Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Radio Signal on the West Coast

Radio history is very East Coast centric: DeForest, Armstrong, Fessenden.. etc. There was of course radio on the west coast. But in the short synopses we read in our school text books the furthest west radio travels is to KDKA, in Pittsburgh. The school books don't even leave East Coast time. But more specific texts such as The University of Santa Clara: A History, 1851-1977 by Gerald McKevitt describe even the first west cost broadcast in some detail.
"In 1899 a team of San Franciscans reproduced Guglielmo Marconi's method of communicating by radio waves and demonstrated its usefulness by sending a message in Morse code from a lightship anchored outside the Golden Gate to the Cliff House on the San Francisco Shore. This was the first wireless message broadcast on the West coast and the first ship-to-shore broadcast in the United States."
A month later Marconi himself came to America and repeated some of his now famous experiments. So their work preceded even Marconi's own demonstrations in the new world. That team of San Franciscans included father Richard Bell, a Jesuit priest and Professor John Montgomery. Bell had studied theology in the 1890s in Rome. While there he had become interested in the work of Marconi. Marconi's earliest experiments date to at least 1888. Bell was so interested in these that when he returned to California in 1898 he brought with him a copy of Marconi's published accounts. He began replicating the small-scale experiments almost immediately.

Bell began testing as early as 10 years after Marconi. Marconi did a quick U.S. visit in 1899 mostly around New york for the America's Cup race starting in Sandy Hook, NJ. He transmitted from the USS Ponce. He did not make it to the west coast. Bell continued his lectures and public experiments. In 1903 Bell and Montgomery made a 7-mile transmission from Villa Maria to college tower. Normally I'd double check that distance on a map but neither of those locations appear on any map. I suspect the locations are colloquial.

In 1906 Bell was promoted to head up both physics and chemistry at Santa Clara U. in the the Bruengo Science Building. Bell continued to experiment. He made transmissions from Los Gatos College to San Francisco, and later tackled voice transmissions with Dr. Charles Herrold. He and Herrold spoke the first transmitted words in the West coast. They were ahead of the Great White fleet by at least a year, who in California sometime in 1908. Bell for all his work patented only one device, a simple signaling unit he devised in 1928. In 1933 Marconi finally went to the west coast and visited Bell. (see image above.)  Bell is the grumpy looking cuss to the left.