Dr. Harold H. Beverage and H.O. Peterson Interviewer:
July 1, 1968 and July 1973
This recording contains a portion of an interview on July 1, 1968
of Dr. H.H. Beverage by Mrs. Norval Dwyer of Waning River, Long
Island, New York.
It was used for an article by Mrs. Dwyer entitled, "The Early
Days of RCA in Riverhead," which was published in the Long
Island Forum for March 1969.
Dr. Beverage, now retired, was formerly director of radio research
for RCA Laboratories and also was vice-president in charge of
research and development for RCA Communications.
During the interview, Dr. H.O. Peterson came in and joined the
interview. Dr. Peterson was formerly in charge of the Reception
Laboratory at Riverhead.
Others mentioned in the interview are Philip Carter, well-known
as a mathematician and antenna expert, associated with the transmitter
laboratory at Rocky Point, New York.
Dr. Kans Hansel was in charge of the transmitter laboratory.
Bud Walton was associated with Dr. Peterson at the time mentioned
in the interview.
Roy Wiegandt was formerly chief engineer of the American Marconi
Company and is well-known for his work on static reduction on
the low frequencies based on his theory that the static came from
Dr. E.F.W. Alexanderson was the first chief engineer of the Radio
Corporation of America. Dr. Alexanderson is a well-known inventor,
best known for his intervention of the Alexanderson alternator
and the multiple tune, low frequency antenna.
RCA Laboratory was established by Beverage and Carter in a
tent at Riverhead in 1919. The interview describes the events
leading up to the formation of RCA in the autumn of 1919, the
invention of the wave antenna, and first diversity reception.
It also describes Dr. Hansel's development of the first crystal
controlled transmitter and the first 15 meter transmitter. Some
of the personal characteristics of Marconi, Dr. Alexanderson,
Roy Wegan, Dr. Hansel, Major Armstrong, President Wilson, and
others are discussed.
This recording is a portion of a two-hour interview by Mrs. Dwyer.
The IEEE is free to use it as desired. The original recording
is in the Riverhead Public Library at Riverhead, Long Island.
Today is July 1, 1968 and we are going to interview Dr. Harold
Beverage, who was the former head of the early RCA Laboratory
here in Riverhead. Dr. Beverage is world-renowned for his pioneering
research in early radio, and it is going to be an exciting interview
to find out from him first hand what transpired in those early
days of radio, especially here in the Riverhead and Long Island
area. Dr. Beverage, let's begin at the beginning and find out
where you were born. In Maine wasn't it?
Yes, I was born in North Haven, Maine in 1893, on October 14th.
Did you go to the University of Maine?
Yes, I went to the University of Maine and I graduated in 1915.
I went to the General Electric Company and after a year in the
Test Course I became a lab assistant to Dr. E.F.W. Alexanderson
of the Alexanderson alternator. From that time on, I was in the
radio business for forty-two years.
Yes Dr. Alexanderson was one of the great leaders of radio and
research development, too, wasn't he?
He invented the Alexanderson alternator, which was developed into
a trans-oceanic radio system. It was to exploit the Alexanderson
system that the Radio Corporation was organized in the fall of
Was it to save it from being taken over by the Marconi Company?
Yes. The Marconi Company was trying to buy the Alexanderson system.
Naturally, since London was the center point for the cables they
also became the center point for the radio. Marconi wouldn't have
great doings in setting up international communication. So the
Navy Department became interested and asked the General Electric
Company if they wouldn't set up a company to exploit the Alexanderson
system, so that they would have an all-American communications
company. That was done.
As a matter of fact this is vitally important as far as the history
of radio in America goes, because this did make the difference
of America becoming one of the major countries involved in this
Yes, it was very important. While the RCA was set up as a communications
company, as time went on communications became a small part of
the whole activity of the RCA.
It's major activity became what?
They got into broadcasting and they even got into the moving pictures.
One time they owned RKO. The washing machine business, you know.
There was RCA Whirlpool.
Right. What about the Victor Talking Machine Company?
Yes, they took that over in about 1929, I think. The way the RCA
was set up originally, the patent situation was very mixed up
at the end of World War I. Westinghouse owned some important patents,
such as the Fessenden heterodyne and the Armstrong regeneration.
The telephone company owned some important patents such as the
De Forest tube. So, they were brought into it. It was General
Electric, Westinghouse, the telephone company, the United Fruit
Company, and one or two other, smaller companies. But the main
corners of the Radio Corporation of America were General Electric,
which owned 60%, and Westinghouse, which owned 40%. RCA, when
the broadcasting business started off in 1920, was a sales organization
for Westinghouse and General Electric. The business was divided
60% to General Electric and 40% to Westinghouse. That division
stayed until RCA took over the Victor Talking Machine Company,
as I said, in about 1928 or 1929, and they went into manufacturing
on their own. It was, I think, partly due to the Federal Trade
Commission making General Electric and Westinghouse split off
their ownership of the RCA. They needed more competition there.
Going back to Mr. Alexanderson. Can you give us a physical description
of him? What did he look like and what was his temperament like?
That sort of thing.
Alexanderson was a rather heavy-set fellow. He came from Sweden
and was educated there. He came over to this country some time
between 1900 and 1910 and went to work for the General Electric
Company. He became interested in inventing these high-frequency
alternators because Mr. Fessenden, as I mentioned, the inventor
of the heterodyne, came to him and asked him to develop such an
alternator, which he did. He developed several smaller ones at
one kilowatt and he built another one fifty kilowatts and then
finally the old workhorse at 200 kilowatts. Alexanderson never
seemed to use much mathematics, but he carried a tremendous lot
of information in his head. I saw him one time design 5600 horsepower
motors for the Electric Drive on the Battleship "New Mexico."
He said, "Well, let's see, you need so much iron and so much copper
and about that size dimensions." In 15 minutes he designed this
motor and then his colleagues went to work on it, worked about
three months, and came up with the same design. He was a prolific
inventor. You could propose almost any problem to him and he would
come up with a half dozen ideas how to solve it. Frequently he
would call us over into his office and he would propose maybe
10 inventions. You would go back to the laboratory, and in about
two hours he would come over and say, "How are you doing?" If
you hadn't made any progress in two hours, he didn't like it very
well. So, the old timers soon found out that out of the ten, we
would pick out something that we could make some progress on in
two hours, and he was very pleased. He was like an absent-minded
professor. Often when he was riding on the train I would see him
fiddling with the ticket. He would tear it all up and conductor
would come and ask for the ticket and he'd say, "Ticket. Ticket.
