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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Victorian Radio: 1924

Victorian Radio: 1924

June 1924. Washington, D.C. "Carl W. Mitman, Curator of Engineering, U.S. National Museum [Smithsonian Institution], holding what is believed to be the first radio tube, made in 1898 by D. McFarlan Moore of New York. Radio waves emanating from this tube ignited a bomb a city block away and blew up a miniature of the Battleship Maine." Harris & Ewing glass plate. View full size.

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Tubes and Lamps

Electron tubes and incandescent light bulbs have a substantial shared history. In fact, the principle underlying tubes -- electron flow through a vacuum from cathode to anode -- was discovered by accident in the course of trying to solve the problem of blackening of the interior of an incandescent lamp.

But the earliest tubes were simple diodes. Whatever the internal assembly is in this one, it's much more complicated than that. This tube looks remarkably sophisticated for 1924, never mind 1898. Could it be a prop standing in for the broken 1898 specimen?

Broken by Bellboy?

I'm having trouble reconciling the photo with the following newspaper article. Is this the same tube? Did Moore donate a collection of several early tubes to the Smithsonian? I feel sorry for the bellboy. I wonder if he actually broke the tube or was just the scapegoat.

Washington Post, June 24, 1924.

First Radio Tube, Brought to City,
Broken by Bellboy

The first radio tube, invented by D. McFarlan Moore, in 1898, and held to be the most valuable exhibit of its kind in the United States was shattered a few days ago by a bellboy. Today it lies in useless condition, in the office of Carl W. Mitman, curator of engineering, in the National Museum.

Last week the tube was brought with infinite precautions from New York, by Mr. Moore, who is connected with the Edison Lamp Works of the General Electric Company, at Harrison, N.J. Mr. Moore carried his precious tube himself, because he was afraid to entrust the delivery to the mails of parcel post service. The tube was carried in special wrapping, and swathed thickly in cotton.

Mr. Moore registered at the Hotel Raleigh and gave his suitcase to a bellboy. He also temporarily surrendered the tube. As the door to his room was opened, he heard a faint tinkle of glass, as he brushed against it. Upon examination the tube was found broken.

The tube is said to be unique, and the only one if its kind in this country. Parts of it are set with platinum fixtures. It was to be placed on exhibition at the museum. Now, however, its fate is problematical. Whether it will be possible to adjust the delicate mechanism is unknown.

Mr. Moore is well known in engineering and scientific circles. Among his achievements was the construction, in 1904, of a lamp known as the Moore lamp, commercially used in large numbers in the United States.

Interesting, but --

Googling Moore, no mention is made of an 1898 radio tube. Considerable mention is made of his work with lighting, though. Moore was alive when this picture was taken, and was shot to death on his front lawn in 1936 by an angry inventor who had discovered Moore had already taken out a patent on something he'd invented.

[From the Annual Report of the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 1924. Google provides only a snippet view. -tterrace]

Source of the caption?

Love the photo. But who supplied that caption? Radio waves don't emanate from tubes, they emanate from antennas. Even if a small amount of RF did emanate from the tube, it couldn't set off a bomb a block away. I wonder what experiment they really carried out that day.

[The caption is from the Harris & Ewing negative sleeve. -tterrace]

Different boxes

That old tube, no doubt, is stored in a box in some county-size .gov warehouse (think "Raiders of the Lost Ark"); Mr. Mitman is stored in a different box.

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