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The New York Times
May 1st, 1902

Janesville Daily Gazette
May 3, 1902

The first mention of wireless on the island is found in The New York Times, May 1st, 1902 and May 3rd of that same year in the Janesville Daily Gazette. I have not been able to find out if Marconi ever built his station.

In the summer of 1903, Block Island residents noticed strange construction going on Mohegan Bluffs. Just to the east of the Southeast Lighthouse, famed inventor Lee De Forest was erecting a 200-foot wooden mast, with a maze of wires, to send messages for miles across the sea through thin-air. The undertaking was the scheme of the Providence Journal that, with the help of a similar mast being built in Point Judith, planned to establish a new daily newspaper on the island for the summer of 1903. The gimmick was, instead of using the 20-year-old telegraph cable underneath Block Island Sound, all the news would be sent through the air by wireless. 1

The plan started in this way: "I'm representing the Providence Journal," said the gentleman to De Forest. "We have been interested in your work for some time and wondered if you would be interested in forming a contract with us for the erection and operation of a couple of wireless telegraph stations on the coast near Providence and on Block Island. During the summer season we have a large number of subscribers on the Island and the business of giving them news up to the minute is slow and expensive." While he was talking to DeForest, the latter had a stiff time keeping his enthusiasm from showing itself. And business men are not greatly impressed or easy to deal with when too much enthusiasm is shown on one side of the bargain. But with a little control, DeForest was able to make an acceptable contract and arrange for the installation and operation of the two stations. Accordingly, a contract was placed for the transformers and a couple of second-hand gasoline engines were bought in Broome Street. 2


3


In a very few weeks after the visit of the gentleman from the Providence Journal, everything was in running order and the people of Block Island were receiving their news almost as quickly as the people of the mainland. The Point Judith station, on the mainland, was kept in touch with the editorial office of the paper by land line, and as soon as the dispatches arrived they were sent to the Island station and posted in the form of bulletins for the use of the public and appeared in the small daily paper then published. Sending signals through the air, or wireless, was such a new concept that it was just a month before, on January 18, 1903, that the inventor Guglielmo Marconi had managed to send the first message, in dots and dashes, from the United States to Europe. Through the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station erected on Cape Cod with four 200-foot masts President Theodore Roosevelt and England's King Edward VII exchanged polite greetings.

The only other paper transmitted by wireless in the country was on Catalina Island off the coast from Los Angeles, California, where their Wireless began publication a few months earlier on March 25, 1903.


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The Day March 18, 1903

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The Day January 14, 1904

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Electricl World and Engineer January 31, 1903

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The McCook Tribune August 14, 1903

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Meriden Morning Record May 14, 1903

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Newport Daily News
July 10th, 1903

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Arizona Republic
July 26th, 1903

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The Minneapolis Journal
August 24th, 1903

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The Bee
July 23rd, 1903

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Fitchburg Sentinel July 18th 1903

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The Sandusky Star-Journal January 16th 1904

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Reading Times
September 18th, 1903

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The Pittsburgh Press
June 14 1903

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Statesman Journal
October 13th, 1903

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The Morning Post
Apri l6th, 1904


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Hartford Courant
February 3, 1904
45 issues of the Block Island Wireless were printed between July 9 and August 29, 1903. 1

In late July 1903, Lee De Forest visited the island, as the paper explained, "for a few days correcting a minor trouble in the apparatus. It took Dr. De Forest about 10 minutes to find the trouble in the apparatus".

That previous winter and spring, though, when De Forest was on the island to construct the wireless station, he did have an adventure when he and another man ventured out from the bluffs in a small boat to place an electrical grounding plate in the sea. They were swamped by a large wave and they had to swim for it, getting scratched and cut up as breakers tossed them through the rocks and onto the shore.

If De Forest had drowned on Block Island, the invention of the radio tube would have been postponed and perhaps everything in the succession after it. 1



DISCOVERY OF THE FLAT-TOP ANTENNA

This was in the spring of 1903. Everything went well for the remainder of the spring, but during the summer there was a great deal of static, enough to interfere at times very seriously with the one–kilowatt of power being used at the transmitter. Moreover, high winds swept the. Island free and untrammeled. There was not the slightest protection for the high mast of the station.

The inevitable happened. During a heavy storm down came the mast of the station and great was the fall thereof. The operators looked about for some means of keeping in touch with the land station. DeForest happened to be on the scene at the time of the disaster. He spotted the telephone. In less time than it took to throw over the big change-over switch, the receiving apparatus was connected to the long land line which connected the station with the village in the direction of Pt. Judith. To the surprise of everyone connected with the experiment, the signals from the land station came in booming, louder than they ever had with the old antenna.

And so, through the merest accident, the use of the directive flat-top antenna was thus discovered in 1903 on Block Island by Lee DeForest. From the station, which was situated on the coast of the Island, the telephone line ran a straight seven miles to the village and at no point along its route was it more than a few yards above the surface of the earth. It formed an almost perfect type of the directive antenna which is now employed at all the large trans-oceanic stations.

Following this incident, of course, the old time mast was again installed, but the telephone line was cut in as the receiving antenna every time atmospheric or other disturbances caused the signals to fade. This observation was carefully noted and worked upon later. DeForest thought there was nothing in it that could be covered by a patent, so the only course was to keep the idea quiet and reserve its use for the company.

Much wide publicity had been given these first newspaper stations on account of the far reaching possibilities in connection with the journalistic field. As a consequence, the stock of the American DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company began to sell at encouraging figures. Conditions were again looking upward. 2



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Block Island Wireless, 2nd issue



1 Squeezing to the mainland through space By Robert M. Downie

2 Radio News March 1925

3 This week in Block Island Histoy: July 9, 1903 - Block Island's only daily newspaper ends publication, By Robert M. Downie