What, what ticket!" Then he would look on the floor and see he
had torn it up. Mr. Carter, one of my assistants, the first one
to come out here on Long Island in 1919, bought a tent which became
the first RCA Laboratory. He put that on an expense account and
the treasurer of the General Electric Company came to Dr. Alexanderson
and said, "Do you know that you have a man on a Long Island that
is living in a tent and is charging hotel expenses in West Hampton?"
Alexanderson says, "No. I didn't know anything about that. I don't
understand it." Then, I finally said, "I know. I know. I told
him to buy a tent and use it as a laboratory." I had a similar
experience on October 1, 1920. I had a pink slip from the General
Electric Company saying that my services were no longer required.
I dashed over to Dr. Alexanderson and asked him, "What did I do
to get fired?" He said, "You got fired?" I said, "Yes. I have
the pink slip right here." He says, "Gosh, I don't know what it
is all about. Oh I know, I know. I had you transferred to the
RCA, didn't I tell you."
He didn't tell you?
No. But I didn't mind as long as I was on somebody's payroll.
From the time that you got out of college you began working right
away for Dr. Alexanderson?
After one year on the regular Test Course.
Now, in 1919 you came up to Riverhead?
It was the spring of 1919. I was on the U.S.S. George Washington.
We put a radio telephone on board there for the use of President
Wilson so he could talk to the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Daniels.
We made one trip over and we waited around for a while, but President
Wilson wasn't ready to come home, so we came back and made a second
trip. Finally, we brought him back into the United States in July
1919. One of the things we were quite interested in, we had this
radiophone working and Otter Cliffs was receiving very good signals
from us. We also notified some friendly ships that were in touch
with us to listen to the address that President Wilson was going
to make to the troops. They were down on the far deck. So we set
up a microphone on the B deck, where he was supposed to talk.
We could see the flag and it was lovely. But when the President
came down, nobody had approached him and told him what was going
on. He saw this flag and didn't know what it was. So, he went
down on the C deck, the deck below him, twenty feet away from
the microphone, so we couldn't modulate the transmitter very much
and the whole thing was a flop. After the President had spoken,
one of our members read the speech. It went over fine and was
heard as far away as Texas.
He read it over the radio?
He read it over the same radio.
This was very unusual.
Yes. This was the first time that a transmitter of that power,
more than two kilowatts, was ever put on a ship. We had a radius
at least half way across the ocean and it would have been a historic
event. It was written up with some magazine, I don't remember
which. The name of the article was, "The Voice that Failed."
Instead of "the light."
Did you meet the president personally or just see him from a distance?
I really never met him personally. But I did bump into him once.
He was dashing around the deck and I was going in the opposite
direction. I did meet Mrs. Wilson and Margaret Wilson. But the
President was very unapproachable.
That's what they have said in history books about him.
That's why he wasn't told about what we were trying to do with
this 4th of July speech. Not even the captain of the ship would
dare to talk to him to tell him what he was supposed to do.
What was his wife like?
She was sociable and very nice. So was Margaret. They were both
very nice. Very democratic.
Skipping about a little bit and while on the subject of presidents,
I read somewhere that President Harding came out to Rocky Point
and dedicated the opening of Rocky Point RCA?
No. He started the transmitter running but he just pushed a button
in Washington. There was remote control and then Rocky Point started
sending the message out.
He didn't give any little speech along with it in Rocky Point.
I think the message was some kind of speech of his.
It was broadcast over the RCA.
It was a very short speech.
So you were quite active in World War I? You were on Navy ships?
What was it that you did that connects with radio during the war
I wasn't so much on the ship. The Germans had cut a couple of
cables and apparently tried to jam the New Brunswick Navy Station,
which was the mainstay at the time. There was a lot of fear that
they might be able to interrupt all communications between Washington
and the expeditionary forces in France. So Lieutenant Paternal,
who was the French liaison officer on communication, came to Alexanderson
and said that he would like to have some sort of a receiving system,
which would be put up in France, that would balance out any interference
that the Germans might be able to make. Furthermore, he would
like to have it arranged such that you can also put up a transmitter
somewhere in the east part of France that would jam or interfere
with the Germans, so they could not copy the United States stations.
It was sort of a radio barrage, so that was called "the barrage
receiver." Alexanderson had figured about twenty-five ways of
how you could do this, but it finally boiled down to one and I
was given the job of developing "the barrage receiver". It consisted
of laying out insulated wires on the ground, two miles long, extending
toward the signal that you wanted and 180 degrees from it. So
there's four miles of wire on the ground altogether. Then I developed
the method of controlling the intensity and phase from each of
the antennas and it was quite easy to get a nice balance. After
playing around with this up in Schenectady for a while, I took
it down to New Brunswick and set up four miles away from the New
Brunswick station in New Jersey. It worked so well that I could
balance out New Brunswick and copy signals from Europe without
any interference from New Brunswick. One of these receivers was
made up and sent over to France, and installed, they tell me,
in Versailles. It just got into operation the day that the Armistice
was signed. We found that the directive properties of this barrage
receiver would balance out a lot of static because in this part
of the country the static comes from the Southwest, the Gulf of
Mexico and Southern states, whereas the signals that were interested
in coming over from Europe come from the Northeast. So the Navy
requested that a barrage receiver be installed at their main receiving
station at the Maine receiving station, in Otter Cliffs, near
Bar Harbor, Maine. So I installed one up there in 1918, in the
latter part of the summer. It worked very well. The signals from
the Northeast wire from Europe were excellent, but the Southwest
wire was all clobbered with static. I thought that may be due
to the fact that I had rung the wire over a bridge in a round
about way to get across the creek. So I had the boys put the wires
straight across the creek. That didn't make any improvement. So,
finally I took the receiver down to the end of the Southwest wire
and found there that the signals from Europe there were excellent.
It began to filter through my dumb skull that the wire was directive
for some reason or another--unidirectional--could only receive
in one direction. In 1919, when Mr. Carter came out here, the
first thing he was supposed to do was lay out some long wires
and see if we could find out why they were unidirectional.
