This short clip from 1922 was recently discovered in the archived newsreels of British Pathe. The clip features two enterprising young women (most likely New Yorkers from the snowy street around them) who use an umbrella and a fireplug to create a mobile phone connection and listen to some swell Jazz-Age tunes.
But this was no idle film-maker's fantasy: apparently the contraption really would have worked. British Pathe quotes this explanation from Simon Atkins, a former Royal Signals officer:
"The two ladies are using a small, simple HF radio, probably a 'Cat's Whisker' type. For it to work, it needs to be earthed [grounded in Americanese], which is why it's connected to the fire hydrant. The antenna or aerial is the wire in the umbrella. On the receiving end, the telephonist [operator] is using an HF radio and puts the microphone next to the record player. For the two ladies to hear, she would have pressed the pressel switch."
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There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.