You will want to see this. Collecting thousands
of QSL cards and photographs of their Ham radio operators and radio equipment is
a monumental accomplishment today, but it was even more of a challenge in the early
and middle part of the last century. You must actually make contact with the station
to legitimately collect a QSL card, and then the remote operator must be willing
to absorb the cost of mailing you a card. Mail service, particularly from some overseas
locations, was no guarantee of successful delivery. A large portion of radio installations
were cobbled together by their operators from scrap parts and had marginal functionality,
even into the 1960s and '70s, so contacts were more difficult.
As early as 1924,
Don Retzlaff's grandfather, Thomas "Tom" Russell Gentry (W5RG) began the process
where over a span of more than half a century he acquired more than 5,000 QSL cards
from all over the Earth. Many of the countries do not even exist today. Don has
posted a huge collection of his grandfather's Ham radio QSL contact cards and accompanying
photos of fellow operators and equipment (their "shacks" and "rigs") on his website.
Dropdown lists are available for perusing according to call sign (5,100+), city
in the USA (1,5000+), country (1,100+), and year (1924-1978). I estimate the quantities
an enormous amount of work to put this resource together, so you might take a moment
to submit a Comment (click
button at top of page) of appreciation.
One of the earliest QSL cards is from
EK-4EUV in Dresden, Germany, in 1924. That was in the decade between the two World
Wars. Many of the cards were collected during World War II. Grandpa Gentry
served in the U.S. Army Air Corps (commissioned in 1924) shortly after the end of
World War I. A 1968 QSL card from Moscow Ham operator UW9DZ listed his country
as U.S.S.R. (which might be in the process of being re-established based on the
current situation in
Crimea). I searched for probably half an hour for a QSL card
dated December 7, 1941, but never found one. Conspicuously absent are QSL cards
from 1942 through 1945 during the period of World War II that the War Emergency
Radio Service (WERS) prohibited amateur radio operations except for special exceptions
on the 2½ meter band. Notice the address on the February 1942 QSL card from
W3IJN (to the right), where Mr. Gentry used the moniker "Ex-Amateur Radio Street!"
Of course any
Ham is going to be interested in looking over the très-cool radio gear sitting on
benches and in racks (not much mobile gear shown), but it is also quite interesting
to look at what is in the room around the gear - pictures, books on shelves, board
games and model car kits, clothing being worn (or not worn in some cases), furniture,
etc. Some of the postage stamps on the QSL cards might have collector value. As
a lifelong airplane aficionado, I particularly appreciate the posting of a huge
number of what must be one-of-a-kind biplane photos. Some Hams really "ham" it up
with their QSL card designs by using fancy drawings, or as with JA1WOE (to the left),
by superimposing a scaled down image of himself over the front panel of his radio.
Given the extensive
list of call signs represented by the QSL cards, I decided to search for a few of
the more famous Hams, like Walter Cronkite (KB2GSD), Bletchy Park (GB2BP
of ENIGMA machine fame), Hiram Percy Maxim (W1AW - contacted
the station but not HPM), etc. Interestingly, the call sign W5CY (to the right),
which according to many sources belonged to Howard Hughes, is in Mr. Gentry's collection
that was submitted by Gordon Ash, of Dallas, Texas. Could Gordon Ash have been an
alias of Mr. Hughes?
Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the website. I just spent all morning
writing this short essay!
Posted March 5, 2014