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USS Birmingham & Early Radio

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  • Amos J Wright
    **USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2, later CL-2), 1908-1930 http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-b/cs2.htm [Naval History Center entry] The USS
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 11, 2007
      **USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2, later CL-2), 1908-1930
      [Naval History Center entry]

      The USS Birmingham, the first U.S. naval ship named after the city of
      Birmingham, Alabama, was involved early in its career in some radio
      transmission experiments..the following items come from a recent issue

      Old-Time Radio Digest
      Volume 2006 : Issue 362
      Part of the OldRadio.network
      ISSN: 1533-9289

      -- ajwright@...


      Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 08:48:40 -0500
      From: "R. R. King" <kingrr@...>
      To: old.time.radio@...
      Subject: The Fess Fuss

      Notes on "Fessenden: World's First Broadcaster?" by James E. O'Neal, a
      good article posted at http://www.rwonline.com/pages/s.0052/t.437.html

      1. O'Neal writes: "It would appear that the Kintner letter is the origin
      of the 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast story. Nothing appears in the press
      or in Fessenden papers I've examined that mention this broadcast prior
      to January of 1932."

      Here's a mention of it in a syndicated article about KDKA's tenth
      anniversary by Robert Mack as it appeared in the November 1, 1930
      Appleton (OH) Post-Crescent:

      "Radiotelephonic communication was not new in 1920. I[t] was, however,
      mainly a research problem and a plaything of the radio amateur. As early
      as 1906 Reginald Fessenden broadcast a program on Christmas Eve and
      probably was the first to attempt broadcasting. Later, Dr Lee DeForest,
      the inventor of the audion tube, the heart of modern radio, actually
      broadcast in his experiments, but neither of these pioneers thought
      anything of it."

      2. In the 1932 letter, Fessenden writes: "Then came a violin solo by me,
      being a composition by Gounod called 'O, Holy Night,' and ending up with
      the words 'Adore and be still' which I sang one verse of ..."

      O'Neal points out, correctly, that Gounod didn't compose "O, Holy Night"
      but doesn't mention that Gounod did, in fact, compose a song called
      "Adore and Be Still." Fessenden apparently got his sacred tunes mixed

      3. There's evidence to suggest that Fessenden actually did broadcast to
      U.S. Navy ships at sea which were equipped with his apparatus around
      Christmas and New Year's Eve and probably did get responses from
      Virginia and the West Indies -- but he did this in 1909, not 1906,
      according to contemporary newspapers. My guess is that, later in life,
      he got his dates confused. Here are some relevant articles:

      December 4, 1909 Christian Science Monitor


      Salem and Birmingham Will Sail Into Many Waters and Send and Exchange
      Word Under All Conditions.


      Thousand and Three Thousand Mile Conversations Are to Be Undertaken --
      Brant Rock Center.

      Scout cruisers Salem and Birmingham are under orders to leave the navy
      yard Monday or Tuesday to take aboard ammunition at New York. The Salem
      also has orders to take additional ammunition at Norfolk, Va.
      Both are to return to Provincetown to await orders for their cruise to
      test their new wireless systems.

      This will be one of, if not the, most extensive wireless tests ever
      conducted by the navy department. It will last four months and the two
      cruisers will travel many thousand miles through American, tropical and
      European waters. Since last August the ships have been preparing for
      this trip, having new wireless apparatus installed, which required new
      [?] and a change in the deck plan.

      They are now equipped with Fessenden sets, rated at 10 kilowatts, and if
      the requirements are met the probability is strong that this system will
      be installed on all ships of the navy.

      The specifications call for a wireless system which will send and
      receive messages for at least 1000 miles under all conditions and will
      send and receive messages for at least 3000 miles under favorable
      conditions. Nothing will be omitted in this test which the navy
      department can think of that will fully try out this wireless system.
      Messages will be sent in fair weather and in foul, in the heat of the
      equator and the cold of the North Atlantic, by day and by night, in fog
      and in rain.

      The land station for the entire cruise will be at Brant Rock. For one
      month a series of preliminary trials will be held with the pair cruising
      along the coast from Cape Cod to Hatteras. After this preliminary test
      the two boats will put into Hampton Roads to have the last changes made
      to the wireless apparatus if any are needed and then the cruisers will
      head for Hamilton, Bermuda. On leaving this port the Birmingham will go
      ahead of the Salem and by the time she reaches Trinidad the Salem must
      be 1000 miles astern.

      The Birmingham is expected to reach the South American port early in
      January. As soon as it arrives there attempts will be made to reach the
      battleship Connecticut, flagship of the North Atlantic squadron, which
      will be on its way with the rest of the fleet to Guantanamo for the
      spring target practice.

      By February the Birmingham will be among the Canary Islands and from
      there she will go to Gibraltar by way of the Madeiras. March ought to
      see the boat at Kiel and messages will be sent from the North sea.
      Unless further orders are received the cruisers will them proceed to
      home waters.

      The Salem will be used to make the 1000-mile tests and Brant Rock and
      the battleship Connecticut for the longer distance.

      Such a cruise has never been undertaken before.

      December 12, 1909 New York Times


      Its Men Will Have $400,000 to Spend While They're in the Hudson.

      The Hudson will assume a warlike look next week when the sixteen first
      class battleships and three armored cruisers of the Atlantic Fleet
      arrive in New York to remain during the Christmas holidays. The ships
      are coming, this time, to give the bluejackets a good time in the city.
      The fleet will probably be joined in the river by the scout cruisers
      Chester, Birmingham and Salem ...