Here in Riverhead?
Yes. We finally picked the road which runs from Riverhead to East
Moritches. At that time, it was just a little sand road where
you used to get stuck. We ran the wires down that road, found
out that the reason the wire would receive from only one direction
was that the losses in the wire laying on the ground were so high
that there would be no energy reflected from the far end of it,
so that the signal would build up. If you laid out a wire and
pointed it at the transmitting station, the signal would build
up on this wire and you would get a strong signal at the receiver.
But any signals or noise or static coming from the other direction
would have to travel up to the far end and there would be such
high losses that it would never get back to the receiver. That
was the beginning of the wave antenna, which I was the co-inventor
of. It's known as the Beverage Antenna, but I must say that I
had some help, particularly from Chester Rice and E.W. Kellog
from the General Electric Company.
The wave antenna, as I understand it, was really quite a fundamental
part of the development of radio.
The first one we built here at Riverhead, we got the Long Island
Lighting Company to put the wires on poles. We had these poles,
this line running in a straight line as well as we could all the
way from Riverhead to East Moriches to a place called Tell River.
We thought we needed to find places that were wet, a pond or a
little river, to get good ground connections. That's why we ended
up in Tell River in East Moriches. The idea is rather simple.
It had to be if I had anything to do with it. The signals coming
in from Europe arrived at Riverhead from the northeast. This wire
runs Northeast/Southwest. So because the losses in the ground
were quite high in Long Island, because there is a lot of sand
down in the southern part of Long Island. The wave drags its feet,
it tips over a little bit and that tipping over means that there's
a little component that will induce a voltage in the wire. As
the signal travels along with velocity of light the way, it induces
a little signal that keeps building up and building up and building
up until at the far end it's quite strong. As a matter of fact
if you wanted to receive a signal as strong as you got from the
wave antenna, you would have to put up a tower as least 1,000
feet high. It builds up quite a strong signal. To prevent the
reflection, to make it unidirectional, because the losses are
low on the wires on the pole, you place a damping resistance at
the end nearest the transmitting station. That stops the reflection
just like the high velocities did on the wire on the ground. The
beauty of the wave antenna is that it is not tuned to anything
except periodic, and it receives a wide band of wave-lengths equally
well. So that was a natural for Riverhead, where we had several
circuits coming in from Europe. We could work any number of receivers
off this antenna of different wavelengths and had one antenna
that handled everything and required no adjustment. So, in 1921
we had moved all of the reception here. We had had some in Chatham,
Massachusettes, and some in Belmar, which was an old Marconi site,
but we concentrated everything up here in 1921 in a wooden building
that is still standing. Vandals got into it and they pretty well
smashed it up, now.
Is it photograph-able? Could we take pictures of it?
Oh you could take a picture of it. It looks alright from outside.
But don't go into it.
It was in 1924 that the Riverhead receiving center became the
big center for the east coast, is that correct?
That's right. It still is; it has continued. The long waves or
low frequencies, whichever you prefer, were all we knew about
when we started here in Riverhead in 1921. Frank Conrad with the
Westinghouse Company, who was best known as the guy that really
started this broadcasting business, was interested in trying shorter
waves. He set up some transmissions from KDKA in Pittsburgh on
100 meters. He found that he got very good transmission at night
but very poor transmission in the daytime. All the theories of
the times were that the shorter the wave, the more the losses;
so if you get below a few hundred meters, they are supposed to
be no good. That's why the amateurs were given wavelengths of
200 meters because they thought they were no good. Marconi was
a sort of fellow who didn't believe anybody. He didn't believe
the scientists at all. He said, "I'm going to try to it." So he
built his station at Poldhu in Cornwall. He started off transmitting
around 100 meters. Then he tried 80 meters. He kept coming on
down, until finally in October 1924 he got down to 32 meters.
The whole world was astonished in that the signal got through,
almost all over the world, twenty-four hours a day. The fact that
it got through in the daylight was contrary to all theory. Here
was an economical way of getting international communication for
the first time because the long waves required tremendous antennas
and very high power, and the number of frequencies available were
very small because there was only maybe 10,000 cycles that were
useful out of perhaps 40,000 cycles for all purposes. So the shortwave
revolution, as you might call it, really changed the whole picture
of international communications. The whole world began to develop
short waves. The problem that we had had with long waves was static,
particularly noises from thunderstorms. In the summertime sometimes
there would be several hours in the afternoon that the signals
were very poor and could not get anything through. I remember
Colonel Rabo, who was the traffic manager at the time, in the
early 1920s, called me to his office every once in a while and
he'd say, "Damn it, Beverage, you gotta do something about this
static." But there was nothing I could do about it more than what
we were doing, although we did build a long-wave receiving station
at Belfast, Maine and relay the signals down to Riverhead.
a new addition here, Dr. H.O. Peterson. He has been associated
with me for some forty years. He was first employed as one of
Alexanderson's men on his staff, and he came out here to Riverhead.
When was it? About 1920, Pete?
About 1922. We went down to Belmar first and we spent about a
year down there. Remember when you and Walton and Callahan used
to commute down to Belmar?
Yes, I remember one of the episodes where I tried out being a
rigger. We wanted to connect the triadics, the guy-wires, to make
some big loops. So I proceeded to take the Ford car and put Mr.
Walton in the boatswain's chair and hoist him up a 400 foot mast.
He got about three quarters the way up when he told me to stop,
which I did. But he kept right on going because the cable was
heavier than he was. He had to slip out of the boatswain's chair
and hang on by his elbows so as to not bang his head on the pulley
at the top.
It might have pulled him right through.
Yes, that would have been really disastrous. So that wasn't so
good, but he went ahead; he connected the loops and did all that
was necessary, and the problem then was to help get him down.
So I backed the car up and I began to let up on the cable and
finally got him started down. He got down about three-quarters
of the way and Walton plus the cable was heavier than I was, so
I started to go up! And you remember John Lown?
He must have weighed about 300 pounds. He was a linemen. He came
along just in time, we got 300 pounds on the line and we got it
under control. That was the last time I ever tried to be a rigger.
That's a good man who knows his own limitations.
Did you ever meet Marconi? He was over here in Long Island.
Yes, we've met him several times.
I see. What was he like--personality and so forth? What did he
He was a fine looking man. I guess you've seen pictures of him.
