Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America engineering drawingsCreation: 1905-1921
The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Corporation of America was founded in 1899 as the American branch of Guglielmo Marconi’s (1874-1937) Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company of London. Because of its emphasis on providing radio transmitter receivers for ships and fostering oceanic communications, the U.S. Navy commandeered the company during World War I. After the war, both government and industry colluded to buy out the British company; they created the Radio Corporation of America in its stead in 1919. This collection includes around 1,300 engineering and technical drawings from the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America . Subjects depicted range from circuit diagrams, wiring layouts, and switchboard schematics to architectural plans for aerial towers and carrying case designs.
- Creation: 1905-1921
- Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (Organization)
8 Linear Feet
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), ‘father of radio,’ was born in Bologna, Italy in 1874. In 1894 at the age of twenty, he created the first radio transmitter and receiver. Stymied by dismissal and disbelief of his work in Italy, Marconi traveled to Britain in 1896. There, several demonstrations of his wireless technology across Salisbury Plain fostered both momentum and investment capital. In 1897, Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company in London, shortly after receiving a British patent for his wireless technology. Expanding quickly overseas, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (MWTCA) was chartered by the state of New Jersey in 1899. The company’s early priority was to create wireless capabilities for ships at sea to communicate with each other and with the shore – it was this campaign which led to a Marconi wireless transmitter aboard the Titanic in 1912, which contacted the Carpathia to rescue survivors of the capsizing ship. David Sarnoff (1891-1971), future RCA executive, began his career in electronics working for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America in 1906 at the age of fifteen.
During World War I, the U.S. Navy seized control of almost all MWTCA assets for transmitting and receiving, leaving only their manufacturing capabilities outside wartime control. In the aftermath of World War I, when the Navy relinquished control of MWTCA, the importance of wireless technology was abundantly clear. However, the United States realized they had no domestic wireless corporations; the controlling stock in MWTCA was British. Seeking to safeguard America’s ability to communicate wirelessly and securely with any nation, Admiral William H.G. Bullard (1866–1927) contacted Owen D. Young (1874-1962) at General Electric and arranged for the creation of an American-controlled company to buy out MWTCA. This new company, The Radio Corporation of America, assumed control of all intellectual, material, and operating rights of the former MWTCA in 1919, and was granted use of crucial G.E. licenses, most important being the Alexanderson alternator.
The drawings are arranged alphabetically by file number assigned by the original collector, George H. Clark. For more information, see File Note.
Scope and Content
The collection includes over 1300 drawings from the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America mostly produced from 1917 to 1919. Geographically, the vast majority seem to have been produced at MWTCA facilities in New York and New Jersey. However, the projects and equipment were meant for locations not only within the United States, but outside it as well, including Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, and the Philippines.
The Marconi drawings range in subject from circuit diagrams, wiring layouts, and switchboard schematics to architectural plans for aerial towers and carrying case designs. Especially noteworthy are the contract work designs where the buyer is identified. Over a hundred drawings are related to U.S. Navy projects, and over fifty are related to Army projects. There is an early airplane radio with a propeller generator designed to attach to the wing of the plane, a mule-pack radio set for the Army Signal Corps complete with leather saddle schematics, a blimp radio installation guide, and various equipment for boats of both marine and flying varieties. General Electric, Crocker-Wheeler Company, Lowenstein Radio Company, the International Telegraph Construction Company, and Electrose Manufacturing Company all appear in the notes on various documents. More than any other corporation, there are mentions of the United Fruit Company, famous both as propagator of ‘Banana Republics’ and as surprising pioneer in electronic wireless communications across their global empire. Historical curiosities include a diagram of the radio tower for Boston’s Filenes building, a 1912 Beaux Arts colossus designed by Daniel Burnham, and 1913 designs for mast caps at the South Wellfleet station in Massachusetts. That station had relayed the first transatlantic wireless message in 1903.
The drawings contain a wealth of information. The drawings also often contain annotations in pencil - emendations, revisions, notes, or simply the words ‘VOID’ or ‘OBSOLETE’ scrawled across them. Many contain a “Bill of Material” with amounts, and sometimes prices, per unit. They often include references to other drawings: lists of sub assemblies by drawing number, other views of the same item, wiring diagrams, cases, etc. Insofar as practical, those have been included in the ‘Notes’ section of each item’s entry. Sometimes the drawings specify materials, finishes, and even paint or enamel colors. Occasionally, man-hours are noted, especially when multiple people were involved. A 30 hour total time-mark seems standard for many of the drawings that have these notations – this could be a bias in noting time worked only for the most complex drawings, though.
