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NSG Visit May 27, 2000

Bloomfield's Twin Museum Gems

Antique Wireless Association and
East Bloomfield Historical Society


Donovan A. Shilling

Saturday, May 27, 2000, was a splendid, sunny, rain-free day. That's when twenty-five members of the New Society of the Genesee toured Bloomfield's twin museums located in the old East Bloomfield Academy in the village of Bloomfield, N. Y. The building houses, both the Historical Society of the Town of East Bloomfield and the Antique Wireless Association's Electronic Communication Museum, better known as the "Radio Museum."

The group's first tour was the radio museum. Edward M. Gable (K2MP), the museum's curator was our delightful, well-informed guide. He explained that the "wireless" museum was formed in 1952. Today, its crammed contents represent only twenty percent of the vast collection of parts and paraphernalia covering wireless telegraphy, early radios, radio-related artifacts, and primitive television sets and their early public models.

Of great historical significance to the development of radio were examples of the world's first vacuum tubes. One made in 1905 by John Ambrose Fleming, was used by Guglielmo Marconi, the Italaian physicist. Another, termed an "audion tube" was created in 1907 by wireless pioneer, Dr. Lee DeForest. It was this tube, used to amplify signals, that gave birth to the long distance telephone and the radio era.

As we gazed at the bewildering array of telegraph and radio apparatus, and unusual radios, our attention was taken a radio that had been fitted into a British Lancaster bomber during World War II. Glancing into another showcase revealed scores of telegraph keys, one taken from Hitler's yacht and used to communicate with the German U-boat fleet. Nearby was a "Gibson Girl" emergency radio transmitter The narrow-waisted, orange-painted unit was standard equipment in W. W. II lifeboats. The original model was designed by the Germans and later redesigned for use by the Allies. Yet another corner held a spy transmitter and receiver used by British secret agents. Elsewhere, a Kodak Brownie camera had been fitted with a small radio. It was used in Holland during W. W. II to receive messages from the BBC for the Dutch underground.

More recent radios were also on display, one showcase packed with transistor radios from the 1960s and 70s. Among the more unusual radio shapes were a pair of sunglasses with a radio built into its ear pieces, a Gulden's Mustard jar radio, a Kodak film pack, a Superlife Battery radio, and, yet another, in the form of a Sunoco gasoline filling station pump.

In another alcove were memorabilia from Rochester's early radio days. A letter from George Eastman, dated November 22, 1922, to the Wheeler-Green Electric Company (WGEC), suggested the placing of the Eastman School's musical programs on the air. The display brought back radio memories to one of our group who recalled Rochester's "Pieplant Pete" and his sidekick "Joe," who sang the much loved ditties of that day.

On the third floor, labeled the "Wireless Room," more of yesterday's early radio history was demonstrated by Ed Gable. Arcing and sparking, sizzling electricity discharged across air as Ed keyed Morse-code-like signals from three early transmitters, circa 1910. The resulting static probably disrupted radios surrounding the museum. Such transmitters were banned by the FCC in 1925. Also in the loft room two amateur or "ham" radio stations have been recreated. Plastered on the walls above one such display were over a hundred ham radio operator's call-letter post cards. These ranged from ZC5A (British North Borneo) to CR8AC (Portuguese India.)

We learned that the letter "S" was the first wireless signal to be sent across the Atlantic Ocean by Marconi, and that Pittsburgh's station KDKA broadcast the first radio signals to the public in November, 1921. If you haven't visited the radio museum yet, you're in for a fascinating treat.

Lunch was enjoyed at the 1808 Holloway House just across Route 20 from the museum. Members savored offerings from the menu's "traditionally fine food," including pear and Sally Lunn bread and delicious, orange-flavored sticky buns.

Then it was back to the second museum in which were exhibited some of Bloomfield Township's historic treasures. Charlie Thomas, our guide, gave us a brief overview of the building and the displays in the Lena Steele Room.

The venerable 1837 structure opened as an academy for both sexes in May 1839. Terms of 22 weeks began in May and November. Fees in 1839 were: Tuition for Primary, $6.00 for one term; Higher English, $8.00; and Classical, $10.00. Board was $1.65 per week; $36.30 for the term. Room rent was $2.00 a term. Forty to fifty boarding students, and 150 to 200 day students attended.

Later the building became a Grange Hall, then a garage and finally, in the early 1960s, the home of the East Bloomfield Historical Society. Noteworthy were displays encompassing photographs of by-gone buildings, political and military themes, fashions from the 1920s and a variety of local entertainment venues given over the years. The main service provided by the museum is its genealogy collection that has frequent visitors.

It was a full day, one that will bring to memory the wireless foundations of earlier days whenever our members turn on a radio, use the telephone or surf the television channels.

© 2000, Donovan A. Shilling
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