USS Birmingham & Early Radio
- **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
Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 08:48:40 -0500
From: "R. R. King" <kingrr@...>
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
SCOUTING CRUISERS BEGIN BIG WIRELESS TESTS IN FEW DAYS
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
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
FLEET HERE FOR CHRISTMAS
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
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 themouth 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
December 23, 1909 New York Times
FESSENDEN WIRELESS 'PHONE
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
1,000 MILE NAVAL WIRELESS.
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
A.J. Wright, M.L.S.
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) 975-5963 [fax]