October 1945 Radio-Craft
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
As were many people at the dawn
of the Nuclear Age, Radio-Craft magazine editor Hugo Gernsback predicted
with the ebullience you would expect of a technology visionary the vast role nuclear
power would play in the future of mankind. Due to the two or three month lead time
in magazine publishing in 1945, Mr. Gernsback would have written this article
entitled, "Atomic Energy and Radio" just about the time news was breaking of the
"Little Boy" and "Fat Man"
thermonuclear bomb detonations. The Manhattan Project was super-ultra-top-secret
so very few people were even aware that such an effort was in the works, so headlines
with photos of the trademark mushroom cloud over Japan were utterly shocking. The
immense power released by relatively small masses of uranium and plutonium boggled
the minds of even those who understood the physics and developed the bombs. Gernsback
and others predicted fantastic peacetime uses for nuclear power ranging from perpetually
running wrist watches to ships, cars, trains and even airplanes. Homes and businesses
would be powered by compact on-site electrical generators. Medical teams would cure
every disease. The possibilities were endless... unless the effects of nuclear radiation
on living tissue had to be considered, that is.
Atomic Energy and Radio - "Wrist-Talkies" and other wonders are on the way ...
... Atomic power which has already revolutionized
warfare will change everything on earth-including radio ... powerful broadcast stations
in brief-cases, "Wrist-Talkies" and other wonders are on the way ...
The coming of the new atomic bomb must be considered as the starting point of
an entirely new era in man's history. The changes in our civilization which atomic
power will bring about are so incredible and breath-taking that they will bewilder
and astonish people for years to come.
The vast and manifold implications of atomic power will shake our lives and our
mode of living as nothing up to now has ever been able to do. Not even the invention
of gunpowder, the steam engine and electricity, can be compared to the reign of
the corming atomic age.
All our previous concepts of the word "power" must go into the discard. The reason
for this is that atomic power is so vastly greater than any other form of energy
known heretofore that the mind is not able to grasp the astronomical figures necessary
to describe it. It is as if we tried to compare the strength of a gnat with the
inherent energy of Niagara Falls.
Scientists for many years have pointed out that if we could realize the latent
energy in a single one-cent copper piece, we could drive the mightiest battleship
across the seven seas and have energy left to spare. This should give an inkling
of the vast potentialities of atomic power.
Thirty-five years ago, I predicted that some day we would have "one horsepower
in a watch," meaning thereby that in the confines of a packet watch could be stored
the power normally exerted by one horse. With atomic power this will be exceeded
many thousand-fold. It is certain that not only a single horsepower, but many thousand
horsepower can be locked in a space as, small as a wrist-watch. Automobiles and
other vehicles will no longer require the big engines and fuel tanks which we use
today. The whole motor will be minuscule, just as the atomic bomb itself measures
only a small fraction of the size of the usual blockbuster bombs.
Atomic energy built our universe. Our own sun as well as the myriads of other
suns could not function without atomic energy.
When man first started out, he had practically no energy except his own muscles.
Later on, when he knew how to use fire, he was given a new form of energy which
lightened his work. Much later, fire was used to make steam, which again helped
him in his emancipation from drudgery. Then came electricity, and the energy of
steam could be converted into electrical current. About the same time the power
of waterfalls could be transformed into electricity, and by overhead wires the electric
current could perform important work at a distance. Thus, the power of Niagara Falls
runs trolley cars at Schenectady and other distant cities. Then came the internal
combustion engine, making the automobile possible, and man again advanced by leaps
and bounds. But all this was child's play. These forms of energy are as crude as
using mere manpower in building a Boulder Dam.
The unlocking of the atom will change everything on earth. Future man will have
far the first time an abundance of cheap power which can be used instantly wherever
it is wanted. Instead of burning coal and using falling water to run our electric
motors, a few pounds of specially prepared material will give us electricity, light
and heat and air-conditioning in our homes - on the spot, whenever it is needed
or wanted. It will no longer be necessary to. subscribe to electric light and power
service. All this - within a few generations - will be a thing of the past. You
will generate your own power On the spot, just as you generate power in your automobile
today. The resulting heat and power will cost the merest fraction of present day
costs. There will be no smoke, no quantity of ashes to cart away the next morning,
because your atomic generator will use up its materials and practically no waste
will remain - no more than from your electrical motor today. You will get your heat
and power exactly at the time when and where you need it. Your atomic generator
will be a small compact affair that can be placed anywhere in the house - even in
the living room if necessary. It will work silently and there will be no smoke and
Just what substance you will feed into your "atomic furnace" cannot be revealed
now, because it has as yet not been perfected. The chances are, however, that it
will be a metallic composition. There will be a primer - the spark-plug of the atomic
generator. Just as you need a spark-plug to start your gasoline engine today, just
as you need a detonator to explode T.N.T. today, so we will need a primer to start
off the future atomic engine. The reason why we did not have atomic energy before
was simply because we had no suitable "detonator" to start off atomic "chain action."
