The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit
December 1933 QST Article
1933 "Century of Progress" World's Fair, held in Chicago, was a big deal on many fronts. Life in America and around
the world was changing rapidly due to the widespread introduction into homes a decade earlier of electrical and
telephone service, indoor plumbing, and associated appliances. The state of the art was a modern wonder. Transportation
had been made affordable to many families, and leisure time was becoming more abundant. If it
were not for the advent
of the stock market crash in 1929, economies would be thriving because there was so much cool stuff to be had. Many
people had taken up the hobby and/or profession of wireless communications, so a display was included for the craft.
An interesting consequence of a combination of noisy (electrically) electromechanical wonders being promoted and
the desire to demonstrate working amateur radio equipment was a necessity to locate the two as far apart as possible
to prevent interference. Doing so made the Ham exhibit notoriously difficult to locate for many fair attendees.
Hiram Percy Maxim, W1AW, and Senatore Guglielmo Marconi were amongst the guest book signers.
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The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit
By Wallace F. Wiley, W9AZI*
We have all wondered how many hams - and others, for that matter - who visited A Century of Progress in Chicago,
failed to find W9USA and the Amateur Exhibit. When you inquired, were you sent to the Electrical Building, to the
top of the Sky Ride, or back of the Hollywood concession? Actually, W9USA and the Exhibit were located on the second
floor of the Travel and Transport Building toward the south end of the grounds - almost as far from the Electrical
Building and its bedlam of interference as possible and still be within the fence.
One corner of the lounge, and a glimpse of the historical exhibit.
The transmitter cage, and the glassed-in operating position.
Even if the place was
hard to find, about 4000 amateurs signed in the registration book - nearly 10% of those licensed in the United States.
These were not all W's. The book shows registrations from Barbados, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Alaska, Porto
Rico, Panama, Newfoundland, Hawaii, Guam, New Zealand, Australia, England, France, Austria, Japan and China. And
if we manage to catch a visiting ham from Africa before the Fair is over, we are thinking of applying to Headquarters
for a WAC certificate for the book.
That book contains many well-known signatures. Among them are those
of our League's President, Mr. Hiram Percy Maxim, W1AW, and Senatore Guglielmo Marconi. The total list of prominent
amateurs registered would require several pages in QST. Many of the old-timers, now off the air, are also registered.
And, of course, there are included the various signatures of John Q. Public and family who did not know a Ham Register
(very plainly marked) from a grid-leak. Rather than be impolite and refuse these last permission to register, we
allowed some of them to sign. The column in the book marked "Call" had them stumped, and the results in many cases
were startling. Some took a look at the signature above and mixed figures and numbers indiscriminately to fill this
space. COD, FOB and BVD were also much in evidence. And one YL, after considerable thought, recorded her phone number.
One B but D YL asked if this book was where the amateurs registered. And the following conversation ensued.
"Certainly. Are you an amateur?"
"What is your call?" A blank look and the scratching of
"Do you have a transmitter?"
Another blank look and more scratching.
"What is your station?"
"Oh, we listen to KYW."
As most amateurs know - the W's at least - considerable traffic was handled from the Exhibit by W9USA. At the time
this was written (the middle of October) a great many more than 10,500 messages had been received at the information
desk. The figures 10,500 represent those which were deemed sufficiently proper to be numbered. And of this number
many were discarded because of insufficient address, illegibility, etc.
|An international exposition- a World's Fair - A Century of Progress - and amateur radio not represented!
