Daily Archives: February 19, 2013

Cell phone service in Albany, 1945

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two_way_radiotelephone-300x236.jpgWe know that Albany was in on some great technological breakthroughs – Joseph Henry’s discovery of electrical induction and creation of the first telegraph signal, John Wesley Hyatt’s invention of one of the earliest plastics. Turns out, we were on the map for one of the early experiments in what was then called the mobile radiotelephone – something like a cell phone. This AP wire story from the Schenectady Gazette on Dec. 19, 1945, lays out the hopeful details of a future where drivers are paying no attention to the road:


CHICAGO, Dec. 18 (AP)–The Bell system announced plans today for extensive service trials of mobile radiotelephone service along three inter-city highway routes between Chicago and St. Louis, New York, Albany and Buffalo, and New York and Boston.

When these services are established, the company said, it will be possible for any suitably equipped vehicle on these routes or any boat on adjacent waterways to make and receive calls from any telephone connected to lines of the Bell system. Transmitting and receiving stations needed for the service will be located along the routes.

The company said it planned to make the trials under actual operating conditions, and that a number of companies had indicated desire to participate, including truck lines, bus lines, long distance movers, and utilities. It was believed several hundred vehicles would be equipped initially along the three routes.

Highway mobile radiotelephone service will operate like this:

Calls will be handled by mobile several [sic] telephone operators, and conversations will travel part of the way by telephone wire and part by radio. A caller in Chicago wanting to talk to the occupant of a certain automobile between Chicago and St. Louis would call long distance, ask for mobile service operator, and give her the call number of the vehicle.

The operator would route the call over telephone wires to one of the transmitting-receiving stations on the highway, which would send the signal to the vehicle by radio. The car operator then will receive an audible visual signal and can operate a push button which permits him to switch from talking to listening.

The occupant of the mobile unit can originate a call by picking up his phone, ascertaining the circuit is not in use, and pushing the talk button. The mobile service operator will come on the line and get the number the caller requests.

Radiotelephone photo by AP; posted at Forbes.com.

“Get out and be something.”

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William Henry Johnson biography.jpgThe wide-ranging autobiography of William Henry Johnson is filled with reminders of how much and how little has changed since its publication in 1900. In the “Finale,” John T. Chapman, manager of the Leonard Publishing Company’s publications, relates the story of two young men of color who stepped into Johnson’s well-respected Maiden Lane barber shop and,

were met with the terse salutation given in dead earnest, “Well, what are you two loafing around here for?” After they had caught their breath, one said, “I expect to go to work shortly” — “I,” said the other, “am promised a place at the Kenmore” (the then leading hotel of Albany.) “Shame on you both, you are two fools,” came the blows, straight from the shoulder, “all respectable work is honorable, it is true, but both of you are capable of doing better work for yourselves and incidentally for your race. Get out and be something. Why, if either of you were competent, I could put you in a place worth more than you ever earned in your life and that too within a stone’s throw of my shop, for the man I refer to wants a good bookkeeper. If the brains and ability and willingness to work are there, the color of his skin won’t count. Go — get a move on yourselves. I tell you, and when you have something to sell that somebody wants, bring it to market.” Both young men were considerable wrought up by his language and left the place with hurt and angry feelings. They swallowed the drastic dose, however, and walking home together agreed to be something out of the rut into which most of our young people seem to have fallen. One of the young men, now connected with one of the largest music establishments in the city, promptly put himself to and thoroughly learned the tailor’s trade laying a foundation for a knowledge of business methods, which largely contributed to placing him where he is now. The other, several months after the conversation took place, walked into Mr. Johnson’s shop, and said, “I am ready for that job of bookkeeping, now, where is it?” Again, like a pistol report, came the answer quick and clear, “Do you suppose that man is waiting yet for you? If so, then you know less than I gave you credit for, and are hardly less foolish than when you were loafing around here last fall. He could have had fifty men while you were getting ready, but never mind,” he added, “the man and the opportunity usually find each other so do not let the fact of his not wanting your valuable services just now discourage you.” Sure enough, within two weeks, an opening did come and was immediately taken advantage of. This occurred nearly twenty years ago. Both the young men are well situated to-day and agree they began their life work at the time Mr. Johnson prodded them up to be something. For whatever measure of success which may have come to me (as one of the young men referred to), I certainly date its inception from that strong talk, to put it mildly, which Mr. Johnson, in his constant thought of race progress and elevation, gave us at that time….

A few more “Johnsons,” and our young men and women would be made to feel that life was given them for a purpose higher than the level which a great many are content with; and the world personified in the race with which they are identified, and, as in the case of Mr. Johnson, would be the better for their having lived in it.

More on William Henry Johnson here and here.