Concrete artifact of communications history

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This is likely the last surviving base for one of four 400 foot towers in Wall Township on Harrison Street, used over 100 years ago to communicate across the Atlantic Ocean. [COURTESY OF FRED CARL]

WALL TOWNSHIP — Fred Carl, of InfoAge Science and Museum Center, was recently asked by a friend whether there is a story behind that big, concrete slab along Monmouth Boulevard.

The large piece of concrete, that looks like something leftover from a construction site, actually has a unique history that goes back over 100 years in Wall Township, Mr. Carl said.

The concrete block was once one of 24 anchors used to hold up six 400 foot-tall communication poles to send messages to Europe. The poles needed the anchors and six concrete bases to hold them up with cables so the wind would not topple them.

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In total, there were 20 of these towers with 16 more in Franklin Township working as a unity/ They were constructed in pieces, with workers adding on pieces to the poles one at a time via an old version of a lift machine. 

Today most of the anchors are buried, and only one base remains.

Mr. Carl said that he first learned about the towers while doing shipwreck research in the 1970s before moving next to Camp Evans in the 1980s. His employment took him to Stanford University, where he first found information about how these massive towers were used during World War I.

“That was a surprise, going to California to learn about New Jersey history,” he joked.

“They were part of a worldwide network of stations that the 1908 Nobel Prize physicist Guglielmo Marconi created to out-compete with the undersea cable companies,” he said. 

The masts at first caught messages from Carnarvon, Wales.  

Those concrete blocks gained more importance at the outbreak of WWI when the government had the authority to take over any wireless communications station during a national emergency. 

Mr. Carl said that over 100 marines were tasked with protecting the towers.

“They took over all of the large wireless stations in New Jersey: the two Marconi stations, and the German station in Tuckerton New Jersey,” Mr. Carl said.

Just like our own modern crises, war does breed innovation, and WWI was no different in trying to gain the upper hand in communications with the massive poles in Wall Township.

One of the most important inventions of the war was a wireless invention General Electric employee Ernst Alexanderson developed what is called an “Electrical Alternator” that generated “clean electricity and was a major leap in wireless technology that for the first time allowed voice messages to be sent wirelessly, Mr. Carl said.

This communication method was used by President Woodrow Wilson to transmit his 14 Points, a list of peace proposals for the end of World War 1,  to Europe, specifically to Germany to lobby for the surrender of the Central Powers.

“Just like today’s situation with the virus, a lot of talented and motivated people were given the funding to research creating a vaccine, a similar thing happened in WWI when the government gave companies lots of funding to make wireless better.”

Later, Roy Wengant, a scientist working at Camp Evans discovered a way to eliminate static from transmission that had been caused by sunspots. The innovation was a top-secret and changed the outcome of the war for the Americans.

“It changed radio technology during the war because it enabled our forces to hear German communications at a further distance than the Germans could hear their own transmissions.”

“At the end of the war when it was all over, it was hailed as the most important advance of the decade by The New York Times,” he said.

Check out our other Wall Township stories, updated daily. And remember to pick up a copy of The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.

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