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Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s “A Signal From Mars March and Two-Step,” 1901 imagines two inhabitants of Mars using a signal lamp to communicate with Earth. THF129403  

The concept of "life on Mars" and "Martian Fever" was not incited in the pages of the tabloid magazine Weekly World News—but actually reaches much further back to 1877—with Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. The astronomer himself was not to blame: a single word in his report—canali, which is Italian for “channels”—was misinterpreted to mean "canal" once translated into English. In Schiaparelli’s time, telescopes became more advanced and powerful, allowing him to make detailed maps of the planet’s surface. At the time of this mapping, Mars was in “opposition,” bringing the planet into close alignment with Earth for easier observation. While creating his maps, however, Schiaparelli fell victim to an optical illusion. He perceived straight lines crisscrossing the surface of the planet, which he included in his records, assigning them the names of rivers on Earth. These were the canali—and the source of a misunderstanding which morphed into a self-perpetuating legend about intelligent, ancient, canal-building Martian lifeforms. 

mars-map
Giovanni Schiaparelli’s Map of Mars (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). 

Much to Schiaparelli’s annoyance, the American astronomer Percival Lowell continued to pursue this "life on Mars" theory. Beginning in 1895, Lowell published a trilogy of books about the “unnatural features” he saw through his telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona. He created his own maps of the planet, much of which Schiaparelli believed to be pure fantasy. In reality, the imagery Lowell was seeing was likely caused by diffraction illusion in his equipment. Lowell was not alone in popularizing the concept of an intelligent Red Planet. The astronomer, psychical researcher, and early science fiction writer Camille Flammarion published The Planet Mars in 1892, which collected his archival research and historic literature exploring the idea of an inhabited planet. In 1899, Nikola Tesla claimed to have tapped into intelligent radio signals from Mars; in 1901 the director of Harvard’s Observatory Edward Charles Pickering claimed to have received a telegram from Mars.

In 1901—the year that Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s "A Signal from Mars" sheet music was published—"Mars Fever" had officially taken hold, as scientists and enthusiasts alike actively explored the potential for two-way communication with Mars. This piece of music, made in tribute to the planet, is a prime example of the exoticism of science, space travel, and speculation about the limits of technology (along with a few missteps) colliding with future-forward, popular, and artistic culture.

THF344586Amazing Stories, September 1950. THF344586

Speculative thinking about Mars did not end in 1901—it has continued to provide a source of inspiration and exploration for both popular and scientific cultures. The Red Planet and its hypothetical inhabitants often appeared in early pulp and science fiction magazines like
Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. The first issue of Amazing Stories was published in April 1926 by inventor Hugo Gernsback, and was the first magazine to be fully dedicated to the genre of science fiction. Gernsback himself is credited as the “father” of science fiction publishing—or, as he called it, “scientification.” The magazine introduced readers to far-reaching fantasies with journeys to internal worlds like Jules Verne’s “Trip to the Center of the Earth,” and explorations of other dimensions and galaxies, time travel, and the mysterious powers of the human mind.  Throughout its publication of over 80 years, Amazing Stories included many fictional accounts of Mars, including H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” Cecil B. White’s “Retreat to Mars,” pictured here, E.K. Jarvis’s “You Can’t Escape from Mars!” 

THF108523Standing left to right are H.G. Wells and Henry Ford at Cotswold Cottage, Greenfield Village, 1931. This photograph was taken 7 years before the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of Wells’s War of the Worlds. This radio-play used media as an all-too-effective storytelling device, inciting a public panic about an alien invasion in the process. THF108523

In 1924, with Mars once again in opposition to Earth, a new round of astronomical experiments and observations emerged. In order to test theories of advanced cultures inhabiting the planet, the inventor Charles Francis Jenkins and astronomer David Peck Todd were commissioned by the US military to conduct a study to “listen to Mars.” For the purposes of this experiment, Jenkins created an apparatus called the “radio photo message continuous transmission machine,” capable of creating visual records of radio phenomena on a long strip of photographic paper. Jenkins’s device was connected to an ordinary SE-950 NESCO radio receiver, serving as the “listening ear” in this experiment. Any incoming signal would trigger a flash of light on the paper, creating black waveform-like lines and thus revealing any chatter of alien radio waves.

