RCA Towers Built in ‘20

Footnotes to Long Island History

RCA Towers Built in '20


Thomas R. Bayles


By Thomas R. Bayles


            On November 5, 1921, President Warren G. Harding, sitting at his desk in the White House, pressed a button which started the generators at “Radio Central,” Rocky Point, the world's largest and most powerful wireless transmitting station.  In less that 10 minutes every European, Asiatic and South American country had received the following peace message sent by President Harding through “Radio Central.”

            “To be able to transmit a message by radio in expectation that it may reach every radio station in the world, is so marvelous a scientific and technical achievement as to justify special recognition.  That this happy situation may ever continue and that the peace which blesses our own land may presently become the fortune of all lands and peoples is the hope of the American nation.”

            Fifteen minutes after this message had been sent many replies were received from different nations.

            The Long Island Rail Road operated a special train of nine all steel parlor cars to Rocky Point with a large delegation of scientific and technical men and officials of the Radio Corporation of America, who took part in the opening exercises at the North Shore installation.

            The high-power multiplex transmitting station at Rocky Point was planned to have several separate antennae systems, each designed to communicate with a given country.  The receiving station at Riverhead, 16 miles distant, was designed to receive all radiograms destined to the United States from foreign countries.  The traffic center of the system was established in New York city, where all the actual telegraph operating took place, and was sent by telephone cable to Rocky Point.

            Some idea of the size of the plant at Rocky Point, may be gathered from the following figures: The station site occupies 6,400 acres over a 10-mile-square area.  Construction began in July 1920, and the first test signals were sent in October, 1921.  Some 1,800 tons of steel were used in the construction of the first 12 towers.  Each tower was 410 feet high; the cross arms were 150 feet long; 8,000 tons of concrete were poured for the foundations of the 12 towers, the base of each tower being sunk nine feet below the surface of the ground with a total base area of 300 square feet.

            Each antenna consisted of 16 silicon bronze cables stretched horizontally from tower to tower.  Fifty miles of this cable were used for the first two antenna systems.  The ground systems consisted of 450 miles of copper wire buried in the ground.  The first power house covered a space 60 feet by 130 and housed two 200-kilowatt high frequency transmitting alternators and equipment.

            Worldwide wireless, the accomplishment of the Radio Corporation of America, was made possible through the financial, commercial, technical, engineering and research support of the following organizations:  General Electric Company, American Telegraph and Telephone Company, Western Electric company, United Fruit Company, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing company, and the Radio Corporation of America.

            Some of these first 12 giant towers, having served their purpose and giving way to more modern systems, have been torn down and junked during the last few years, so times marches on.  

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