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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Radio School: 1920

Radio School: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "National Radio School." Some of the equipment at the high-tech technical school seen here. National Photo Co. View full size.

To stay online without a paywall or a lot of pop-up ads, Shorpy needs your help. (Our server rental alone is $3,000 a year.) You can contribute by becoming a Patron, or by purchasing a print from the Shorpy Archive. Or both! Read more about our 2019 pledge drive here. Our last word on the subject is: Thanks!

A set, when you only get one.

A radio set, or for the television to this day being called a TV set, is a term from the old days when a radio or a TV comprised multiple parts or cabinets, or a set of components.

The straight key

Made by William J. Murdock of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Just a reflection

I don't believe that is a mirror above the radio set... That's a window that flips up, presumably to protect the set or possibly a re-purposed cabinet. It just happens to be angled so we see the battery units, probably through a doorway behind our right shoulder.

Secrecy Act

The wording on that notice is still the basis for the Secrecy of Communications statute. Though broadcasting was gearing up by 1920, the majority of radio traffic was point-to-point and consisted of private messages, business and personal.

In Answer To Dave

"[Perhaps someone knows what that is."

What that is is an early vacuum tube.

[It is an Audion Bulb, a.k.a. Audion Lamp, crucial to radio's leap from wireless telegraphy to sound transmission. A modified incandescent lamp that was a progenitor of what came to be known as the vacuum tube. - Dave]

Tune for Minimum Smoke

The mirror in the hinged cover allows the operator to keep an eye on the battery bank (reflected in the mirror) which powers this radio shack. The joke in my early ham radio days was to tune the transmitter for minimum smoke. The mirror also probably served as "security monitor" to allow the operator to see who was lurking in the shack.

Flux Capacitor?

How were you able to get that photo taken and out of the TARDIS without the Doctor's permission?

Batteries and Graffiti

One must see the racks of batteries that power this confounded operation reflected in the glass door that has been flipped up to be open and the small almost legible initials of some event or person further on the wood trim of the same to the right: "Wi ?? 12 9 11" ?

Kids today

would not believe that this is the ancestor of their ipod!

If All Else Fails

Always remember to dip the plate and peak the grid. You'll never go wrong.

Rotary Spark Gap a la Titanic

That's a rotary spark gap that imparts a distinct tone to the transmission. Very leading edge, much better efficiency than a simple 2-point spark gap and the signal is much easier to hear under the normal radio static. The Titanic was one of the first trans Atlantic ships to use one which gave its short lived radio signal a very distinct and immediately identifiable note compared to the much cruder ship traffic signals of the time.

A lot of modern Tesla coils still use the same type of device to charge their high voltage transformers.

In the Lab.

Looks like some leftovers from Dr. Frankenstein's lab

A Star Is Born

Notice the ground breaking vacuum tube hard wired to the radio's front panel? It was near the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

[Perhaps someone knows what that is. - Dave]

Obsessive compulsive

Notice the screw heads at the four corners of the box. See how they are all pointed toward the corner, but the wiring is frayed and surely won't pass the UL specification

Flux capacitor?


Warning Message

"YOU are requested not to divulge the context of any private or commercial messages received at this station as the owner is under oath to preserve their secrecy; heavy fine, imprisonment and revocation of licence being the penalty--" and the rest is obscured.

Wireless Telegraph

It appears to be a spark gap (Morse code) transmitter, and the rotary thingy is the spark gap. I'm just guessing.

The rotary switches must be coil taps, and the knobs above variable capacitors.


A really nice straight key and a knife switch, both with what looks like marble bases. I sure would like either on my desk or in my collection. My straight key has plywood for a base!

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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