As I mentioned before when speaking about the short-wave revolution,
He was a sort of fellow who didn't believe anything the scientists
told him. He says, "Let's go out and try it." That's how three
times in his lifetime he made major advances that scientists said
couldn't be done. The first one goes way back to December 1901.
He had a transmitting station at Poldhu, the same place that I
mentioned before. He came over to Signal Hill in Newfoundland,
he and an assistant named Kemp. They put up a kite and listened
for the signals from Poldhu, which at the time would be working
on a low frequency position, fairly long waves. They heard the
letter S which is very simple: dot dot dot, dot dot dot, it's
the three dots. Everybody said up to that time, "It couldn't be
possible because the signals would just go out to the horizon
and that would be the end of it." They didn't know anything about
the reflecting layers above. But of course when he proved that
he could do it, Heaviside in England and Kenelley in Massachusettes
figured it out--that there was a reflecting layer up there. That
was lesson number one. Number two was getting down on shorter
and shorter wavelengths and finally finding in 1924 a wavelength
that goes through in daylight, which was contrary to all theory.
The third one was at the ultrashort wave as we called them, the
wavelength below 30 mega cycles, below 10 meters. The thought
there was they would go out to the horizon and go further. Marconi
had the advantage that he had a steam yacht. The Marconi company
paid the coal, so he could put a receiver aboard the Electra,
her name was, and he sailed on out to sea. He found that he could
receive these ultrashort wave signals out as far as nine or ten
times the distance of the optical horizon. So, again, he confounded
the scientists. Each time he just decided to go ahead and try
What were some of your personal meetings with him?
Well, the first time I met Marconi was in November of 1921. The
problem had come up that the Americans, the English, the French,
and the Germans all wanted to build stations in South America,
in Brazil and the Argentine. There wasn't enough traffic down
to keep one station going, so they formed a consortium and they
called it AEFG (America, England, France, Germany). I went over
to London to get the stuff together to go down to Brazil to make
measurements on what kind of signals we get down there from Europe
and North America. My contact there was Captain Round, quite an
internationally known radio engineer. He took me in to see Mr.
Marconi. That was my first contact with him. It was very pleasant.
We had quite a long talk and talked about the wave antenna and
how it worked.
Was he easy to approach?
He was quite approachable. Not like President Wilson.
Did you have any dealings with Marconi when he came here to--was
it Sayerville or Babylon? Wasn't that about 1918?
Well, no. The Babylon station might have been the first radio
station in the United States or the first shore station for ships.
As far as I know. Captain Round, from the Marconi company, was
in this country in the early 1900s. He built this shore station
at Babylon. It was for use in operation with ships. I don't suppose
it was the first radio station, but it might have been the first
permanent one because there had been experiments made at the time.
Major Armstrong was quite interested in finding that station,
so when Captain Round was over here on a trip they went out hunting
around Babylon and they found a little paint shop, which they
indentified as the station he built. He found some of the original
insulators he put on it. Armstrong bought that building and moved
it Rocky Point, where it is now. He presented it to RCA Communications.
Then someday it will be made into a museum, maybe?
It's only a little shack. It's not very impressive. It was a historic
When we say a shack, we mean a shack.
Did you see Marconi when he came here in America?
Marconi's next trip was in 1922, I think. I was in Brazil when
he came over, so I didn't see him that time. But he came over
again in the latter part of the 1920s, I guess. We were messing
around with ultrashort waves. I remember he sat in the car and
listened to some of the stuff we were doing, so I made him get
Here at RCA in Riverhead?
Yes, we put out a big fete for him at Rocky Point. The cook did
himself noble. It was the best meal I had in years. It was filet
He stayed in Rocky Point?
No. He came out for the day. David Sarnoff had brought him out.
Marconi's assistant was with him. When Marconi came in 1922 he
gave a talk before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers,
which was a historic thing.
There is a printed talk?
Yes. In the Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical
Engineers. He describes some of the work he's doing and predicted
Was he a good speaker?
Yes, he was quite good. I don't know whether he was over here
again after 1930 or not. I guess not.
Dr. Peterson, where did you come from? Are you a Maine man?
No, I came from Nebraska. On to General Electric in Schenectady,
then down to Belmar in New Jersey, then on to Riverhead, where
I stayed until 1961. Then I moved to Florida and worked at the
Patrick Air Force Base until 1964.
Where did you get your doctorate?
I'm interested in how you both got interested in radio? Mr. Hannah
said that he was sick in bed in high school, he had scarlet fever,
and his brother had a crystal set. What's the story on you?
When I was younger I didn't know any better. I got interested
in a magazine called Modern Electrics. It was put out by
one Hugo Gernsbach, who incidentally just died this year. That
was quite interesting to me, fascinating, so I sent away and got
a catalog from the Electro Importing Company.
Were you in high school then?
Yes. The Electro Importing Company was also run by Hugo Gernsbach,
and it had all sorts of wonderful stuff in there. Sliding plate
condensers and fancy detectors and so on. I bought one of the
condensors and made my own coils. I swiped a piece of galena from
the high-school laboratory. About 1909 I was picking up signals
from ships. Ships going to and from Europe would pass by my island,
not too far out, so I was interested in copying these ship stations,
all the messages and so on. I used to copy a lot of news from
a station on Cape Cod (CC), which was sending out news to the
ships at 10 o'clock at night. Incidentally, that station was built
be my old boss, C.H. Taylor. You will find a picture of him in
this old magazine that I gave you, and he is still living. He
must be about 92. So, let's say I just got interested in wireless.
Back on the farm I thought it a lot more fun to be messing around
with wireless than it would be pitching hay.
You were on a farm?
It's an interesting thing about farms because they breed very
great young men who can't get wait to get off them.
Mr. Peterson, what's your story?
It's amazing how much affect Hugo Gernsbach had. I think my first
contact was through a neighbor who had a receiving set. He was
able to receive a Navy Station from the NAA in Washington. He
could get the time signals every day and he could get some news
that they broadcasted also. I got the same catalog from the Electro
Importing Company in Nebraska. He had a nice little description
of radio, how it works and what it could do. I remember reading
that over and over again, and got started that way. I got the
parts and finally was able to receive from the Navy Station in
the South, get the time signal.
What Navy Station was that?
That was down in Washington D.C. I could receive that out in Nebraska.
