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.
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