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The Continuous Wave

The Continuous Wave: Technology and American Radio, 1900-1932

Hugh G. J. Aitken
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 608
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  • Book Info
    The Continuous Wave
    Book Description:

    Hugh Aitken describes a critical period in the history of radio, when continuous wave technology first made reliable long-distance wireless communication possible and opened up opportunities for broadcasting voice and music.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5460-8
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Chronology of Events in The Continuous Wave
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. ONE Prologue
    (pp. 3-27)

    THIS book, although designed to be read independently, is in one sense a continuation of an earlier work,Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio,published in 1976.¹ That book dealt with the very earliest phase of radio technology, when the scientific work of James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz was being transformed into a technology of communication by men like Oliver Lodge and Guglielmo Marconi and the first attempts were being made to base commercial enterprises on that technology. The present volume picks up the story in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and carries it through the...

  8. TWO Fessenden and the Alternator
    (pp. 28-86)

    ON the 22nd of November 1899 Professor Reginald A. Fessenden of the Western University of Pennsylvania addressed the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, meeting in New York, on “The Possibilities of Wireless Telegraphy.”¹ The program for the evening had listed this as a “Topical Discussion,” and Fessenden started off on a suitably informal note. There were many advantages, he said, to living in a city—he was referring to Pittsburgh—where a widespread and intelligent interest was taken in scientific work. But there was one offsetting disadvantage. When some striking new discovery was made, the professor’s friends and the directors...

  9. THREE Elwell, Fuller, and the Arc
    (pp. 87-161)

    ON 13 February 1913 the United States Navy placed in commission its first high-powered radio station. Located at Arlington, Virginia, this installation was intended to be the first and central element in a network of powerful stations by which the Navy would be able to maintain communications with its remote bases and with units of the fleet wherever they might be. Congress had provided funds for the Arlington station in 1911. In the following year it appropriated $1 million for the next six stations in the system: in the Canal Zone, on the California coast, in the Hawaiian Islands, on...

  10. FOUR De Forest and the Audion
    (pp. 162-249)

    LEE DE FOREST’S doctoral dissertation, submitted to the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in 1899, is sometimes called the first American dissertation to deal with “wireless.” Yet the document itself makes no reference to wireless communication. It is a report of research on the “Reflection of Electric Waves of Very High Frequencies at the Ends of Parallel Wires.” The behavior of high-frequency electric oscillations on wires, not in free space, was the scientific problem that de Forest was investigating.¹

    Nevertheless, there is some truth in the conventional description. De Forest was indeed working with Hertzian waves, generated by a spark...

  11. FIVE Radio, Cables, and the National Interest
    (pp. 250-301)

    BETWEEN 1900 and 1914 radio technology went through a radical transformation: the shift from spark to continuous wave transmission. This transition was by no means complete in 1914; spark sets far outnumbered continuous wave transmitters in that year. It was clear, however, to all informed observers that the normal technology of radio transmission would in future require continuous waves. Spark transmitters, whether the old-fashioned open spark sets still found on shipboard or the more sophisticated rotary sparks, quenched sparks, and disk dischargers, were obsolescent, if not already obsolete.

    There were in 1914 three known methods of generating continuous high-frequency radio...

  12. SIX “An American Radio Company”
    (pp. 302-354)

    REGINALD FESSENDEN parted company with his Pittsburgh backers in January 1911. The National Electric Signaling Company survived, and its possession of the Fessenden patents was later to prove an important factor in the consolidation of interests that followed the formation of RCA (see below, pp. 460-61), but its hopes of becoming a communications company of major importance dwindled. With them went the possibility that NESCO might serve as the nucleus of an American organization able to challenge Marconi.

    Fessenden’s departure from NESCO also meant the end of his creative partnership with Ernst Alexanderson of General Electric. Up to this point...

  13. SEVEN The Formation of RCA Part I: Washington and New York
    (pp. 355-386)

    LATE in 1919, when the General Electric Company was beginning to contemplate seriously the possibility that, with or without a contract with the federal government, it might take the initiative in forming a new American radio company, Owen Young received from his staff a fifty-page document entitled “The Marconi System.” It contained an analysis of the Marconi corporate empire—the network of enterprises throughout the world with which Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd. of Great Britain was affiliated. Included were important operating companies, such as the parent firm and its American subsidiary; firms holding potentially valuable concessions, such as those...

  14. EIGHT The Formation of RCA Part 2: London and Jersey City
    (pp. 387-431)

    OWEN YOUNG may well have felt confident when negotiations with the British Marconi Company began.¹ After all, what options did Godfrey Isaacs really have? The American Marconi Company was helpless as long as it faced the hostility of the Navy Department. The probability that it would ever again be able to function in long-distance radio was negligible. It had sold its system of coastal stations. It had been denied access to new high-power equipment. All it had left was the radio rental service to ships. In 1919 American Marconi was little more than the “wreck of a business.”²

    On the...

  15. NINE Expansion and Integration
    (pp. 432-479)

    CONTINUOUS wave radio was the technological matrix within which the American communications industry was recreated after World War I. The most conspicuous event in that process was the birth of the Radio Corporation of America. RCA was formed to oversee the deployment of the alternator, the absorption of American Marconi, and the assertion of American independence in international radio. Those were its primary tasks, and it was toward performing them that its executives first devoted their energies and attention. The question remained open whether this restructuring of the industry had gone far enough. There were other matters on the agenda:...

  16. TEN RCA in Transition
    (pp. 480-513)

    IF Owen Young had a grand design for the structure of RCA and was not merely seizing opportunities as they came along, the entry of Westinghouse marked its realization.¹ It might seem that he paid a high price for the achievement, and the question can certainly be raised whether key patents could not have been cross-licensed without making Westinghouse a major stockholder in RCA and without purchasing the International Company.² This, however, was the model that had been followed with General Electric, AT&T, and United Fruit, and Westinghouse was to be no exception. Young wanted more than an integration of...

  17. ELEVEN Epilogue
    (pp. 514-562)

    IN 1925 Ernst Alexanderson, then at the height of his reputation, addressed the American Institute of Electric Engineers on “New Fields in Radio Signalling.” Radio technology, he said, had gone through a period of rapid change and was at that moment catching its breath before starting out on new developments. It was experiencing “one of those pauses . . . which occurs in every engineering development,” when technique had caught up with commercial requirements and was enjoying a breathing spell before embarking on new efforts. Such pauses in the advance of technology were necessary, he argued, because in its initial...

  18. APPENDIX Contract for Establishment of High Power Radio Service
    (pp. 563-572)
  19. Index
    (pp. 573-588)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 589-589)