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The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit
December 1933 QST

December 1933 QST

December 1933 QST Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

1933 Chicago World's Fair "Century of Progress" (Wikipedia) - RF CafeThe 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.

The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit

By Wallace F. Wiley, W9AZI*

One corner of the lounge, and a glimpse of the historical exhibit - RF Cafe

One corner of the lounge, and a glimpse of the historical exhibit.

The transmitter cage, and the glassed-in operating position - RF Cafe

The transmitter cage, and the glassed-in operating position.

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.

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 the pen.

"Do you have a transmitter?"

Another blank look and more scratching.

"What is your station?"

"Oh, we listen to KYW."

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 activity.

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.

- Editor

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.

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 reply was:

"Eleven-thirty p.m."

"But my folks won't be listening at that time, and so they can't get it."

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."

The general 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 apparatus used.

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 far 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?"

*Exhibit Manager.


The Publishers of QST assume no responsibility for statements made herein by correspondents

Marconi at W9USA

2046 Lane Court, Chicago

Editor, QST:

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 Building.

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

Editor, QST:

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.

Special thanks 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



Posted August 10, 2023
(updated from original post on 11/19/2018)

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