Published in The Coast Star on July 17, 2003
Over the last 90 years, hundreds of antennas dotted the landscape at Camp Evans.
Today, a single complete antenna and the top 60 feet of another are all that remain.
Over the years, some of the world’s best antenna developers have worked in Wall Township. They changed communication technology in a big way. They worked with 400-foot giant wireless antennas, 100-foot radar antennas, antennas laid on the ground, ones buried underground or buried in the mud of the Shark River, antennas trailed behind boats and mobile antennas.
There are three periods of rapid antenna technological improvements in Wall. The first was during World War I when the U.S. Navy controlled the site, the second was the U.S. Army during World War II radar development and the third was the early days of satellite development. We will look at the World War I achievements.
The oldest surviving antenna is located near the intersection of Marconi Road and Brighton Avenue. It is one of the three 150-foot tall balancing towers used with the six 400-foot towers to catch wireless messages sent from the Carnarvon station in Wales.
When the United States became involved in World War I, the Navy took control of the Marconi Station in Wall. Some of the most important messages of that war were dispatched from the station.
A. Hoyt Taylor was the trans-Atlantic communications officer in charge of making sure messages got to and from Europe and Washington. While in Wall, he and his team of researchers worked to find ways to eliminate radio static, locate spy transmissions to U-boats and to eliminate the need for the giant wireless towers.
Once the war was won, the Navy disclosed the work done in Wall. Headlines at the time read “End of the Giant Towers.” The advances in radio static elimination were hailed as the most important technological advancement of the decade. Technical journals written in 1919 documented the details. The giant 400-foot towers were replaced by 30-foot antennas.
One of the famous engineers who worked at the station were Dr. Harold Beverage. His `Beverage antenna” is still used today by some amateur radio operators. In a 1970 interview Dr. Beverage recalled a story of how he and other engineers nearly killed a man while adjusting a wire on one of the 400-foot antennas.
They hooked a cable that went over a pulley at the top of tower to an old Ford, Dr. Beverage recalled. The man sat on a swing seat at the bottom of the tower. As they backed the car up the man was pulled toward the top of the tower.
What they did not realize was once the man was past a
certain point the wire on the other side of the pulley would weigh more than he did. He started to go up out of control. Luckily, he did riot fall off the seat when the seat hit the top 400 feet up. Then they had a problem getting him down. They concluded they were better radio engineers than riggers.
Another expert was Canadian Roy Weagant. His groundbreaking static elimination work at Wall improved radio reception so people could hear Morse code clearly from greater distances than ever before. Famous electrical engineer Ernst Alexanderson also visited Wall to work. One stormy night, he was working in the basement of the old Marconi Hotel with a new experimental radio receiver. Suddenly the 400-foot antenna his radio and headphones was connected to was struck by a bolt of lightning. His
fellow workers were amazed that even though he took a good shock he kept on working.
Former Mayor Arthur Krumm and the staff of the Wall Township Public Works Department saved the top 60 feet of the last 1913 antenna. It is a memorial to the Marconi Station. They pulled it from the mud of the Shark River where it had fallen in the 1970s. All the 400-foot antennas were removed by 1925.
Thanks to their efforts we have an excellent piece of history from when all wireless antennas were giants.
[Fred Carl is the director of the Infoage Science-History Center at Camp Evans.]
page created August 14, 2003