The Army and Navy proceeded to silence radio activity for short periods over the three days of Mars’s closest course, believing that anyone who was bold enough to defy military-ordered radio silence would surely be extraterrestrial in origin. The Chief of US Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberle, sent this telegram on August 22nd:

7021 ALNAVSTA EIGHT NAVY DESIRES COOPERATE ASTRONOMERS WHO BELIEVE POSSIBLE THAT MARS MAY ATTEMPT COMMUNICATION BY RADIO WAVES WITH THIS PLANET WHILE THEY ARE NEAR TOGETHER THIS END ALL SHORE RADIO STATIONS WILL ESPECIALLY NOTE AND REPORT ANY ELECTRICAL PHENOMENON UNUSUAL CHARACTER AND WILL COVER AS WIDE BAND FREQUENCIES AS POSSIBLE FROM 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FIRST TO 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FOURTH WITHOUT INTERFERRING [sic.] WITH TRAFFIC 1800[1]

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Radio Receiver, Type SE-950, Used by Charles Francis Jenkins in Experiment Detecting Radio Signals from Mars. THF156814

When the paper was developed, the researchers were surprised to find that it contained images. These graphics were interpreted by the public to be “messages” composed of dots and dashes and “a crudely drawn face” repeating down the thirty-foot length of film. Jenkins, however, feared that his machine would be perpetrated as a hoax, so when the films were released he did so with this caveat: “Quite likely the sounds recorded are the result of heterodyning, or interference of radio signals.” While the popular press used these images as confirmation of life on Mars (in fact, this 1924 experiment
has appeared as “evidence” in the tabloid, Weekly World News), the scientific community provided logical explanations: static discharge from a passing trolley car, malfunctioning radio equipment, or the natural symphonic radio waves produced by Jupiter. The SE-950 radio used by Jenkins in this experiment is now part of The Henry Ford’s collection: a simple rectangular wood box with knobs and dials that easily hides its deeper history as part of an experiment to communicate with Mars.

From Schiaperelli to Lowell; from the adventure tales of H.G. Wells to the first science fiction magazines of Hugo Gernsback; from a curious piece of turn-of-the-century sheet music to an even stranger experimental radio—Mars has acted as an inspirational and problematic site for creative and scientific pursuits alike. In July of 1964, the fly-by images gathered by the spacecraft Mariner 4 put an end to the most far-flung theories about the planet. As Mariner 4 transmitted images back to Earth, there were no signs of canals, channels—or a populated planet. And finally, in recent years, technological innovation has allowed our knowledge of Mars to grow at a rapid pace, with NASA’s on-planet rover missions and SpaceX’s Falcon and Dragon vehicle programs. Martians or not, despite the fact that the Red Planet lingers an average of 140 million miles away from Earth, it continues to broadcast an inspirational signal of astounding strength, which reaches straight into the human imagination.

Kristen Gallerneaux is the Curator of Communication and Information Technology, The Henry Ford. 

([1]  Telegram from the Secretary of the Navy to All Naval Stations Regarding Mars, August 22, 1924, Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784-2000, ARC Identifier 596070, National Archives and Records Administration.) 

by Kristen Gallerneaux, technology, communication, space, radio, popular culture

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Over the weekend of September 26-27, 2015, the 6th annual World Maker Faire was hosted at the New York Hall of Science. Much like Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford, New York’s Faire benefited from an added sense of shared history that comes from producing such an event on the grounds of a museum. Maker demonstrations, workshops, and displays were set up outdoors, on the former grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair—an event that was full of technological spectacle. And inside the Hall of Science, modern-day Makers found communal space alongside the museum’s interactive demonstrations about space exploration, biology, mathematics, and much more. The continuum of the importance of the technology of the past—in tandem with the anticipative futures of the Maker Movement—was substantial and exciting to witness. Continue Reading

music, technology, computers, radio, video games, events, by Kristen Gallerneaux, making

Meet The Beatles
Capitol Records released this album on January 20, 1964—just in time for the Beatles’ visit to America. THF31877
Fifty years ago this month, Beatlemania hit America full-force. It was the Beatles’ first visit to America, a 15-day whirlwind of TV show appearances, concerts, and press conferences. The American media, struggling to capture the phenomenon in words, likened the Beatles’ visit to a military campaign. It was a “surprise attack,” a “launched invasion,” a “conquest.”

How could a British singing group cause such pandemonium in America during a brief visit in early 1964?

Introducing…the Beatles

On the surface, the Beatles seemed an unlikely music group to create such a sensation in America. After all, American rock ‘n’ roll singers had long been the recognized icons of popular music. The Beatles’ British hits had received little attention through most of 1963. Capitol Records, the Beatles’ U.S. recording outlet, had thought so little of their music that the company refused to produce their records and allowed lesser-known labels to pick them up. Even these records got little airplay on the radio.