As an example, give a savage a block of T.N.T. He can hammer it and throw it about;
he can even put a flame to it, but nothing happens. Now equip it with a fulminate
of mercury detonator, and the T.N.T. will go off with a roar, moving the side of
a mountain. But the savage did not know how to use the primer-detonator. Indeed,
he did not know what it was. So we, for thousands of years, did not have the necessary
primer to unlock the vast inherent energy of every substance that abounds in nature
- whether it is a stone, a metal coin, a piece of wood - in fact, any material you
can imagine - all these substances have locked in themselves vast amounts of atomic
energy. Now for the first time man will be able to use that energy and rise to new
heights. To be sure our scientists have only made a start - not with common materials,
but so far only with the precious Uranium. But the cheaper materials will follow
in due time.
In any discussion of atomic power, it must be realized that it would take volumes
to describe all of its potentialities. For instance, we already know that radium
by its atomic energy, gives off a vast amount of power. We also know that radium
over a stretch of 2500 years turns finally into lead. But in doing so during the
2500 years of its life, radium generates (among other things) electricity spontaneously
and directly. In effect, radium is an electrical generator itself - without mechanisms
It seems very probable, therefore, that future atomic generators can be made
to furnish electrical power, even without a motor as we know it today. From this
it appears that such tiny, but powerful generators will not contain moving parts
in order to generate electricity. This in turn will revolutionize many industries.
It will thus be possible to have portable electric generators which will give a
vast amount of electrical power, yet be minute in size. You will be able to carry
on your person a "flashlight" which will give millions of candle power - should
anyone need such a vast amount of illumination.
Those who have read about the dreadful rays (causing fatal burns, etc.) which
radium and other similar compounds give out, while disintegrating, probably wonder
how anyone would be able to carry such a dangerous article on his person. The answer
again is in the "detonator." Nothing happens till you release the energy. A revolver
too carries high power and stored destruction. Then too, you need so little of the
atomic stuff that a quantity the size of a pinhead will give actually thousands
upon thousands of horsepower. As to the destructive emanations (while the action
occurs), lead or similar "insulation" will stop the deadly rays so they can't harm
As for comforts, atomic power will give man his promised millennium. No longer
will you freeze in temperatures below zero, or broil in a 100-degree heat. You will
carry with you on your person a small atomic generator which will either give you
sufficient heat through woven-in wires in the clothing to keep you warm in Arctic
temperature - or in a tropical summer, you will be able to keep comfortably cool
by similar wires, except that in this case they will be made of bismuth and antimony
alloys, respectively. These wires cross each other at certain points and at the
juncture a freezing temperature is generated-the so-called Peltier effect. The wires
are simply connected to your atomic electric generator and you will be comfortable
even if the temperature goes to 120 degrees.
To give another example of many thousands, your radio set will no longer be dependent
upon external supply current or even batteries. Indeed, your radio tube will be
its own atomic generator.
In this connection, radio men will be interested to note that the present atom
generator appears to be akin to our radio tubes. Referring to the isotope of uranium
from which the material for our atomic bombs is obtained, General David Sarnoff,
President of Radio Corporation of America, points out: "It is this metal that has
for the first time, under special electrical bombardment in a vacuum tube (italics
ours) released some of the energy of its atoms." So atomic power is another branch
of vacuum-tube technique!
I described in the April, 1944, issue of Radio-Craft magazine, merely as an April-Fool
joke, the Radium-Radio Tube. This described in detail how a tube powered by a mere
speck of radium furnishes the entire radio set with all its energy, having sufficient
left over so that the power actually would have to be throttled down! This was a
far-fetched idea at that time and therefore was treated humorously. It now becomes
a distinct possibility.
The Handie-Talkie of the present and immediate postwar future will become the
"wrist-talkie." Far more powerful - yet diminutive in size, the wrist-talkie - atomic
powered - will enable you to talk to your nearby home, or friends thousands of miles
away (via the telephone companies).
The coming of atomic energy will profoundly change our present conception of
radio receivers. The multiple-tube sets from four to a dozen tubes and over, will
no longer prevail. One or two tubes at most (multiplier types) will suffice even
for the most powerful sets. All will be "portables," that is, non-dependent upon
any outside wire connection to a source of power.
To be sure all this will not come about this year or next - but we are on the
way to it, in the not very distant future.
Posted July 30, 2021