It was the best part of 1500 miles or so. That was pretty good
for those days with a crystal detector.
That's an interesting story because one in Maine and one in Nebraska
studied the same book and finally came together. Were you on a
Yes. My father retired and we lived in a town at that time. I
suppose that led to getting involved in an electrical engineering
course at the University, which introduced me to a lot of modern
equipment and work with radio. So, after school was out I came
east looking for a job.
When did you start working for Alexanderson?
I went on Test. I came to Alexanderson with a real nice letter
of introduction. That was a time when, I guess, there was a slight
depression, and he said, "We don't have anything in RCA. General
Electric is a good place to start." So I went on test at GE.
What year was that?
Maybe we can talk a little bit more about some of the work you
were doing here in Riverhead. You mentioned the wave antenna.
Let's finish up with that. It's still used, is it all over the
Wherever the low frequencies are used.
Russia still uses low frequencies.
One time, about six years ago, I attended a meeting of the International
Scientific Radio Union in Boulder, Colorado. There were about
twelve Russians there. One night we went out to Central City to
have dinner, get together, and see a play. At that time, it was
pretty hard to get a Russian to talk to you separately. They always
wanted to have a witness. They wouldn't talk until they got surrounded
with them. So they surrounded me one night out there in Central
City and said, "Oh Boy! We know you. We got your wave antennas
all over Russia." That's all I know about that. The wave antenna
that we built, that ran from Riverhead to East Moritiches, got
snipped off a little bit, chewed off, until it's about a mile
long instead of nine miles.
I see. It was originally a nine mile long track?
Yes. Then there was a second one built by Wiegandt nearly as long
in order to compare his system with the wave antenna. That one
I think is going now too. But it was 1,000 feet west of the original
I see. You used to send signals back and forth? You had a little
Yes we had a little competition. We used to pipe the signals from
the wave antenna down to his shack, about five miles down the
road. Mr. Wiegandt had a different theory. He thought the static
was coming from overhead, so he had these long loops, three or
four miles long in each direction, and he tried to get a balance
on the static which he thought was coming from overhead. Rice,
Kellog, myself, Walton, and Peterson--we didn't believe that.
We thought the static was coming from the southwest, and we were
eliminating the static by unidirectional reception. We had many,
many arguments with Mr. Wiegandt about where the static was coming
from, but he always ended up saying "When you get as old as I
am, you young fellows, you'll find out that this static is a woozie
beast. It's a woozie beast, you don't understand it."
But it didn't come straight down from the heavens?
No, it came from the southwest. We were proven right after a while.
We also were able to demonstrate that the wave antenna was much
simpler to adjust. It required practically no adjustment, would
receive a band of wavelengths, and would do a better job all around
than Wiegandt's system. So, we finally won out. Dr. Alexanderson
backed us up, so we won that one.
There must have been a lot of opportunity to simply use this experimental
technique, that is to say, never take anything for granted or
accept anything, but try out something new. It must have been
very creative period of thinking.
Yes. The real old timers were pretty much in what you would call
an experimental school. Marconi certainly was of the experimental
school. De Forest was pretty much experimental school; Alexanderson
and Armstrong certainly were. So, often times one man sparking
ideas could get some place and could balance it. Now, things have
gotten complicated and if you have an idea now, you're not likely
to be able to develop it on your own, like Armstrong did.
You have to go through a committee and the chairman of the department.
Worse than that. You have to have mechanical engineers, electrical
engineers, physicists, and metallurgists.
You can't put your own wires together without the union.
Yes. And you need a budget. So, as a matter of fact, those days
were much more creatively free for inventiveness than our present
day. That's one of the complaints today, that our young men are
so highly educated yet they aren't coming through with new ideas.
Well, that's true. You see, now it has to be a team effort. The
lone inventor is pretty much a thing of the past because the problems
are complicated. He just can't get his mind around it. It's gotten
so expensive he can't afford to do it unless he has a big bunch
of money backing him up. The art has changed.
Not for the better, particularly.
Well, I wouldn't say that. I think we are making progress now.
What Dr. Peterson has been doing down in Florida with these big
firecrackers. You certainly couldn't do that with an individual
because you've got to have billions of dollars, and a tremendous
great organization to handle it. The progress in tracking these
satellites and handling them, getting bigger and better ones,
certainly has been amazing.
So I guess you can't say "black is black and white is white."
It's just different.
It's just different. The individual isn't as important now as
he might have been fifty years ago.
Yes, it's teamwork now instead of individual.
Do you think that this dulls down the inventiveness of the individual
or do you think it challenges him to come up with even more ideas?
What do you think about this teamwork business?
I think usually there is some leader that gets a good idea. If
it can be sold far enough to get support, it will work out.
If you don't get discouraged waiting for the support.
That requires persistence and initiative.
You have to go to sell it to certain committees. You have to sell
it to your boss, and he has to sell it to the guys who has the
money. It takes more money now than it did then. When Dr. Peterson
and I started out here we had a receiver, a storage battery, and
an ohm-meter and that was about it for quite a while.
We didn't even have a ohm-meter when we started!
We did get one after a while.
Ohm-meters weren't invented when we started out!
That's right. We didn't have much to work with, that's for sure.
It didn't cost much.
You said that another highlight of your work in radio was this
space and polarization diversity system.
Just coming to that. Peterson here is the co-inventor. As I said
we had the wave antenna. We used to send signals over nine miles
from East Moritiches to Tell River. Pete and I would compare the
signals down the Tell River, nine miles away with what we had
locally. We found out that the fading was different. It was not
instantaneously the same. The next step was that Dr. Peterson
took a receiver over to his house on Main Street. He piped the
signal over the telephone wire to the radio station. We found
that this fading was different at those two points. It was about
a half of a mile apart, maybe. Then we narrowed the distance down
and found that a few hundred feet was enough spacing to give us
a different kind of fading. The instantaneous fadings were not
the same. We also found that at the same spot, if you had a horizontal
antenna and a vertical antenna, the fadings were different from
the two antennas. That was really a co-invention because on the
opposite ends of the circuit we were listening to these things.
Dr. Peterson and I invented the space diversity in 1926. The whole
thing we found out there was that you couldn't take signals from
two antennas and just hook them together on one receiver because
the phase would be all wrong, too. They would keep bucking up.
