This is a great story. This 14 year old kid, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., was the first President of the Radio Club of America, the world’s oldest radio communications society (then called the Junior Wireless Club). At his age, he already held patents relating to wireless communication. Back in 1910, there were no commercial radio stations — the first wouldn’t broadcast for another 10 years — and there was no FCC to regulate the airwaves (it was formed in 1934), but there were an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 amateur wireless operators in the United States. New York Senator Chancey Depew (R) had introduced a bill that would restrict the use of airwaves, posing a threat to the radio club’s hobby. So the club sent their president down to Washington to testify before Congress. At the time, he was the youngest person to do so.
Here is some of what he told the Times about why he testified:
“I don’t think it will be a very long time,” he said, “before men will be able to carry around with them in their automobiles or aeroplanes wireless telephone outfits. With these they should be able to talk to people having like instruments within a radius of forty or fifty miles… If the communication trust is allowed to go as far as it likes, all the wireless instruments will be gobbled up so you can’t buy one by the time science has made it possible for people to talk to one another that way. There are certain kinds of talking instruments now that can’t be bought; they can only be rented…”
“We amateurs are blamed for much that we do not do. The cases where amateurs actually interfere are few and exaggerated. In many cases antiquated apparatus and incompetent professional operators are responsible for the trouble. A good operator with an up-to-date machine can cut out interference and continue his work.”
Of course, we know that the airwaves finally became regulated, but that doesn’t diminish this kid’s passion and accomplishment. Amateur radio operators are still around today, and they have people like W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. to thank.
One of my favorite things about these old articles is that, with the benefit of 100 years of history, we can find out what ever became of W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. I did some research and found that he served in the Navy during World War II, and he had a family, including a son named Houston who today is an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a family of his own. As far as I can tell, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. died in 1992.
WIRELESS WONDER AGED 14 AMAZES SENATE COMMITTEE: Young W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., Glibly Discussed Radio-Activity and Modern Electricity in a Way That Made Staid Solons Wonder (PDF)
From May 1, 1910