Published in The Coast Star on August 7, 2003
Ninety years ago construction workers in Wall Township were building the most important station in Guglielmo Marconi’s “World-Encircling Chain of High-Powered Stations.” This $300,000 1912-1914 investment will benefit Wall Township in the future.
After nearly 20 years of technical and financial struggles, wireless laws passed by Congress in reaction to the Titanic disaster brought good financial fortune to the Marconi Company. Orders for wireless equipment were pouring in. Now Marconi had the capital for large projects.
His plans called for a pair of large stations in England, New Jersey, Cape Cod, San Francisco, Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines, India and Egypt. One station in each pair was an automated transmission station that was controlled remotely by the reception station. The stations were separated by 20 miles or more. Each station was always placed near water and its antennas on a nearby hill.
The reception station in Wall was placed on the edge of the Shark River. It was connected by land lines to its sister station near New Brunswick. The five permanent buildings built in Wall used the best fireproof materials, the most advanced fireproofing technologies and were designed to last hundreds of years.
The station had an 83′ by 30′ operations building, a 60′ by 30′ electric and steam generation building, a three-bedroom station manager’s cottage, an identical chief wireless engineer’s cottage and a 45 room hotel for the full time staff. Every building has a poured reinforced concrete foundation and basement. All the floors are poured concrete, including the attic. The interior walls are built with red clay tile blocks covered with plaster. The exterior walls have dark red brick with concrete accents. The roofs are covered with red clay “Imperial” tiles made in Chicago. Inside the attics are heavy angle-iron trusses to support the heavy clay roofs.
Inside the living spaces oak floors cover the concrete and oak molding accents the wide doors and large windows. When completed all the rooms were furnished with “Stickley” furniture. All the pieces of this now famous brand are long gone.
To support a 24 hour a day wireless operation a large staff was required and they were housed in the 45 room hotel. There was a large professional kitchen, a dining room for 50, a lounge and an entrance foyer. Many bedrooms had private baths. For staff recreation the Marconi Company provided tennis counts, walking paths, boating and fishing docks.
During working hours the hotel staff prepared meals, maintained the grounds, cleaned the buildings and kept the 50 KW generator running. The station generated its own electric power for the wireless equipment and also steam for heat.
The operators worked in the operations building on the edge of the Shark River. Back then they believed to get good wireless transmission across the ocean, using “nature’s ether”, the equipment had to be near a body of water connected to the ocean. They even buried a 60 foot diameter ring of zinc plates around this building for better grounding.
Over the last eighty-nine years and five owners, due to their excellent construction, most of the building are in great condition.
Most need cleaning, painting and minor repairs. The operations building needs the roof tiles, windows and doors replaced. These are in storage, saved from the New Brunswick station before it was demolished in 2000. The $300,000 investment by the Marconi Company served his corporation well. Imagine the cost to build similar buildings today on such choice property. Later the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army would build upon this investment and create a unique place with unparalleled communications history. In 2002 the site was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places. Thanks to the work of Infoage members like Larry Tormey and Robert Judge, who worked on the complex application for the National Register, we are positioned to build upon the investments of Marconi and the U.S. Army. This will save important communications history for future generations.
[Fred Carl is the director of the Infoage Science History Learning Center]
page created August 14, 2003