Perhaps the outpouring of emotion during the Beatles’ first visit to America in February 1964 can be partially explained by the fact that the nation was still in mourning over a beloved President. Only weeks earlier—November 22, 1963—President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated and the aftermath of this tragic event was still making headlines. Young people took President Kennedy’s death particularly hard. With him seemed to go the optimism and the sense of possibility he had inspired. But then, mere weeks later, the Beatles appeared—bringing with them a new energy and excitement, an uncanny ability to flaunt authority, and an exuberance in their songs that rock ‘n’ roll music seemed to have lost in recent years. In her book, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, historian Susan Douglas described this link between President Kennedy and the Beatles:

 

It was to fill this emotional and spiritual void, this deep grieving over a beloved, charismatic, and witty young man, that we would react to a group of four different young men, also attractive, witty and a clear departure from the past….Through the Beatles, some of us began to believe again that things were going to be all right.

 

Life Magazine for February 21, 1964
In the February 21, 1964 issue of Life magazine, the Kennedy assassination was still the topic of three articles (page 3, page 26, and the cover story on page 80). But the article entitled “The Beatle Invasion” (page 34) revealed a glimpse of things to come. THF230024
In early 1964, young Beatles fans might have listened for their favorite hits with an inexpensive, hand-held transistor radio like this “Zenette” model, made by the Zenith Radio Corporation. THF102582

For those who had been paying attention, the groundwork for the Beatles’ conquest of America had actually been laid before President Kennedy’s assassination in November. Through the summer and fall of 1963, the Beatles had slowly gained a following. A few radio deejays, intrigued by the Beatles’ sound and the attention they were getting over in Europe, occasionally managed to veer from the usual playlist to sneak in an airing of an imported copy of one of their British hits.

At the end of 1963, listener interest reached a crescendo with airplay of the Beatles’ British hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Taking notice, Capitol Records decided to move up its own U.S. release date of this record. Rather than mid-January 1964 (to coincide with the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show appearances), Capitol debuted this single on December 26, 1963. The timing was perfect. In New York City alone, this single sold 10,000 copies every hour over the first three days of its release! In only 10 days, a million copies of it had been sold. Four additional Beatles singles and two albums were hastily produced and were flying off the record shelves just in time for the Beatles’ visit.

A Day in the Life

Certainly the most memorable and significant part of the Beatles’ visit to America in February 1964 was their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” As story has it, Sullivan, who had great instincts as a talent scout, happened to be at London’s Heathrow Airport on October 31, 1963, when the Beatles returned from Stockholm, Sweden, to a mass of screaming fans. Intrigued, he investigated further and ended up negotiating with the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein for not just one, but three shows.

The first of these aired live on Sunday, February 9 in New York City. An estimated 74 million viewers turned on their TVs to watch Ed Sullivan’s show that night—the largest recorded audience for an American television program to date! While Beatles music was becoming familiar to the public through both the radio and their records, television had the power to add visuals—and to bring these visuals directly into people’s living rooms.

And what visuals they were! The Beatles were like no other performers Americans had ever seen. They dressed and acted like courtly gentlemen, wearing matching suits with collarless jackets and bowing together at the end of each song. But their defining feature was their shockingly long hair, which shook and bounced around their faces as they sang.

The American press was not kind to the Beatles after that first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. An article in The New York Times called them “young men with heads like unmade beds.” The audience was “filled with wild-eyed girls” who “bounced like dervishes and began a wild screaming as if Dracula had just appeared on stage.” But, not surprisingly, young people—especially girls—thought very differently about the experience. Historian Susan Douglas, who—as a teenager—had watched the Beatles on TV during that first Ed Sullivan Show, captured the thoughts of many like her:

 

While I didn’t scream (because I was recording them on my dad’s reel-to-reel tape recorder), I sure felt like it. I was elated—actually filled with joy. I couldn’t stop smiling while they performed. They made me so happy, the kind of happy that overflows all the breakers in your neural system and makes you feel free. This was a happiness I could barely contain, the kind that made me want to shake my best friends and jump for joy.

 

The Beatles’ second appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” took place the following Sunday, February 16—live from the Deauville Hotel’s Napoleon Ballroom in Miami Beach, Florida. It drew an estimated 70 million television viewers. During this show, Ed Sullivan described the Beatles as “four of the nicest youngsters we’ve ever had on the show.”

Their final appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” was back in New York City on February 23, a show pre-recorded on February 9. By this time, the Beatles had already returned home to England.

