the Naval Air Station in Norfolk in 1918. After leaving Belmar he moved on to experimenting full time with radar. In August 15, 1945 the Daily News would list Dr. Taylor among the "Scientific Pioneers" responsible for radar, in an article with a photo from Camp Evans and a photo of Dr. Taylor at the Naval Research Laboratory. Throughout all of this the Belmar station continued to send and receive wireless messages. More here.
At the end of the war, the Navy returned the property to the Marconi Co. who continued Wireless operations. But in October 1919 GE bought out the Marconi Co. and created RCA. This while the end of the Naval monopoly on transatlantic wireless communication, at least (in their view) transferred it from the hands of a British company to an American one. Marconi himself also had fascist ties that made them nervous.

But ultimately RCA sold the Wall site in 1924. As they consolidated thieir transatlantic wireless stations the new Riverhead Receiver Station on Long Island became the center of opperations. Belmar was already a decade old. the property was sold in 1925 to the Monmouth County Pleasure Seeker's Club who had some kind fo weird connection to Arthur H. Bell and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1936 the Young People's Association for the Propagation of the Gospel bought it.

In an ironic twist, the U.S. Army purchased the land in 1941 to revert to military use focusing on research in WWII. This included most famously, Project Paperclip.