      Immediately after the holidays all of the vessels will sail, the
      battleships and armored cruisers proceeding South for the Winter
      manoeuvres, while the scouts will go to Hampton Roads, where the
      Birmingham and Salem will prepare for the most extensive wireless
      telegraphy tests ever made since the perfection of the wireless

      Leaving Hampton Roads the vessels will head for the West Indies, the
      speed being so regulated that by the time the Birmingham reaches
      Trinidad the Salem will be 1,000 miles astern. On the arrival of the
      Birmingham at Trinidad the scout will try to open communication with the
      flagship Connecticut, which will then be on the way to Guantanamo, Cuba,
      for the Spring target practice. Under the orders the Birmingham and
      Salem must send and receive messages at distances ranging all the way
      from 1,000 to 3,000 miles, and the tests must be conducted under every
      conceivable condition.

      The scouts will visit South America and then head for Europe via the
      Canary Islands, the Birmingham being due at Kiel, Germany, early in
      March. During all the time the ships are at sea an effort will be made
      to keep in touch with the Atlantic Fleet at Guantanamo, as well as Brant
      Rock in Massachusetts, which will be the wireless headquarters on land
      during the entire cruise.

      December 19, 1909 Washington Post

      ... The scout cruisers Birmingham and Salem are conducting the most
      thorough tests of wireless telegraphy ever made by the Navy Department
      new apparatus and equipment having been installed on the vessels for the
      purpose. The work has been going on since last August. The
      specifications called for wireless systems which, would send and receive
      messages for at least 1000 miles under all conditions and 3,000 miles
      under favorable conditions.

      The tests will last four months and the cruisers will travel many
      thousands of miles through North American, West Indian, South American
      and European waters. The land-receiving station for the entire course
      will be Brants [sic] Rock Mass. For one month a series of try out or
      preliminary trials will be held while the vessels cruise along the coast
      from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. After this preliminary work the vessels
      will put into Hampton Roads to have the last changes made to the
      wireless apparatus if any are needed and then they will head for

      On leaving Hampton Roads the Birmingham will go ahead of the Salem, and
      by the time she reaches Trinidad the Salem must be 1,000 miles astern.
      The Birmingham is expected to reach the South American port in the early
      part of January. As soon as she arrives there attempts will be made to
      reach the battle ship Connecticut, flagship of the North Atlantic fleet
      which will be then on its way with the rest of the fleet to Guantanamo
      Cuba, for spring target practice. The fleet will stay in the vicinity of
      Guantanamo about four months and on the rest of the cruise the two
      scouts will endeavor to maintain daily communication with the

      >From Trinidad the Birmingham followed by the Salem, will go to the
      mouth of the Amazon. By February the Birmingham will be among the Canary
      Islands and from there she will go to Gibraltar by way of the Madeiras.
      The vessel will be kept at Kiel in March and will thence proceed to home
      waters. ...

      December 23, 1909 New York Times


      Inventor's Backer Says He's Perfected Instrument for Talking 200 Miles.

      Special to The New York Times. PITTSBURG, Dec. 22.-Hay Walker, Jr., who
      with T. Hart Given, President of the Farmers' National Bank, and a few
      other wealthy Pittsburg men is backing Prof. Reginald A.
      Fessenden, the electrical inventor, formerly assistant to Thomas A.
      Edison and at other times connected with the Westinghouse concerns and
      the Government Weather Bureau at Washington, admitted to-night that he
      had received advices from Fessenden at Brant Rock, Mass., that the
      latter had held telephonic communication by the wireless method he is
      perfecting over a distance of more than 200 miles.

      Mr. Walker could not say whether the telephoning was done on the ocean
      or over land. Fessenden has been experimenting over water, and for this
      purpose has two vessels, the Birmingham and Salem, fully equipped with
      apparatus of his own design in West Indian waters. Fessenden is also
      engaged in further perfecting his wireless telegraph system.

      A few days ago the Union Pacific wireless station at Omaha picked up
      messages sent from the Brant Rock station. Walker says that he and the
      men who are associated with him in the wireless movement, will part with
      no stock. They say they are confident of the ultimate commercial triumph
      of the wireless telegraph and telephone, and purpose reaping whatever
      benefits may accrue.

      December 30, 1909 New York Times


      Scout Cruisers Try It, but Are Handicapped with Seasick Operators.

      WASHINGTON, Dec. 29.- Warranted to operate in all kinds of weather over
      a distance of 1,000 miles, the new wireless equipment on the scout
      cruisers Salem and Birmingham has been found unable to withstand the
      handicap of seasick operators.

      The two ships have just returned to Hampton Roads from a test at sea,
      during which they were 1,000 miles from each other and 3,000 miles from
      the high-powered wireless station at Brant Rock, Mass. A fierce storm
      surrounded the ships at sea, and not only were the conditions for
      wireless communication the most unfavorable, but seasickness was
      epidemic. Communication between the two ships and Brant Rock was
      obtained at 1,000 miles distance, but there were serious interruptions.

      Naval officials do not consider that the test shows the apparatus to be
      a failure, and a conference will be held soon with the representative of
      the contractor who installed the equipment with a view of arranging for
      further tests. During the next test the ships will be stationed about
      2,000 miles from Brant Rock. This will require one to be in the vicinity
      of Trinidad and the other 1,000 miles out from the South American Coast.
      The supreme test will be the location of the ships on the African Coast,
      3,000 miles from Brant Rock, and 1,000 miles apart. If these tests are
      successful a tower 100 feet higher than the Washington Monument will be
      erected in Washington for communication with ships over a distance of
      3,000 miles.


      A.J. Wright, M.L.S.
      Associate Professor
      Director, Section on the History of Anesthesia

      Department of Anesthesiology Library
      University of Alabama at Birmingham
      619 19th Street South, JT965
      Birmingham AL 35249-6810

      (205) 975-0158
      (205) 975-5963 [fax]

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