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Wired: 1921

Wired: 1921

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "Loomis Radio School." Another look behind the scenes at the technical school run by Mary Texanna Loomis. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Date adjustment

Actually, this photo couldn't have been taken before August of 1925 when long pin vacuum tubes were introduced by RCA, not to mention a lot of other clues in this photo. Radio technology was roaring ahead so fast that a 1921 radio would have been a real relic by the time this photo was taken.


The meter in question is a voltmeter, not an ammeter. While he might have been measuring something specific, my guess is that he was doing a simple conductivity test to make sure things were connected as intended. On the other hand, the probes are so close together that he might have been doing nothing more than posing - "That's great, just make it look like you're doing something electrical, just relax, act natural, and don't look at the camera!"


I see three radio tube sockets: at far left, under the little finger of nerd's right hand, and at far right. Probably another socket is obscured by his left hand. I'm skeptical of the 1921 date suggested, since the technology shown is much advanced on what was available in that year which was crystal set based. The iron-cored interstage transformers shown are from a later era, and if it's accepted that training school practice equipment usually lags what is available in the consumer market, this photo could have been taken as late as 1930 or even later.

Signal Catcher

The odd looking item on the shelf is a loop antenna. Although it is hard to see, the frame has a continuous wire wrapped around the outer perimeter in a series of loops (hence the name). The frame is mounted on a base which allows the frame to rotate so that the loop is pointed towards the distant transmitter. Antennas like this were a convenient alternative to running a straight 100 foot wire above the roof of your house.

It Just Can't Be

That couldn't possibly be a stud pierced into his nose, could it?
I guess not. It's just an "eruption" like the rest of us nerds get sometimes!

Interstage transformers

I was going to mention the interstage transformers and the current meter in series with the battery, but I was afraid of both confusing people and being labeled a "GEEK"!

No shirt pocket, no pocket protector!

But what is that on the wall to the right, looks like three spindles from a chair/railing?

Au Courant

The young man appears to be measuring the current flow through one of the windings on an interstage transformer - part of the typical 'breadboard' style of apparatus-building at that time. He has a battery in series with a meter of some kind, I presume amperes or more probably milli-amperes.

Then, armed with a knowledge of the battery voltage and the current value on the meter, he can inquire of Herr G. S. Ohm (and his Law) as to the winding's resistance.

Or maybe it's just a test to see if the winding has continuity, hence goodness.

Soldering in those days was done with really massive 'soldering coppers' (not irons) which, in industrial settings, were heated in a small gas burning heater on the bench. At home you ran into the kitchen to use one of the stove-top burners while Mother scolded you continuously until you were ready to scurry back to the bench and solder stuff until it got too cold, then back to the kitchen.

Even into the 60s soldering irons and guns were 100-150-200 watts. A far cry from my tiny Hako iron I use to build Surface Mount Device (SMD) projects: aided and abetted by my trusty low-power stereo microscope.

For further interest, in the lower left corner of the picture seems possibly to be a rather stout dynamotor - a machine with a motor on one end and a generator on the other, used to make high voltage from 6 or 12 volt battery circuits. I still have a few of them lurking in the depths of my pile o' junqe.

Ahhhh yesssss: them's was the days!


Where shall I set the Wayback Machine for today, Mr. Peabody?

No Solder, Radio

Looks to me like he's not soldering. Rather, he's doing some electrical testing with a meter, battery and probes.

I finally found him!

Waldo, that is.


He's quite clearly a geek.


In the day, it was all about good soldering.


All of the commenters, including me, looked at this picture and immediately saw a Nerd. I do not use that as a demeaning term. I do wonder what the Nerds were doing in Neanderthal times, though.

Nerds through the ages.

Although the nerd stereotype has evolved since, some of the basics seem to be there.

Not having delivery pizza (or phones to order them) everywhere may have delayed the development of the full nerd somewhat.

I can hear his dad saying "Son, why don't you put those useless bottle things and wires away and get some real work done in the backyard / have some real fun outdoors with your friends."

Seven years down the line he may have been one of the radio tycoons. And totally broke a year after that.

A bit nerdy

I guess that pocket organizers had not yet been invented.

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