The Telefunken Radio Station at Sayville, Long Island

Wireless Station, West Sayville, Long Island, ca. 1911, from Sayville Library
"Beginning in 1911 the Telefunken Company of Germany built a wireless station in West Sayville just north of the railroad tracks. A 500 foot tower that could be raised and lowered rose from a ball and socket joint atop a concrete foundation. It was completed in 1912 and wireless messages could then be transmitted to a similar tower in Nanen, Germany, 3,500 miles away. From August 1, 1914, until April 6, 1917, the United States monitored messages sent over the Telefunken wireless and U.S. Marines guarded the station. After the U.S. declared war the station was sealed off, the wire fence surrounding it was charged with electricity, and floodlights were placed throughout. After World War I it was taken over by the MacKay Radio and Telegraph Company and later the FAA. Presently it is not in use by anyone. The huge mast was demolished in 1938." (Suffolk County News on December 20th 1918, from Sayville Library

From Charles William Taussig: "Mr. Maxim then told how an amateur, Charles E. Apgar, of New Jersey, in the autumn of 1914, recorded the signals sent out from the German-owned radio station at Sayville, Long Island, on an Edison dictaphone, and caused the United States government to close down the German station, thus preserving our neutrality.  It seems that Apgar, shortly after the declaration of war in the summer of 1914, listened one evening to Sayville sending out messages to Nauen, Germany. One of the messages was as follows: "Ship 300,000 shovels express C.O.D." This message did not appear to Apgar as being "on the level." There was something peculiar about a shipment of 300,000 shovels to he expressed C.O.D. He decided to keep a record of what Sayville was sending, and with the ingenuity so often shown by American amateurs, he secured an old Edison dictaphone and connected it to his receiving apparatus. Every dot and dash sent out by Sayville was registered on the waxen cylinder. Cylinder after cylinder was impressed with Sayville signals. After having collected a great many, he took them to Radio Inspector Terrell. Inspector Terrell turned the cylinders over to the Secret Service. A few nights afterwards, Apgar was called on the telephone. It was Detective Burns of the Secret Service. Could Apgar see him? Certainly! Burns called on Apgar and arranged to receive further messages on the amateur's radio receiver. They bought a new dictaphone and recorded everything sent out by Sayville. A short time later, Detective Burns brought suit against the German wireless company, who owned the Sayville station, on the grounds that they were violating the neutrality of the United States. In a short time, the Sayville wireless station was taken over by the Government. Thus did the amateur again justify his existence. " (quote from Taussig)

From Lee Apgar: "During the United State's pre World War I neutrality period, a powerful wireless station at Sayville, Long Island owned by the Germans, was suspected of sending coded messages regarding ship departures from the eastern United States. Apgar's wireless recorder which could record wireless signals onto wax cylinders and his ampliphone circuit were the two instruments that would be used to decipher messages being transmitted by the German station owned by the Atlantic Communications Company. This was a subordinate to the Telefunken Corporation, a brokerage business firm in Germany. The station had to renew its license annually. In 1914 the U.S. only granted it a temporary license; in case the station violated the U.S.' neutrality the license could be revoked quickly. The station was still allowed to transmit, but U.S. Navy radio officials were brought in to censor out-going messages. The U.S. had become suspicious of the operation and was trying to make sure that it's neutrality was not being violated. Although the government had censors listening full time, it was much too difficult to detect any deviations in the Morse Code messages seemingly being sent out and the ones that actually were. The messages being sent were too simple and innocent, not to mention that the cost of sending messages was $1.00 per word. Some of the messages seemed ridiculous, "Myra has dyptheria," or "Send always invoice before shipping knives," and resulted in even tighter censorship. This, however, did not phaze the Germans one bit, because the code that they used involved only one word or one space out of each message. The coded messages could be spaced out over a period of hours or even days. With no way to record and compare them, the Germans could have gone on indefinitely sending secret messages to their waiting submarines on the positions and other pertinent data on the allied ships. The Secret Service was called in to continue the investigation as there was no F.B.I., and they in turn inducted Charles Apgar into the Secret Service. The Chief of the Secret Service, William T. Flynn, really did not know much about wireless. He contacted Lawrence R. Krumm, chief radio inspector of New York to ask his assistance in the investigation of Sayville. By coincidence, Krumm and Apgar happened to be well acquainted. On June 5, l9l5, Krumm wrote the following letter to Charles: "My dear Mr. Apgar: Will you be kind enough to call me up Monday morning from your place of business. I am very desirous of getting in touch with you immediately, as I believe you can be of considerable service in a good cause." Charles wasn't quite sure what to think of this letter, but he suspected it had something to do with his invention of the recorder since he had demonstrated it to Chief Krumm only three days earlier. The following Monday he contacted Krumm and he made an appointment to meet with William J. Flynn. Flynn asked Charles if he could transcribe messages sent from the station on to wax cylinders so that they could see if the messages contained hidden meanings which could not be detected by the censors. Since Charles was the only person in the country who could operate his invention, he gladly accepted the the challenge and started the recording process on the night of June 7. Charles recorded messages for four hours a night from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. On June 21st all of the recordings were sent to Flynn in Washington. He in turn gave the recordings to Secretaries Lansing, Redfield and David after they were decoded. These men eventually ordered the takeover of the Sayville Station. . . On July 1st the three Secretaries went into conference on the Sayville matter, and on July 7th, they informed Herman Metz, president of the Atlantic Communications Company that the Navy Department would soon take over the entire operation of the Sayville station. On July 15,1915 this was subsequently accomplished. They were still allowed to do their business - reporting stock quotations and transactions - but the Navy did the actual sending of messages. . . Fortunately the station was taken over just a week before the station was scheduled to expand its Sayvilie transmitting power to South America. If they had gone through with this, it would have aided the German submarine campaign. This service was thwarted because Columbia took over the German station which was based in Cartagena, Columbia. The Sayville station would have been transmitting to it."

From Elizabeth McLeod: "The earliest surviving  recordings of a radio signal are segments of Morse code transmissions recorded off the air in late 1913 or 1914 by Charles Apgar, a New Jersey radio amateur who fitted the electrical element of a headphone to a home-made electrical recording head attatched to an ordinary Edison cylinder phonograph. This contrivance enabled Apgar to electrically record radio signals picked up by his receiver on wax cylinders. and he made several such transcriptions during 1913-1915 -- some of which led to the discovery of high-speed coded messages being transmitted by German spies thru the Telefunken wireless station at Sayville, Long Island. Other recordings made by Apgar were more prosaic -- including examples of Morse code news bulletins transmitted by the New York Herald's wireless station WHB in Manhattan. Apgar's original wax cylinders are lost -- but samples of his recordings survive, courtesy of an uncoated aluminum aircheck of Apgar's appearance on station WJZ in New York on December 27, 1934. Apgar was interviewed by NBC announcer George Hicks, and highlighted his description of his experiments by playing two of his cylinders into the microphone -- one containing a sample of a New York Herald news transmission and the other an example of one of the "spy" transmissions.  Twelve-inch aluminum copy discs of this program are owned by the Antique Wireless Association, and a tape copy is owned by the Library of Congress."


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