"Can You Hear Me Now?" The Stovepipe Wireless Phone from 1919 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Can You Hear Me Now?" The Stovepipe Wireless Phone from 1919

While perusing the newspaper archives, I came upon an article about one of the earliest car phone experiments from 1920 in The Sandusky Ohio Register. I then tracked the source to the June 1919 issue of Hugo Gernsback's, The Electrical Experimenter, where I found a detailed account and pictures of W. W. Macfarlane's Stovepipe Wireless Phone.

That's right...a wireless telephone/walkie talkie operating in 1919 made from stovepipes!

And do you know what was one of the first questions asked via the Stovepipe Phone?

"Can you hear me?" Can you hear me now!?

Call Up Wifey on the "Stove-Pipe" Radio. The Electrical Experimenter June 1919: 115. Print.

Call Up Wifey on the "Stove- Pipe" Radio

A MAN with a box slung over his shoulder and holding in one hand three pieces of stove pipe placed side by side on a board climbed into an automobile on East Country Road, Elkins Park, Pa.

As he settled in the machine he picked up a telephone transmitter, set on a short handle, and said:

"We are going to run down the road.  Can you hear me?"

Other passengers in the automobile, all wearing telephone receivers, heard a woman's voice answering:  "Yes, perfectly.  Where are you?"

By this time the machine was several hundred yards down the road and the voice in the garage was distinctly heard.

This was one of the incidents in the first demonstration of the portable wireless telephone outfit invented by W. W. Macfarlane of Philadelphia.

Image: Transmitting and Receiving a Telephone
Message in a Moving Motor Car.
Source: "The Register," Sandusky Ohio, USA, Sunday, March 21, 1920, Page 26.

Mrs. Macfarlane, sitting in the garage back of the Macfarlane home, was talking through the wireless telephone to her husband, seated comfortably in a moving automobile 500 yards away.

The occupants of the car were a chauffeur, a reporter and a photographer.  All wore the telephone receivers and could hear everything Mrs. Macfarlane was saying.  The chauffeur had no other apparatus than the receiver with the usual telephone cord attached by a metal clip to his steering wheel.

Lying beside Mr. Macfarlane was the foot-square box, the only "secret" in the whole demonstration.  What is in the box is the inventor's mystery.  This box weighs about twelve pounds.  The other machinery used consisted only of the usual telephone transmitter and receivers and the three pieces of stove pipe standing erect on a plain piece of board.  This forms the aerial of the apparatus.

Before starting on the automobile demonstration of his wireless telephone Mr. Macfarlane stood in the garage and directed the movements of a soldier in a field more than 200 yards away from him.  This soldier assistant had a pair of telephone receivers over his head, connected by a wire with two metal clasps to his rifle (see photo herewith).  He marched and halted and about-faced and left shouldered arms out there in the field the instant Mr. Macfarlane gave the order through his little hand wireless 'phone in the garage.

Mr. Macfarlane said he would make no fanciful prediction as to what his simple, portable wireless telephone might do.

"There are all kinds of possibilities in it," the Electrical Experimenter quotes him as saying.  "If this could have been ready for use in the war, think of the value it would have had.  A whole regiment equipt (sic) with the telephone receivers, with only their rifles as aerials, could advance a mile and each would be instantly in touch with the commanding officer.  No runners would be needed.  There could be no such thing as a 'lost battalion."

"No high power is necessary to operate this wireless.  I am using one-tenth of an ampere in this experiment here and the results you see are so good that the voice carries as well as on the usual wire telephone.  The telephone system uses about one-fourth of an ampere.

"I am working on a new theory in electricity, and in wireless.  I think the accepted principle of the waves is only part of the story.  There is something else.  It is that something else that I am utilizing.  There is no supplementary current in this system as in the usual wireless operation. There is no static and no interruption."

Image: The Portable Stovepipe Wireless Telephone. 
Source: "The Register," Sandusky Ohio, USA, Sunday, March 21, 1920, Page 26.

An umbrella, Mr. Macfarlane explains, will serve as well as a rifle for an aerial.  "A plain citizen carrying carrying a small handbag containing the compact wireless outfit and with his umbrella held aloft can walk along the street talking with friend wife at the house at the other end of the city," he said.

"How costly would this outfit be?" he was asked.

"Nothing new is used," he explained. "All the apparatus fits in with existing devices. Everything needed for the outfit could be bought for probably $15."

"My apparatus here is rather crude and not all the quality of current is obtained that I can get," he continued.  "But it is no wild dream to say that a man riding on a train to New York can telephone his wife about bringing a friend home for dinner by using this device.  It will be perfected thus far before very long.  This apparatus here needs improvement, but it demonstrates the practicability of the thing.  Even now I can connect up the end of the wireless in the house with the existing telephone system and thus can talk from my automobile with any person in the city."