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The Apparatus: 1923

The Apparatus: 1923

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "Unidentified ramp on field" is all it says here. Who can help us categorize this cryptic contraption? 4x5 glass negative. View full size.


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National Cathedral?

If I'm not mistaken, apart from the Lincoln Memorial we can also see the Washington National Cathedral (then under construction) on the skyline immediately above the hat of the second man from the left.

Adams air mail pickup

Washington Post, March 4, 1930.

Members of Congress to See Air Mail Pickup

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives are to be given a close-up demonstration of an air mail pick-up device, the invention of Dr Lytle S. Adams, beginning at 8:30 this morning at Hoover Field.

Trow Sebree, of the Clifford Ball Line, which maintains a mail route between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, will be the pilot in the demonstrations which are to last throughout the rest of the week. Special tests are to be made for the Postoffice Department.

Here's another view

Yup, GlennG nailed it. Here's another view, from the March 1935 issue of Modern Mechanix:

Air mail

I think GlennG has it nailed. Scroll down near bottom of this link. Not exactly the same, but I think this is an early version. From here.

Air Mail Inbox

My first thought was an aircraft listening device as MaltedFalcon stated. However, upon viewing the enlarged picture, it looks like it might be an attempt to create a pickup hook guide mechanism for picking up air mail. The aircraft would drag a hook behind, which would be funneled up the ramp to hook the mail bag. Granted, I've done zero research on this before posting, so take it for what you will.

Blind Landing Beam

Could this be an early attempt on a blind landing beam? I can imagine there are two horns, the other hidden by the visible one and sharing a wall with it. Were there A and N beams sent by the two horns? The frequency would have to have been in the microwave range, based on the small size of the small end of the horn. VERY unlikely to be microwave in that early year.

More likely two very directional acoustic listening horns which could be oriented to point at the aeroplane.

Was this a Naval Research Lab effort?

Attack of the Giant Shrews

Hm. Not sure I can swallow the giant listening device explanation: it's not pointed at the sky, and there is no provision for doing that. Also, there's dirt tracked in the open end like somebody walked or wheeled something into it, about which I am clueless. Maybe it listens for dangerous moles and shrews?

Circus folk

Looks to me like that's a seat in the front of that thing. Maybe some early version of the human cannonball?


I say it's aviation-related, based on the pilot's garb. I think it's an early attempt at a catapult. It rotates on its base so that it can point into the wind. And you can see to the left where they've pre-dug the pilot's grave since those springs will be woefully inadequate to launch anything heavier than a paper airplane. He's probably pointing right to the clue that would solve this for us, but I'm not picking it up.

Hearing aid

That is a pre-radar airplane detector. basically a giant earhorn. Which explains the man dressed in pilot garb. Others can be found here.

[The very first photo in that array is from Shorpy. - Dave]

Mongo or Bust

Flash Gordon: The Early Years.


I would not be surprised to find out that this was taken at Hoover Field, the airfield that predated the construction of the Pentagon. The monument in the background, the guy dressed in pilot's clothing, and the vegetation are the clues. The ramp is fixed-mount, on a circular track so it can be re-positioned to face any direction. It's got a pair of bumper springs at the front. Perhaps it was used to load or unload cargo on early aircraft?

["Monument in the background" is the Lincoln Memorial. - Dave]

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