Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone

One of the great joys of going to estate sales is discovering old books I've never heard of, much less read.  Such was the case when I recently found a good used copy of The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone.

I'm familiar with other juvenile fiction from the pre-World War I era -- titles like Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue, the Bobbsey Twins series (written by several authors under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope), The Five Little Peppers,  Anne of Green Gables.

But I'd never heard of the Boy Inventors series before this.  

"The first spoken word ever exchanged between an airship...and land." 

The title page reads:







The Boy Inventors were the creation of Richard Bonner, about whom almost nothing is known.  

Scholarly research has been done on the "boy inventors" of literature from 1900 to 1930.

The Airship Boys. Two Young Inventors. Tom Swift. Jack Heaton, Wireless Operator.

Francis J. Molson explains that many works of juvenile fiction of the era featured young scientists, like Jack and Tom Chadwick, the "boy inventors."  Here's a passage from the book, describing their first communication from their Wondership:
Jack nodded, and Tom threw a lever which brought the generator of high frequency currents in contact with the motor by means of a friction fly-wheel. The alternator began to buzz and spark, crackling viciously.
A sort of metal helmet with two receivers attached to it, one on each side, lay handy at Jack's hand. In front of him was the transmitter joined to the metal box which contained the microphone, transformers and inductance tuning coil. Tuning in the aërial apparatus was effected by means of a small knob projecting through a slit in the metal box enclosing the delicate instruments including the detector. By working this knob the tuning block was moved up and down the coil till a proper "pitch" was obtained.
Jack experienced an odd thrill as he prepared to send the first spoken word ever exchanged between an airship in motion and a station on land. He and Tom had sent plenty of wireless messages while soaring through the ether, but somehow, the dot and dash system had not half the fascination and mystery of the possibility of exchanging coherent speech between land and air.
He placed his lips close to the receiver, and with his hand on the tuning knob sent forth a loud, clear hail:
"Hullo, High Towers!"
There was no answer for a few seconds while he patiently adjusted the tuning knob. But then came a faint buzz like the humming of a drowsy bee. Suddenly, sharp and distinct, as if his father was at his elbow, came Mr. Chadwick's voice in reply:
"This is the Wondership. Three thousand feet in the air," cried Jack.
"Congratulations, my boy. It's a success so far."
"What shall we do now?" asked Jack.
"I want you to fly in the direction of Rayburn, and try to keep in communication all the way."
"All right, dad," responded Jack, and altered the course of the Wondership.

The Wondership takes the Boy Inventors on an adventure that proves to be quite financially advantageous.  (I won't spoil the plot for you -- you'll have to read it yourself.  There's a link at the bottom of this page to a complete copy of their thrilling tale.)

The book recounts an exciting tale of these two young practitioners of the benefits of STEM education.  But did their success go to their heads?  Not at all:

But the boys were not made lazy by wealth and fame. To this very day, Jack and Tom, with Mr. Chadwick's aid, are devising many inventions calculated to benefit mankind. Possibly, at some future time, we shall hear something more about these, but for the present let us take our leave and say good-by.

The Federal Aviation Administration website notes:

The history of avionics is the history of the use of electronics 
in aviation. Both military and civil aviation requirements 
contributed to the development. The First World War [1914-1917] brought about an urgent need for communications. Voice communications from ground-to-air and from aircraft to aircraft were established. 

Other sources note that the British Royal Flying Corps was experimenting with air-to-ground communications as early as 1912.   AT&T developed the first air-to-ground radio transmitter in 1917, two years after the publication of The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone.  So author Richard Bonner was definitely on top of his game.  

The whole idea of being the first to send a radio signal from an aircraft to the ground reminded me not a little of another "first" that happened only a few years ago:  The first live radio broadcast from a moving commercial aircraft, which happened in April 2006:

So the next time you're on an airplane and you pull out your laptop to use the Internet, remember the Boy Inventors, who blazed the trail for us all.


The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has some information on author Richard Bonner:

The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone is available as a free download, or you can read it online, at Project Gutenberg:

A list of all the books in The Boy Inventors series is available here:

No comments:

Post a Comment