Never! cried Chicago amateurs, and proceeded to organize the World's Fair Radio Amateur Council. Two thousand
feet of exhibit space in the Travel and Transport building were secured, exhibit space was sold to 25 manufacturers
of amateur gear, apparatus of historical interest was gathered, high-powered modern transmitters were designed
and built to operate under calls specially assigned by the Federal Radio Commission - and it only remained for
4000 hams, 400,000 of the general public, to see, to admire, to marvel, for five well-filled months of crowded
In charge of this spectacular accomplishment was Fred J. Hinds, General Chairman of the World's
Fair Radio Council. With him were associated many of Chicago's prominent amateurs, including a representative
from every active radio club in the Chicago area. The work of the Council was organized under committees, each
headed by a capable man. C. W. Glaser gave unstintingly of his time and experience in organizing the Exhibit,
with W. F. Wiley, W9AZI, carrying on its active management through five months of existence. In charge of W9USA-USB
as Communications Director was J. Edward Wilcox, W9DDE, with Operations Manager Laddie J. Smach, W9CYD; Traffic
Manager C. E. Miller, W9VS and Chief Operator George Maki, K7HV. Fred Schnell, W9UZ, headed the Technical Committee,
assisted by Dave Abernathy. W9MYH; Ralph Briggs. W9EMD; George Dammann, W9JO; Louis Gamache; P.D. Lamb, W9GHT;
Earle Russell; W9HBX; C. F. Schultz, W9CSB and E. R. Word, W9BVY. Other committeemen were: Publicity, Art Bates,
W9FO and Herb Griem; Historical, R. C. Schweitzer, W9AAW; Convention, Wm. E. Schweitzer, W9AAW; Forrest P. Wallace,
W9CRT and Art Agazim, W9CN. The Secretary of the Council was W. D. Ferrell, W9CGV; its advisors, Marcus Hinson
and H.D. Hayes.
Much of the traffic handled was
of considerable importance. We received a message one morning which caused us to ask permission to page a man on
the grounds through the Fair's PA system. Although the Fair had banned the use of the system for this purpose some
time before, they made an exception in this instance. The man was located, came to the Exhibit for the message,
and immediately returned to his home town.
Several runaway boys who had come to the Fair sent messages back
to their folks advising of their whereabouts and safety. Many messages were handled for the officials of A Century
of Progress. But ordinarily the messages consisted more or less of notifications of safe arrivals, local address
and change in plans.
Since one of the primary purposes of the Exhibit was to acquaint the public with amateur
work - or at least to let them know there was such a thing - we expected some queer questions, but not the flood
that was loosed on us. For example, after reading the sign and being given a long verbal explanation of the workings
of ham traffic, a lady wrote a message and asked when it would be sent. After a look at the schedule sheet, the
"But my folks won't be listening at that time, and so they can't get
Followed some more explanation. And then:
"Oh, it won't go over the NBC or Columbia?
Well, my folks
wouldn't get it anyway, as they never listen to anything but NBC or Columbia."
Or, take this one, which
has been sprung several times:
"Do you have any samples of short-wave radios to give away?"
"You don't know Johnny Jones in Spudtoe, Kansas? That's funny. He has a short-wave receiver."
public has shown considerable interest in the Amateur Exhibit. For the first two and one-half months of the Fair,
every person who entered the Exhibit was counted, and we found we were drawing approximately 2% of the total gate
of the Fair each day, which means that up to the first of October about 360,000 people had seen the Exhibit. When
a sufficient number of attendants were on the floor, we guided small groups about the Exhibit and explained things
in detail. In this way we tried to give them a good idea of what amateur work consisted, and the purpose of the
Without exception, this personal contact was greatly appreciated by the visitors; they were
attentive and always interested. Sometimes a group would spend several hours in the Exhibit and absorb every bit
of knowledge we could give them. Old, young and middle-aged, as soon as they saw what a fascinating hobby ham radio
could be, fell like the proverbial ton of brick. Many an elderly couple, living alone and wanting a hobby of interest
to both, have walked out with copies of "How to Become an Amateur," the Handbook, and QST. And, in at least one
instance, they returned a few weeks later with questions concerning the refusal of the detector of their first short-wave
receiver to oscillate.
One surprising thing about the attendance was the number of teachers who visited
us, and who made many notes on all phases of short-wave work. Not only the men teachers, but the women as well.
Upon inquiry it developed that these teachers felt they were unable to cope with the knowledge their pupils were
showing in this field and were determined to keep at least one jump ahead of them - if possible.
as the public is concerned, the Exhibit has done two things. It has given our visitors the knowledge that radio
does not start at 0 on the dial of their BC receiver and end at 100, and that the short waves are much more interesting
than the broadcast band. It also has created a large number of will-be hams.
