Monday, August 27, 2012

The Father of Amateur Radio

James Brown is to Funk  as Hiram Percy Maxim is to Ham Radio. Hiram P. Maxim is a descendant of Hiram S. Maxim, the inventor of the Maxim machine gun. Tinkering was the family trade. So not surprising that the young Mr. Maxim was a mechanical engineering student. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1886. Like dad he worked on firearms and patented a silencer in 1908. But he also worked on cars... and of course radio. More here.

H.P. Maxim had the amateur call signs SNY, 1WH, 1ZM, 1AW, and W1AW. That last one lives on as the ARRL Headquarters club station call sign. One of his transmitters, a rotary spark-gap model named "Old Betsy" is enshrined there as well. ...And with good cause, he founded the ARRL in 1914. He described Ol' Betsy in an article in Radiogram magazine in 1915.
"The receiving station outfit consists of a large loose coupler by means of which I can get very accurate tuning, an Audion Detector and variable condenser. The two sets of phones are usually connected in. The Transmitting sets consists of a 1 K. W. specially made transformer, glass plate condenser, oscillation transformer, ¼ H. P. General Electric Company motor running specially built quenched rotary spark-gap."

Hiram founded the ARRL in 1914 because he saw an organized  network was needed  to relay radio messages. He had developed an interest in Amateur radio due to his son Hiram Hamilton's own interest. [why are they all named Hiram?] H.P. didn't even start to learn Morse code until he was at least 40. Hiram got together with the Radio Club of Hartford and began recruiting hams. It sounds like a nice quiet job organizing hobbyists but it wasn't. In those years there was no FCC not even an FRC. For good or ill there was no regulating body of any kind. So there was work to be done. By September of 1914, there were 237 relay stations on board. But then WWI began in and the Navy tightened controlled radio broadcasting. More here.

H.P. organized a massive system test in 1916.  He had a test message was sent to the Governors of every State, and President Wilson in Washington, D.C. The message was delivered to 34 States and the President within 60 minutes. A year later there were more than 1,000 ARRL relay stations and similar tests reduced that to 45 minutes. By 1921 it was less than seven. In 1918 he led a delegation to Washington to try to get ARRL member relay stations moved to 425 meters to facilitate long distance relays. At the time everyone was sharing 200 meters. He got the wartime ban lifted.

It is interesting to note that the so-called father of ham radio has several patents on cars, gun parts but none on radio gear. He had a couple patents for ammeter dials and battery indicators, the rest are all silencers and motor vehicle related, or both. He died in February, 1936.