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Looking Over ‘Looking Back’

I enjoyed reading Kris Schnee’s article “Looking Back at the 20th Century” [Jan. 26]. However, I do have several comments about the dates Schnee cites.

First, while penicillin was discovered in 1928, it did not come into widespread use until about 1943, during World War II.

Also, I have read extensively about telephone history, but nowhere have I ever seen a story about “‘repeaters,’ human operators stationed along the route of a call who parroted conversations to each other down the line.” Not only would this prohibit privacy, but imagine how distorted the message would be after passing through several human beings! The telephone industry term for an amplifier is a “repeater,” and before vacuum tube amplifiers became practical in the late 1910s, mechanical amplifiers were used. I believe that until vacuum tube repeaters became reliable, the greatest long distance connection possible was about a thousand miles (say, Boston to Chicago). One had to go to a special Long Distance station that was wired with very heavy gauge copper wire and used a high-current carbon transmitter. This allowed a much larger signal to travel farther with far fewer losses than normal telephone lines and transmitters of the day.

Additionally, the first transatlantic phone call was made in 1927 via radio-telephone, long before 1956. This service served well until the first transatlantic phone cable was laid in 1956.

Finally, as far as the first experimental television broadcasts are concerned, the year 1928 is about right, but it’s important to note that these systems used mechanical scanning systems, not electronically scanned imaging tubes and viewing tubes. Image resolution was limited to 15 or 20 lines. The first experimental “electronic” television broadcasts were begun by RCA in 1931.

Ron Roscoe
Technical Instructor
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science