So you had to combine them independently of phase. We devised
several methods of doing that. Dr. Peterson can take over from
I think this came along about in the nick of time for the corporation.
We saved a lot of money compared to the Franklin System that was
developed by the Marconi Company, which involved very large antennas.
We did install one of the systems at Riverhead with five towers,
300 feet high. We had three large antennas. We compared this operation
to a receiving system using diversity, which used much smaller
antennas, and found we did at least as well perhaps a little better
with diversity than with the Franklin Antenna System. So from
there on the short-wave receiving system of the company was developed
along the diversity system and all of our receiving stations had
carried diversity. I have the idea that the British stations didn't
come to diversity until about the time of the war. When the war
came, there was a great scramble for effective and economical
communications. So everybody dropped all pre-conceived notions
and made their stations with space diversity. Since then, many
other applications are using diversity. The communications from
the satellites to the ground stations all use diversity. The satellite
is usually changing its aspect and sometimes it is rotating. The
polarization of the signal from the satellite can't be definitely
either vertical or horizontal, it's changing from one to the other.
So all the receiving stations use polarization diversity now.
It's been very widely used on almost all the frequencies we can
Including the ultra-high frequencies.
Yes, right up to 10,000 megacycles.
It's also used in radio relays, I believe.
So, it's a system that is not fading out because of certain old
When one antenna is low, there will be a very great probability
that the other antenna will have a high signal, so you just combine
those so that the phase doesn't bother you--rectify the signal
or something--so that fills in and keeps you from losing the signal
to the drop outs. You see Dr. Peterson spoke of the Marconi beam
system, which we had here at Riverhead and also at Rocky Point.
It used very large antennas. That way of overcoming the fading
was to pick up a very strong signal, with a big array, big antenna,
and put that through a limiter to limit the top. They limited
down so hard that it very seldom dropped down below that. That
would work after a fashion, but at a cost of many, many times
the space diversity system. The Marconi array was subject to icing
conditions and wind, so it was difficult to keep it running all
the time in certain climates. We had the beam system installed
in 1927, I believe, and about 1929 or 1930 we had practically
stopped using the Marconi Beam System, and in 1938 the hurricane
took care of the rest of it, blew all the towers down. They were
tied together with triadics, wires that supported the arrays from
one tower to the other. Apparently at number one tower, the wind
was so strong that it broke the turnbuckle, so that tower went
down. Because it was hooked up with cables to the next tower,
number two went down, and then number three, number four, number
Did you see them go down? Were you there?
I heard somebody say they saw it. It went down like a row of dominoes.
Yes. Obviously, they went down that way. Then we had another 125
foot tower. Dr. Peterson and I were out looking at it. This had
a billboard antenna on it, a big square thing. We had the wind
blowing on that, and finally it broke the legs right off. That
thing went down so fast. I saw it going. I had a camera, but I
didn't have time to get the camera going. I yelled at Dr. Peterson.
He looked round but didn't see it. It went down so fast, it crashed.
The Marconi Towers weren't in use when they were knocked down?
We only used number one. I guess occasionally we used some of
the others for the big d antennas.
But it wasn't the tragedy it could have been if you were still
using just those?
Wasn't it a little bit like Ford inventing the inexpensive car
because this was an economical system, wouldn't you say?
Yes, for a communications company it was economical and effective.
There is another application that has come on--a scatter-propagation-type
of circuit, where they use ultra-high frequencies for distances
two or three times beyond the horizon. In that case, they usually
set up two antennas about as large as they figure is economically
practical. They are placed side by side. In each one of those,
they have elements for both horizontal and vertical polarization.
The two transmitters are used on two separate frequencies, so
the effect is to get an end result of frequency diversity, space
diversity, and polarization diversity. This has been applied at
quite a few places.
They call it quadruple diversity?
There was some television work done out here too, wasn't there--research
Yes, but before we get to that, I want to see if Dr. Peterson
can help me out. After the Marconi 32-meter work, which started
the shortwave revolution in the fall of 1924, I want to go back
a little bit and bring in something that Dr. Hansell did. This
station that we had in Belfast, I mentioned, we relayed signals
down to Riverhead and then sent them over the wire lines into
New York. Hansell built a shortwave transmitter that worked on
100 meters, which was around the wavelength that Marconi and Frank
Conrad had been playing with. One of the great difficulties there
was that things were very unstable. They would wobble all over
the place and selected fading would make it mushy sounding. Dr.
Hansell went to my good friend, Eastman, of the General Radio
gave him the watch crystal. He applied that to this transmitter
with some tricks to keep the thing from feeding back and making
it self-oscillate. He had the first transmitter of appreciable
power with crystal control. The two inventors of quartz crystal
were Dr. Cady and Dr. Pierce of Harvard. I think that Dr. Pierce
had a small crystal-controlled oscillator in the laboratory. This
was the first time a quartz crystal had been used to control a
transmitter on the air with some power. It is now 100%, every
transmitter in the world practically is crystal-controlled. It
was an outstanding breakthrough. After the shortwaves got going,
everybody was trying to build a shortwave transmitter and receiver
too. Hansell thought that if 32 meters gets through well in daytime,
15 meters ought to get through better. So he proceeded in 1926
to build the highest frequency transmitter that had ever been
built with any appreciable power. It was to work on 15 meters.
The thing was rather amazing because it worked on 15 meters and
the antenna was about a half a wavelength long which would be
25 feet. It was literally held up by broomsticks, and the condensors
were literally metal pie plates. It really was a remarkable thing.
That transmitter was received extremely well in South America.
This was right under the big antenna, which was a mile and a quarter
long, 410 feet high with a cross arm on it.
Where was this?
Rocky Point. With a cross arm on it 150 feet long, and a 200 kilowatt
alternator pumping power into it. It could not break through the
heavy static that was down there in South America. Here was this
little 15 meter transmitter banging along just fine. It probably
cost 1, 2 or 3% of what the big antenna did. That solved Colonel
Reaper's [sp?] problem when he used to say, "Damnit Beverage!
You have to do something about this static!" That was the solution.
It worked so well that everyone thought 15 meters was magic, and
a lot of different engineers all over the world started to develop
15 meter transmitters.
What was the personality of Dr. Hansel like, the one who conceived
Dr. Hansel was an ingenious little fellow. He was of small stature.
