Imagine a world without the Internet:
no email, no chat sessions, no Usenet
newsgroups, no Web. This is the world of
1951. A citizen of this world who wanted to
discuss common interests, politics, or
world events with others on a national
or international scale had few
channels to communicate through.
by David Medcalf
One promising channel was ham radio. Unfortunately,
this method required an FCC license, an antenna,
and the technical know-how to operate and maintain the
transmitting equipment. Long distance phone calls didn’t
require specialized knowledge, of course, but in 1951 a
call from Chicago to St. Louis cost 30 cents per minute.
This was expensive, being equivalent to $2.19 per minute
in today’s dollars.
Letter writing was not yet a dying art in 1951, but,
just as with email today, letters lacked the expression
of voice (the smiley face, ubiquitous in today’s email,
had yet to be invented). Voice recordings were a more
powerful alternative, and inexpensive compared to long
Photo 1. A wire recorder is sitting on the desk to the left.
This exhibit is dedicated to the Roswell Incident of July 4, 1947,
at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in
Roswell, NM. Photo courtesy of the International UFO
Museum and Research Center.
By 1940, consumers could create their own sound
recordings using record cutting machines. Portable units
were available, combining the record cutter with a regular
phonograph and radio. Record blanks were made of
acetate or lacquer-coated metal disks and, by 1950, could
hold up to 40 minutes of speech and music. Messages
could be sent to anyone who had a record player,
from family and friends, to servicemen overseas.
Unfortunately, record cutters were write-once devices
— once the disk was cut, no changes could be made to
The magnetic wire recorder, ancestor to the
tape recorder, had undergone great development
during World War II. By the late 1940s, wire recorders
NUTS & VOLTS
Photo 2. Model 181, to the left, cost about $100.00 and
featured a Magic-Eye tube as a recording level indicator.
Model 228, to the right, was designed for business dictation.
Webster-Chicago made several variations of its basic models.
These units, and the Silvertone models shown elsewhere,
are on display at the Museum of Radio and Technology,
Huntington, WV. Photo courtesy of Richard Post.