Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 8, 1916

On January 8, 1916, the Chicago Defender profiled Robert Crawford, a local teenager who built a wireless telegraphy station in his home. “All of the wiring, coil work, transmitter, receiver, telegraph keys, and all other parts of the wonderful working apparatus was the work of his own hands,” the Defender reported (click to view article PDF). The paper noted that Crawford has talked to Key West, Florida, and many Atlantic coast towns, and that he was the only black member the the local Wireless Club. Crawford was one of thousands of amateur radio enthusiasts in the early twentieth century, and according to a 1910 issue of Electrical World magazine Chicago was a hub for amateurs like Crawford.  These enthusiasts exchanged knowledge through national magazines, and it appears that Crawford posted an advertisement in Modern Electrics and Mechanics to trade parts. The headline of the article notes that Crawford’s wireless waves “Bothered Uncle Sam,” which is a reference to the debate during WWI regarding whether amateur radio operators should be shut down or whether they could play a role in protecting the nation.

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