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Throwback Thursday: Travel Communication by Wireless Telegraph

December 26, 2013 at 3:50 PM | by | Comments (0)

Sure, we love all the speed and comfort of modern travel, but it didn't that way overnight. Every Thursday, we're going to take a look back at travel the way it used to be, whether that's decades or centuries ago. This is Throwback Thursday, travel edition.

The era of fast in-flight WiFi is finally here, but remnants of its predecessors in travel communication technology still lurk about mothballed corners, like boxes of old postcards.

Here we have a postcard from the late 1910s, depicting a wireless station that was the pride of Fort Myer, Virginia. The reverse doesn't skimp on the details of the $250,000 construction:

Situated at the southwestern end of Fort Myer Military Reservation opposite Washington, DC. Built by the United States Navy Department Bureau of Steam Engineering. Land ceded to the Navy Department by the War Department. Rated power of station 100 kilowatts. Towers, one 600 feet high 150 feet square at the base, two 450 feet high 120 feet square at the base, located at angles of an isosceles triangle, large tower at the apex base of triangle 350 feet between centers of towers, perpendicular to base 350 feet. Normal range: day 2,000 miles, night 3,000 miles. Cost about $250,000.

Care to compare? Below is one of Gogo's remote Alaskan antennas, which beams up the signal that allows thousands and thousands of airline passengers access to the internet at 32,000' every day and night. This is a terrestrial system like the wireless antennas, but ships these days rely on satellite systems for navigation and communication. Step onboard any large cruise ship and that pricey onboard WiFi you'll connect to—average rates run $0.50 a minute—is something wireless users of decades ago would think brought about by magic.

Even up through the 1950s and '60s and the rise of commercial aviation, airports set aside lounge areas for the express purpose of drafting telegraphs. Airlines offered telegraph stationery kits as part of the onboard entertainment, and it was just as cool to be able to send one from abroad as to receive one from an exotic address.

[Photos: Jaunted, Gogo]

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