Sunday, May 10, 2015

Boy Genius Blocks Navy Wireless

Commander Albert C. Gleaves U.S.N. of the Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island, had a problem. The government had installed a new wireless station for ship-to-shore communication but in 1906 they were experiencing interference from a nearby amateur radio operator.
My sign was GR. "GR GR GR," they said, "if you don't stop operating that coil, you will find yourself in the jug shortly." I answered by sitting on the key. I was such a nice boy! - Lloyd Manual, Wireless Age, Dec. 1916.

The Nashville American, 22 Feb 1906
The Nashville American, Feb. 22, 1906

The Navy investigated and discovered a teenage schoolboy who had converted a hen house into a "ham shack" and equipped it with a home-made transmitter. The meagerness of the radio set startled the professional wireless operators who examined it. A report was filed with the Navy Bureau of Equipment. Some of the components used to build the set were described in The Nashville American and included:

  • " ordinary electric lamp, the glass on which he had broken and which he uses for a receiver."
  • "His induction coil is one taken from an old automobile and throws a half-inch spark..."
  • "His spark gap is made with two common steel nails driven into a pine board..."

Lloyd Manuel and his hen house ham shack
The Technical World Magazine, Sept. 1906

It should be noted that he was not an uninformed tinkerer. "My arrangement is modeled according to the Massie system." This is a reference to the commercial station PJ in Point Judith, Rhode Island, operated by The Massie Wireless Telegraph Company. In 1910 Massie was one of only ten wireless telegraph and telephone companies operating in the United States. He had also read a description of the Marconi system in a book from the public library. But, it was still impressive that young Lloyd could interfere with a station that cost the government thousands of dollars to install and hundreds of dollars each month to operate. (A sum of $1,000 in 1906 would be equivalent to about $25,000 today, taking into account inflation.)

He was described as "something of a genius," but who was this Llloyd Manuel? A report from the School Committee in Newport records a grade of 90 in 1896 which earned him a place on the Honor Roll. By 1906, however, he had dropped out of school some two years earlier.
The first thing that wireless did for me was to permit me to communicate with an otherwise inaccessible place; the second thing that it did was to get me kicked out of school - my mind refused to follow such commonplace stuff as "puella haben rosa" when it was teeming all the time with C equals E over R. - Lloyd Manuel, QST, March 1916.
Charles Fielding, Jr.
The Technical World Magazine, Sept. 1906

The interference with the Torpedo Station transmitter drew attention to a curious group of about a dozen Newport lads led by Lloyd and his friend Charles Fielding, Jr. a messenger boy for the Postal Telegraph. The two were "but sixteen years of age and belong to families that can ill afford to spend money for whims." A detailed description can be found in Wireless Station in Henhouse by M.W. Hall in The Technical World Magazine.

Lloyd was familiar with the design and construction of commercial wireless sets but was forced to scrounge for the components needed to build one. At one point he earned fifteen cents from "junking." It was not the monetary value that he had earned that concerned him, it was the silver and nickel in the coins that he needed for his experiments.

constructing a coherer
Wireless Age, Dec. 1916

Lloyd and Charles encountered skepticism from adults as they went to great lengths to acquire what they needed to build a working wireless set. They then shared this new found knowledge with lads in the neighborhood. The experiments were validated when the government experts took an interest to see if they could adapt the design for use by the Navy.
For some time the families of the young experimenters looked askance at the work they were doing. But when the attention of the government experts was attracted, their elder relatives decided that possibly, after all, the boys were not entirely wasting their time. - M. W. Hall, The Technical World Magazine, Sept. 1906

The recognition fueled their ambition. A commercially successful invention could launch a successful career in the growing field of radio.
Neither of them has any desire to work as a wireless operator for more than a few months. Their ambition is more soaring than that. By making some invention of importance to the art, each of them expects to reach not only fame, but wealth. Their future careers will be watched with great interest by many people who like to see boys display energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity. - M. W. Hall, The Technical World Magazine, Sept. 1906

Fielding's wireless telegraph aparatus
The Technical World Magazine, Sept. 1906

Lloyd became a licensed ham radio operator after the government began enforcing regulations to prevent interference from amateurs like him. In 1913 he operated station 1TH at 106 Second St. in Newport. He then began publishing colorful accounts of his wireless adventures and technical descriptions of the construction of his transmitters in hobbyist magazines. At this time there were a mere 472 licensed amateur radio operators in all of New England. He considered himself an "old timer" at the age of about 26 as he reminisced about the "good old palmy days."

Restrictions imposed by the government during the Great War prevented private operation of wireless, but Lloyd resumes after the Armistice. He operated station 1MV at 6 Nicol Terrace in 1920 and station 1BOG at 160 Thames St. in 1923. I find it curious that he changed both call sign and address so frequently. Very little can be found about him after this date. Sadly, it is obvious that he never achieved the fame and fortune he sought. His friend Charles put his skills to use as an electrician in the Navy.

1 comment:

  1. Lloyd Manuel was a Chief Electrician in the Navy (July 9, 1918-July 8, 1922. He died in 1940.