He was very much interested in lots of things. He had many, many
ideas. He had good ideas--some way ahead of his time. Unfortunately
you can't interview him; he died about a year ago. He was interested
not only in technical things, but also in people. He was President
of Port Jefferson School district for many years. Immediately
after the end of the war, in 1945, he was sent over to Germany
to interview German scientists to see if there were inventions
and developments that would be of interest in defeating the Japanese.
Remember the Japanese didn't quit until considerably later in
One of the
things that he ran across was the effect of ionization, where
the air is positively charged or negatively charged. The Germans
had been doing some work on that. The theory was that if you were
in positively charged air, where the ionization was positive,
then you would feel mad, crabby and terrible, and you just couldn't
get along with people; but if the air was negatively ionized,
then you felt fine, everything was wonderful, you had the effects
of mountain air, and it was just great. He was very much interested
in that. There weren't many people who thought that was such a
good idea, who believed in it. He had one of his own engineers
when he switched this thing around so that he had positive ionization
this guy was really ugly, but when he switched it to negative
he felt fine. It is beginning to come around now that there is
something to all this thinking. He was starting to write a book
about that at the time he died. One of the very unfortunate things
was that that book was never finished.
Did he have an assistant who could finish this thing?
I don't think he had anybody that could go into it with the depth
that he would do.
Some other scientist will have to come along someday and read
Yes, someday it will be published.
It's often true, isn't it, that people with an inventive turn
of mind are not only interested in one particular area, but just
give them a problem and they'll turn their mind to it and solve
Yes. He was very ingenious and very likeable. I never saw him
get mad at anybody.
No, never. Some people would get mad at him if they read a letter.
But if he said the same thing while sitting across the table from
you he'd never lose the smile from his face and you could never
get mad at him.
Major Armstrong, what was he like?
He was a different kind of person altogether. He was also a very
inventive man. He was an individualist. He made his first invention,
which was a very basic one, way back in 1913, maybe a little bit
earlier. He discovered and understood clearly that you could feed
back in a tube some of the output into the input and it would
continue to oscillate and generate a steady frequency. The story
on that is very interesting because it seems that DeForest--this
is all a matter of record in the patents litigation--had a man
in the laboratory named Logwood, who in August 1912, I guess it
was, was trying to make a telephone repeater. He got the thing
reversed so that it fed back and howled. It's like the effect
you get when you hold a receiver up to the transmitter on the
telephone. You can't do that with a modern one. On the old ones
you could and they would howl, and that's all he ever did. That
was August 1912. In the meantime, Armstrong had gotten this idea
of making this oscillate. He had been doing it some time during
the summer of 1913, he told me. He went to his father and said,
"I want to patent this." His father said, "What does a young squirt
like you still in college in Columbia University know about it,
it's a waste of money." So, it went on, and finally he tried to
get some money from his uncle. His uncle said, "I don't want to
put money in that one, but I'll tell you what to do: get a piece
of tissue cloth and write up your invention, draw it up, and describe
it exactly what you think you have invented. You take to a notary
public and have it notarized. That'll protect your invention."
So, he did that in January 1913. There was this thing that Armstrong
had written up on this tissue cloth. That went into litigation
and stayed in litigation until 1924. It went through over and
over again. It went to the the Supreme Court twice, and Armstrong
lost both times. All of us who knew him and knew what he had done
and knew what De Forest had done. We felt that Armstrong received
the wrong answer completely. That embittered him. He was awfully
bitter against De Forest and against lawyers. He said, "They get
the wrong answers." As a matter of fact, he put up $50,000 before
he died for a study of why the lawyers in the courts get the wrong
answers on technical things, and how could they do something different.
They should have technically competent people in the courtroom,
or competent advisors, because they get the wrong answers. One
of his favorite expressions was, "The trouble with most people
is that they know a lot of things that aren't so." They think
they are facts, but they're not so.
invention was during World War I. He invented the superheterodyne.
That was a very big thing in radio, wasn't it?
Yes, it's used in every single broadcast receiver today. Again,
he had some competition there from a Frenchman named Captain Levy.
I happened to see Captain Levy's work while I was on the George
Washington, when I was in Paris. Lieutenant Paternal introduced
me to Levy and I saw his static eliminator. He had the same elements
that were in Armstrong's superheterodyne. As I remember it, he
wanted an artificial line. He would pick the static out from one
place and the signal from another place. In order to have an artificial
line that already existed, he beat the frequency down and amplified
it. He had the elements of the super-heterodyne. So he took some
of the broad claims away from Armstrong. The telephone company
took rights from Captain Levy. That made Armstrong mad at the
telephone company for several years. His third invention was superregeneration,
which he made in 1921. I remember when he told me about it. It
was the opening of the Rocky Point Station in the fall of 1921,
when Harding pushed the button. They had a special train come
out. They had a lot of foreign visitors. Four or five cars of
special important visitors came out to see the opening of the
station. Armstrong was one of them. Going back to New York on
the train, he told me about the superregenerator, which was a
clever invention but never got used very much. For that reason
it never got into litigation. You know, usually if a man makes
one important invention in his whole life, he's in. But Armstrong
made a fourth invention, which was wide-band frequency modulation.
a long story and a sad one. Because in that case he wanted RCA
to get right behind wide-band frequency modulation. RCA was quite
willing to pay him very well for a license. I heard they offered
him a million dollars, but he wouldn't take it. He wanted RCA
to get behind it, push it, and get it going. RCA, quite rightly
I think, said, "It seems to us that television is a new industry,
something entirely different, whereas wide-band FM is another
sound broadcasting system which may be much better than AM. But
it is another of the same kind of a horse while television is
something brand new." RCA wanted, rightfully I think, to put some
money into television. That made Armstrong mad at RCA.
I was friendly
with Major Armstrong for about forty years. I met him immediately
after World War I. I know his wife, Mary Ann, very well, and his
sister-in-law. She has just been through some litigation on the
Armstrong wide-band patents. It's rather astounding that in some
twenty cases, I think that she won all of them. She has told me
on several occasions that perhaps the reason Armstrong never got
mad at me was that he said, "Beverage is a man that always tells
the truth." I told her the explanation is very simple; if I ever
told a lie, I never could remember what it was and I would always
get all mixed up, so I always have to tell the truth.
That's very interesting. Did he have any children?
