Monday, August 05, 2013

Radio circa 1900

I have tried often to convey the context in which any radio story occurs. A year is just a number, so I usually use events or inventions to contextualize events. It's difficult. Just stating that something happened before there were cellphones, remote controls, the internet, satellites, or rotary telephones is not enough. Before there was FM radio is an idea that's utterly lost on the current generation. The idea that AM radio used to sound halfway decent is equally foreign. But I found something recently that says much.

Above is a scan of the one page of "electrical" goods section from the 1900 edition of the Sears & Roebuck Catalog.  The following pages do have film equipment, camera, and Graphone brand talking machines. But those were all mechanical devices, powered by humans turning cranks or winding springs. Above is the entirety of the "electrical" devices section.I list it all below:

TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENTS
19650 - Learners Telegraph Outfit (sounder, key base, wire & battery)  - $2.50
19652 - Learners  Instrument (above without battery) - $2.00
19654 - Learners  Instrument (above wound for 20 Ohms) - $2.25
19656 - Private Line Instrument (Western Union style telegraph key) - $3.25
19658 - Private Line Instrument (above wound for 20 Ohms) - $3.25
19665 - Steel Level Key Standard Western Union (w/legs & trunnions)  - $1.50
19667 - Steel Level Key Standard Western Union (without legs)  - $1.95
19685 - Aluminum Sounder (4 Ohm) - $2.25
19686 - Aluminum Sounder (20 Ohm) - $2.65

BATTERIES
19746 - Gravity Battery (5 lb) - 50¢
19746 - Gravity Battery (7 lb) - 60¢
19750 - Battery Jar (5x7)  - 25¢
19752 - Battery Jar (6x8)  - 30¢
19754 - Zinc (for 5x7 battery) - 20¢
19756 - Zinc (for 6x8 battery) - 40¢
19758 - Copper (for above) - 12¢
19759 - Blue Vitriol (per lb) - 8¢
19790 - Our Special Battery (open circuit) - 30¢
19792 - The Le Ciede Battery (open circuit) - 35¢
19794 - The Le Clanche Porous Cell Battery - 40¢
19796 - Extra Zinc (for above batteries) 5¢
19797 - Sal Ammoniac (per lb) 15¢
19865 - Mesco Dry Battery - 25¢

ELECTRIC BELLS
19899 - Iron Box Bell (w/ 3"  gong) - 35¢
19899½ - Iron Box Bell (w/ 4"  gong) - 45¢

BUZZER
19905 - Buzzer  - 45¢


ELECTRIC DOOR BELL OUTFITS
19908 - Door Bell Outfit (bell, wire & push button) - 75¢
19910 - Door Bell Outfit (above with battery) - 95¢
19912 - Door Bell Outfit (above with 2 batteries) - 1.65¢

Notice there are no stereos, radios, record players, speakers, antennas, walkmans,  discmans, LPs, 45s, 78s, feel-to-reels, telephones, cell, phones, TV, AM, FM, 8-tracks, ADAT, internet, RCS, remote control, radar, or even flashlights. This was from an era when electricity was from a battery, and usually a wet battery full of acid that you had to maintain very carefully. This is where we were about a century ago. How is that for context?