Radio in the Early 1900s
Frameworks for America's Past
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The wireless telegraph for ships

   Radio was first used in the early 1900s mainly as a way for ships to stay in contact with land and other ships.  Radio messages were transmitted and received using the Morse code's "dots" and "dashes." The system was called the wireless telegraph or the radio telegraph.  This old photo shows the radio room of a ship in the 1910s.

1920: The first radio broadcast stations

   By 1920 radio had developed to the point where voice and music transmission was possible, not just the Morse code.  The first radio broadcast stations signed on the air in America that year.  Large radio transmitting antennas like these began sprouting up across the country as the radio broadcast industry grew very rapidly.

"We've got to get one of these!"

   Radio receivers became the "must have" household item of the 1920s.  This photo shows a woman listening to a broadcast in the lobby of a hotel in 1922.  By the end of the decade, most American homes had a radio set.

Producing a radio show

   A popular feature on radio in the 1920s and later decades was the radio drama.  In the studio shown here, voice actors are reading their lines from scripts.  Sound effects were created by the actors to make the stories sound more dramatic.

Radio reached even isolated areas

   This photo from 1923 shows a farmer milking a cow, while tuning in a distant radio station.  The large device on the left is the radio's antenna.  Especially for people living in isolated areas, radio brought a better sense of connection to the rest of the country.

A woman pioneer in the radio industry

    Mary Loomis, shown in this photo from 1921, opened a business in Washington, D.C., to teach radio operation and engineering.  She was just one example of the many women who were moving into new opportunities outside of traditional roles in the 1920s.

An assembly line in a radio factory

     This factory making radios in 1925 adopted the same kind of assembly line techniques that Henry Ford used to produce automobiles.  Notice that the factory workers were mostly women, and many had the short "bobbed" hairstyle of that era.


Relaxing with a radio at the end of the day

   This photo shows a farm family listening to a radio set typical of those in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  Programs included music such as symphony orchestra concerts, news broadcasts, fictional radio dramas, and even short comedy shows.

All photos are from the Library of Congress.
Some have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2011, 2016 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.