The 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.
December 1933 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur
By Wallace F. Wiley, W9AZI*
One corner of the lounge, and a glimpse of
the historical exhibit.
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
One B but D YL asked if this book was where the amateurs registered. And the following
"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."
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 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.
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:
"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
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?"
The Publishers 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 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
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 November 19, 2018