NATION CALLED TO ACT
PEOPLE DEMAND WIRELESS SYSTEM FOR INLAND CITIES— PRESIDENT TAKES UP PROBLEM—GREAT CORPORATIONS OPPOSE GOVERNMENT OWNERSHIP EVEN WHEN LIFE IS TO BE SAVED.
Ten years after the practical value of wireless had been demonstrated the United States found itself in its greatest disaster still depending upon wires strung on poles, exposed to winds and weather and unreliable in any emergency. The cry for a modern system of communication followed the flood immediately.
The people of the middle west could hardly conceive the anxiety which was felt in official and other circles in Washington arising out of inability to ascertain the exact facts in reference to conditions in the areas devastated by storm and floods.
With the wires down and the situation such that their prompt repair was impossible, the administration was impressed with the necessity of taking measures for preserving communication under all circumstances.
The people are entitled to government protection. Communication is vital not only for men and women who are frantic because they could not hear from their relatives and friends in the danger zone, but to the business interests which must have information about their affairs.
The hideous inadequacy of the old system of communication by wires strung on telegraph poles was demonstrated on occasions in the past, but it remained for the experience of the week of March 24, 1913, to stir the government to action.
It is to wireless telegraphy that officials of the administration turned as the solution of this important problem. With properly erected stations in comparatively close proximity to each other communication could be maintained under practically all conditions.
Were such stations in existence the government would have had immediate and reliable information, and it might not have been necessary to send the secretary of war to the distressed area for the purpose of ascertaining the facts and reporting them to the president.
It became the purpose of the president and his cabinet to consider in connection with the entire storm and flood question the steps that should be taken to assure the maintenance of communication.
The control of telegraphs in the United States is vested by law in the postmaster general. The navy department, the department of commerce, and the war department were all concerned about questions relating to radio communication.
It was realized that the commercial telegraph and wireless companies would bitterly oppose the erection of government wireless stations for commercial use, and it was claimed by those who object to government extension of this means of communication that to install it for emergency purposes only would involve a heavy expense. Thus the great corporations stood in the way of progress even when it means the protection of life.
As an answer to these arguments, administration officials and army and navy officers called attention to the fact that it is worth while for the government to spend money to be prepared for an emergency such as then existed, just as the army and navy are maintained in preparation for war.
In other words, a chain of stations as an insurance for the benefit of those in distress, as well as for the business interests.
Postmaster General Burleson said the suggestion in reference to the election of wireless stations throughout the country is worthy of careful consideration. The postmaster general was impressed with the inadequacy of the present telegraph system and said that far better results to the people could be obtained if it were taken over by the government.
It was expected he would recommend government acquisition of all existing telegraph systems, including wireless, during his administration of the postoffice department.
When the whole country was engaged in the work of saving life and planning to prevent recurrence of such calamities, the people of the United States were treated to the spectacle of corporation lobbyists striving to prevent the congress from working on the problem. It was demonstrated that the people have no hope of relief from private capital. Wireless telegraph stations did not then promise profit, but the old wire lines did make a profit, hence the powerful money influences were turned against the people. Many asked themselves "How long and how much must we stand before we learn to handle our own problems in a big way." From all sides came the suggestion that the work of establishing wireless communication between all centers and the job of empounding the flood waters be taken up in a big way as the Panama Canal was built by the government.
Rabbi T. Schanfarber of the K. A. M. Temple, Chicago, spoke for national conservation to protect life. He said:
"The country is willing and anxious to spend money for the maintenance of an army and navy, yet it is almost impossible to gain an appropriation for the building of dykes and levees.
"If part of these millions were spent in aiding to tame nature a repetition of the Indiana and Ohio disaster could be avoided in the future. It is time that the municipal, state and federal governments took some action toward protecting the lives and property of the citizens."
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