The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit
December 1933 QST Article
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
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
December 1933 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The 1933 World's Fair Radio Amateur Exhibit
By Wallace F. Wiley, W9AZI*
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.
One corner of the lounge, and a glimpse of the historical
The transmitter cage, and the glassed-in operating position.
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
"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
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,
|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
"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."
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.
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
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...
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
"Ah," said the Senatore, "but I am only an amateur
With the above, I will end...
-G. H. Clark,
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
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.
W. Albertson, W8DOE