The Beatles’ 15-day visit to America also included press conferences, rehearsals, and concerts. At their first American concert—which took place in the Coliseum in Washington, D.C.—the Beatles had to turn and reorient themselves after every few songs because the stage was at the center. At their two concerts in New York City’s Carnegie Hall—considered America’s great shrine to classical music—they appropriately started off with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”

Beatles Button
This souvenir button was purchased by Stephen Majher, who happened to share an elevator with the Beatles at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, during their stay there to prepare for their second appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Stephen Majher was in Miami attending a convention and was unaware of the famous quartet's identity until the elevator landed and the Beatles were met by screaming fans. He commemorated the occasion by purchasing some Beatles-related souvenirs—including this button—to take home to his 14- and 7-year old daughters back in Bay City, Michigan. THF8627

Here, There and Everywhere

The Beatles’ conquest of America in February 1964 was, in fact, thoroughly planned and strategized—even if the Beatles themselves were pleasantly surprised by it all. In the end, victory was soundly declared.

But during their brief visit, the Beatles had opened a door that would forever change American musical tastes, fashion, group behavior in public places, and teen culture. The conquest was complete. But the invasion had just begun.

Record Album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," 1967
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

TV, radio, by Donna R. Braden, popular culture, music

What's in a name? Sometimes a little confusion...

Hollis Baird (1905-1990) was an inventor, entrepreneur, and, eventually, engineering teacher. Born along the Maine/New Brunswick border, by the mid-1920s Baird had made his way to Boston. He was active in the exciting field of television—in the 1920s and ‘30s. We usually associate television with the prosperous years after World War II, but inventors had been attempting to send pictures over radio waves for many decades. One of the few surviving Baird televisions is in the collections of The Henry Ford.

Mechanical television is based on the premise that a spinning disk can scan an image to be sent by radio, which can then be received by another spinning disk synchronized to the first. Hollis Baird produced televisions as the Baird Receiver Company from 1925-8, after which he founded a company with A.M. Morgan and Butler Perry called the Shortwave and Television Laboratory. Shortwave and Television sold radios and mechanical televisions and, beginning in April 1929, operated Boston’s second experimental television station, W1WX (later known as W1XAV,) which transmitted 60-line mechanical television images, including a speech by Boston’s mayor in 1931.

Hollis Baird TV Disk

The television (39.554.1) is a Shortwave and Television Laboratory Model 26/36, sold as a kit or as a finished set. This was the viewer; it would have been connected to a radio receiver. That’s a 3” screen, for watching narrow-band television programming.

Historian of television and The Henry Ford volunteer Tom Genova operates a television history website, where he has put up a wonderful Shortwave and Television Laboratory brochure from 1930 called The Romance and Reality of Television. The brochure clearly explains how mechanical television works and seems aimed at a broader audience than the radio amateurs who usually bought early televisions.

After Shortwave and Television Laboratory dissolved operations in 1935, Baird and his colleagues founded a new company called General Television Corporation. During this time Baird also taught radio telegraphy at a school in Boston. After General Television, too, was shuttered in 1941, Hollis Baird moved on to a career as an educator. He taught electrical engineering and physics at Northeastern University’s Lincoln Institute, starting in 1942 as part of the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training program. He retired in 1976 after a long career as professor and administrator.

Baird had the fortune—or misfortune—of sharing his last name with John Logie Baird, one of the inventors of mechanical television. The colorful Scottish inventor and entrepreneur (early products included soap and socks for trench warfare) demonstrated television at London’s Selfridge’s department store in 1925 and had convinced the BBC to produce television programming through the 20s and 30s.

On this side of the Atlantic, Hollis Baird, who was no relation, took pains in Baird Receiver Company advertising to say that his products were not, in fact, made by the other Baird. The fact that he needed to put disclaimers in his advertisements indicates that this was a common problem, one that Hollis Baird probably didn’t mind if it led to better sales. But the name confusion has meant that Hollis Baird’s name has been mostly occluded by John Logie Baird’s. Even experts were confused: when this television was last on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum, the label identified it as a John Logie Baird TV. Luckily, this Baird television is such a compelling object that it rewards further research—uncovering the story of an American inventor in a field that no longer exists.

Thanks to Michelle Romero at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections for research assistance.

Suzanne Fischer is former Associate Curator of Technology at The Henry Ford. She typed this post on an 1880s index typewriter and sent it to the blog editor via telex.

communication, radio, by Suzanne Fischer, technology, TV