Five months is a long, long
time to keep a ham shack running with volunteer help. This is especially true when the place is open to the public
and it is necessary to handle the large number of visitors and messages that we have had. It would have been an
utter impossibility without the generous participation by the hams in the Chicago area who have stuck through these
long weeks on the floor and at the key; or without the splendid cooperation given us by Headquarters and QST. Neither
could we have completed the job without the help of the boys on the other end of the QSP's who completed the traffic
moving job; nor without the manufacturers who were interested
enough in amateur work to furnish us with materials
that were otherwise unobtainable. Our sincere thanks and 73 to all of these.
We have learned many things
during these months. If this gang had the same job to do over, there would be many changes in plans and procedure.
We have had to forget a lot of things we thought we knew, and in their places have received a lot of new ideas.
But we have not yet found the correct answer to give when a sweet young thing approaches the information desk and
asks, "Please, may I have an audition?"
of QST assume no responsibility for statements made herein by correspondents
Marconi at W9USA
2046 Lane Court, Chicago
I do not know what report was made of the visit
of Mr. Marconi to the amateur station at A Century of Progress...
It was the last day of Mr. Marconi's visit
to Chicago, and the long round of dinners, broadcasts, and receptions was over. The time was 11 p.m., and everyone
in the party was tired. Everyone, too, was hoping that the next event would be the journey back to the hotel, but
they did not reckon with Mr. Marconi.
"I hear that there is an amateur station in the Fair," said he, "and
I want to go and see it." Some one suggested that all the buildings had closed an hour before, but that did not
damper the great inventor's insistence. So his big Cadillac, with the Italian and American colors flying, turned
in the narrow street before the Federal Building, and started slowly down the avenue toward the Travel and Transport
The building was not closed. I cannot tell you whether this was exceptional or the regular procedure
for this building, though I suspect the latter. We were the only guests in the building. Up the blue-green-red-yellow
escalator we rode, turned here and there on the floor above, and finally arrived at the small room which houses
the official station of the Fair.
The two operators on duty did not seem to know their visitor, but he at
once introduced himself. He inspected the equipment carefully, especially one of the transmitters, and said concerning
the latter, "That is a very fine piece of workmanship."
The proud builder deprecated his efforts, as amateurs
will, saying, "But it was built by only an amateur."
"Ah," said the Senatore, "but I am only an amateur myself."
With the above, I will end...
-G. H. Clark, Secretary,
RCA Radio Museum Board
Not Enough Room?
North Hibbing, Minn.
Dear Old QST:
In answer to 6BO's letter, "In a Bottle" page 56 of October QST, wish to tell Franklin that something must be wrong
with his receiver. I would be in favor of the A.R.R.L. campaigning for new ham recruits - at least 20,000 new members
- and let 'em park on "40," too. My FBX spreads "40" over 100 dial divisions and every night for months over half
the dial is unused. We need more hams, we need more of them on "40" or we will be finding our government will think
we quit ham radio. Perk up your receivers, OM's, there's more room than you think.
-W. J. Ryder, Jr., W9CIY
Lawyers' Club, Ann Arbor, Michigan
On behalf of Prof. William H. Hobbs, Director of the University of Michigan Greenland Expeditions,
and myself, as in charge of radio communications with NXIXL, the Expedition station, I wish to thank the A.R.R.L.
and the many friendly radio amateurs who have endeavored to facilitate radio communication with the University of
Michigan Greenland Expedition during the past exploring season. The amateurs of this and other countries have proved
of inestimable value to the Expedition...
The expedition, and NX1XL, has just concluded another successful
season of exploration on the vast inland ice of Greenland. This season they were located northeast of Upernivik,
several hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. Radio communication was hampered by the necessarily limited power
and the poorness, "radioly speaking," of the location. Two-way contact on the higher frequencies with the United
States was restricted by the high horizon to the south of the expedition's camp. It was found necessary to relay
messages out from the expedition via stations in northern Canada and Europe to the east and west of the expedition,
and it was in this regard that the amateurs proved their worth. The mountains apparently did not prove to be as
effective a shield to the incoming signals, as Karl V. Hanse, radio operator of NX1XL, had little difficulty in
receiving our signals from the University of Michigan station, W8AXZ, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
are due VE5EM, VE4HM, VE5FS, VE4IZ, VE1BV, TF3B, LA2W, PA0HR, PA0UP, G5HC, and Mr. G. P. Anderson, of London, for
their most splendid work.
-Fred W. Albertson, W8DOE