The centenary of the breakdown of amateur radio during the First World War takes place on April 6




World War I began in Europe in August 1914, and the United States, under President Woodrow Wilson, was determined to remain neutral. AHowever, the enemy’s fighting and resolve intensified and Germany began to sink ships attempting to escape a naval blockade from England as well as non-military vessels, including the Lusitania with nearly 1,200 lives lost, it became inevitable that the United States would enter the fray, and leaders of the fledgling American Radio Relay League encouraged its 3,000 members to prepare.

The United States officially declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 6, 1917, and the U.S. government ordered most private radio stations in the United States to be closed down or taken over by the government. For the duration of World War I, it was illegal for private citizens to own even a working radio transmitter or receiver, so athe amateur transmitting and receiving stations had to be dismantled. Amateur radio operating privileges were not restored until November 1919 (QST resumption of publication a few months earlier).

Once the United States declared war, QST editorials urged skilled amateurs to volunteer their desperately needed skills to the military. The recruits were particularly directed to the Navy, the country’s main user of wireless services. A specific program was developed to induct volunteer amateurs into the Naval Reserve for the duration – the Class 4 Naval Reserve. Requirements included citizenship, the ability to pass a physical exam, and the ability to send and receive code Morse at 10 WPM. Most volunteer radio amateurs chose to join this reserve, the ARRL’s first communications officer, Fred H. Schnell, 1MO, among them. He went to sea as a radio chief.

ARRL co-founder Clarence D. Tuska was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and established a radio training school at Ellington Airfield near Houston, in Texas.

QST suspended itself publication throughout the war. — Thanks to Mike Marinaro, WN1M, and Early history of radio in the United States by Thomas H. White.

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