No, no children. He was a very interesting man and had a very
clear mind. He could visualize how things were. He used very little
mathematics. I don't think he used any. But he could visualize
the electrons flying around the circuit, doing what they did.
His papers that he published cleared up any amount of muddy thinking.
A lot of people didn't understand how this heterdrodyne worked,
but he had a very clear simple understanding of the whole thing
so that there was no problem. You knew he was right.
I see, someone like Michael Faraday who they say never had mathematics
beyond the eighth grade, but he used several advanced mathematicians
to figure out what he discovered by advanced mathematics.
That's right, he could just see it. It happens.
Yes it does. Doesn't it?
I have the greatest regard for Major Armstrong, and I felt very,
very sorry that things developed the way they did.
How old was he when he committed suicide?
He wasn't much older than I am. The years go by so fast that I
don't remember how many years ago it was. It might have been eight
years or so. He was in his 60's.
That's very sad.
That's the story on Major Armstrong.
formal interview--see note below by Beverage]
To make a long story longer, Mrs. Dwyer and I did not get around
to another interview. Now, it is July 1973, five years later.
The first interview covered the early days fairly well, with a
few omissions. One was a development of long-wire antennas for
high-frequency transmission at Rocky Point. This development is
described in detail in the IRE Proceedings, in a paper
by Hansel, Carter and Lindenblad. One point of interest is that
the rhombic-shaped antenna was proposed, but it did not include
the terminating resistance. This important feature is due to Bruce
of the Bell Laboratories. This made the rhombic antenna aperiodic,
so that it was not frequency sensitive and could be used over
a wide band of frequencies. The rhombic antenna is widely used
all over the world on the high frequencies.
development of interest was the first international broadcast
of a program from the British Broadcasting Corporation from England.
The BBC had a station at Daventry which broadcasted on a wavelength
of about 1500 meters. A wave antenna was erected at Belfast, Maine
for this wavelength, and the Daventry signals were relayed to
Riverhead on the 100-meter transmitter and broadcast for the first
time by WJZ in 1924.
activities consisted of radio propagation measurements at all
frequencies from 15 kilocycles to 400 megacycles. Some of this
work is described in the IRE Proceedings and the RCA
Review by Beverage, Peterson, Brookheiser, Crosby, Ralph Charge,
Bert Trevor, and Grant Hansell, a brother of Dr. Clarence Hansell.
This pretty well covers the activities at Riverhead and Rocky
Point up to 1930. At the New York laboratory there were developments
in time-division multiplex, photo radio and error-indicating teletypewriters.
These developments are described in the literature by Callahan,
Shore, Kahn, Moore, Whitaker, Matthis, and others.
In the interview
of 1968 some discussion was started on frequency modulation. There
may be some confusion in the first interview concerning the dates
of Major Armstrong's invention of regeneration. Major Armstrong,
according to the record, had an audion regenerating and oscillating
as early as September 22, 1912 and possibly earlier. De Forest
relied on the howling telephone amplifier of Logwood and then
Antons notes to establish a date of August 16, 1912. Major Armstrong
could not prove his date of invention of regeneration to be earlier
than January 31, 1913, the date of his notarized sketch. In the
interview I mentioned that the Armstrong litigation with De Forest
was in the courts until 1924. Actually the litigation was continued
in another case involving an infringement of Armstrong's patent.
The testimony seemed to be favorable to Armstrong and he was very
confident that he would win, but again the Supreme Court declared
De Forest the inventor. The discussion started in the 1968 interview
relative to frequency modulation, and also on radio relay development
was not finished. Actually, most of this work took place after
1930. About 1930 Murray Crosby started observing the transmissions
of frequency and phase modulation on high frequencies from a transmitter
at the RCA communications station at Paulinus, California as received
at Riverhead. Major Armstrong heard about this work and was invited
to come out to Riverhead to witness the tests. Major Armstrong
was a frequent and welcome visitor to Riverhead during the following
years. He told us about his wide-band FM in December 1933, when
his patents issued. Crosby made a complete study of FM, including
the theory based on Bessel functions. Crosby's paper on frequency
and phase modulation was a classic which clearly outlined the
characteristics of FM and phase modulation. Crosby published several
papers in the IRE Proceedings and RCA Review but withheld
publication until Major Armstrong had presented his paper on wide-band
FM before the IRE in December 1935. Crosby presented his paper
at the following IRE meeting in January 1936. An interesting discussion
was made at that meeting by Major Armstrong. He stated that Crosby's
theoretical conclusions in his paper agreed pretty well with his
own observations but that inventions were made by "jackassing"
storage batteries around the laboratory and not by fancy mathematics.
Professor Hazeltine was president of the IRE at the time. He stated
that he disagreed with the Major concerning the mathematical approach
and that what few inventions that he had been able to make were
put down on paper before making the experimental approach. To
work on radio propagation at Riverhead on frequencies above 30
megacycles led to recommendations for the optimum frequencies
to use for frequency modulation and television broadcasting, including
the best polarization to use. The first commercial application
of frequencies above 30 megacycles was applied to inter-island
telephone system for the Hawaiian Telephone Company. The Hawaiian
inter-island telephone system is described in the IRE Proceedings
for August 1931, in a paper entitled, "Application of Frequencies
Above 30 megacycles" by Beverage, Peterson, and Hansel.
mentioned radio relays. The first radio relay for television was
set up at Hunter Mountain in New Jersey for relaying television
signals from the Empire State Building to the RCA plant at Camden,
New Jersey. The first remote television pickup to be rebroadcast
from the Empire State Building was a program from Camp Upton which
was relayed by the old WEAF location at Belmar, Long Island. Just
come and see highlights of some of the developments up to the
beginning of the war on December 7, 1941 which changed our activities
completely. I was a part-time consultant to the Office of the
Secretary of War from 1942 to 1944, and had interesting experiences
in several assignments. The first one was a trip with Dr. Julius
Stranton to Goose Bay Laborador, Greenland and Iceland in connection
with establishing low-frequency communication for General Arnold's
bombers on the route to England. I used the old trick of 1918
by laying out some field wire on the ground and establishing the
low frequencies would come through when the high frequencies were
blocked out for days at a time. Other trips were made to North
Africa, Italy, and Alaska. However, that is another story and
will not be discussed here. As they say in Germany, "Das ist alles".