The drawings from the David Sarnoff Library do not represent the full collection of drawings produced by the Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company of America, nor even all the MWTCA drawings George Clark amassed throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Nearly 3,800 more drawings bearing catalog numbers from Clark’s Radioana collection (many duplicates of those in the Sarnoff Library) were found in the attic of a building originally part of the Marconi (and then RCA) New Brunswick campus in 1999 – the same plant where those incorporated into the Sarnoff Library were also found. They now reside at InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum of Wall, NJ. Judging by catalog numbers, George Clark’s total collection of Marconi drawings was well into the thousands; just filling in the gaps between catalog numbers held by Hagley and InfoAge indicates around 4,600 remain unaccounted for. Since certain catalog numbers repeat with letters appended, for example T 2144567-A, T2144567-B, it is impossible to know with exactitude how many may be missing, even assuming that every series is represented. Furthermore, it is safe to assume that Clark did not near his goal of collecting all the Marconi drawings. Applying the same process to the original MWTCA filing number, indicates around 14,200 are missing, even including those from InfoAge. Nonetheless, there are several stretches where dozens of Marconi consecutive numbers are preserved in order, between gaps of hundreds.
This collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
George Howard Clark (1881-1956), wireless engineer and then historian at the Radio Corporation of America began collecting what he referred to as ‘Radioana,’ materials related to wireless technology in all forms, at a young age. Hired by RCA at its inception in 1919, he moved into a historian’s role in 1928, and began collecting full-time. Clark retired from RCA in 1946, at which point the Marconi drawings he had accumulated were shipped to RCA’s transoceanic station at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ironically, this site was originally constructed for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1913, and many of the drawings were generated there. The station closed in 1957, a year after the death of George Clark. The drawings now held at Hagley were purchased from the next owner of the property (then serving as a senior living facility; now a strip mall) by an antique dealer, Edmund Brodkin of Somerset, New Jersey. In 1974, Brodkin advertised a group of about 1300 drawings for sale to a number of institutions. The Smithsonian, being interested but unable to afford such a purchase, contacted RCA. In 1975, RCA purchased the 1300 drawings from Brodkin on behalf of the David Sarnoff Library. After the library closed in 2009, the Marconi drawings migrated intact with the rest of the archival material to Hagley.
The drawings are organized by filing numbers from early RCA historian George H. Clark. Clark’s catalog numbering system was an extension/adaptation from a Navy classification system. Clark had developed the system in 1915 (along with Arthur Trogner and Guy Hill) to assign individual codes to equipment, papers, reports, etc. He began applying the system to his personal collection in 1918, but revised and reorganized it repeatedly over the next decades. His organization of the Marconi drawings has been preserved in part because it was comprehensive and seems to have clustered some project drawings together meaningfully. However, this organization is also part of the cataloging system that George Clark applied to his entire ‘Radioana’ collection, donated to MIT after his death in 1957, and then to the Smithsonian in 1959. The Smithsonian has preserved his filing system, and also holds his own notes on organizing the materials (see related collections).
Under Clark’s system, the papers appear to have been primarily organized by size and by the order of filing. Each of three series has a letter and then three-number tag (T 214, M 216, and P 213) followed by a four-digit number. Beginning with one, the numbers ascended in the order of Clark’s processing them. Therefore, the order is not necessarily indicative of a logical connection, chronological or otherwise. The three series seem to be sorted by size: T 214 for the largest sheets, M 216 the smallest, and P213 medium and irregular-sized. The drawings do also bear original filing numbers from the MWTCA. For the most part, Clark’s numbering system follows the Marconi numbers. There appear to be numerical series, but they do not always align with Clark’s, nor are they chronologically ordered either by series or by drawing within a series. The Marconi series include:
-AA Close to 400 drawings in M 216 are AA, moving in rough chronological order from 1912 to 1920.
B- All appear to be from or connected to “F. Lowenstein, B'klyn, N.Y.” and all are together within M 216. This may refer to the Lowenstein Radio Company, which made telegraph keys and other equipment for the U.S. Navy during World War I.
-B The earliest grouping of M 216 numbers.
-C Only 5 drawings within M 216 bear this appellation; no clear connection between them.
-D Found within M 216; there is a very rough chronology from 1912 to 1916.
D.S.- Around 20 drawings, mostly in one cluster in M 216. Almost exclusively pencil on tracing paper instead of ink on linen.
-E Clustered toward the end of P 213 with widely spaced but ascending numbers. No clear chronology, themes, or connections. About half are on tracing paper.
-F All the –F numbers are given a T 214- number within Clark’s system, and are exclusively the largest size drawings.
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America engineering drawings
- Anastasia Day
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- The collection was processed with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant.