Early Ship QSLs

In this feature on early ship QSLs, we begin first with some very old color postcards associated with wireless transmissions in the early days. Our three oldest cards in this style all show the same picture, an artistic rendition of a humor scene. Two ships out on the ocean are talking to each other in Morse Code, and one fish underwater nearby says to another: What are they talking about?

The oldest of these cards is postmarked on December 4 in the ancient year 1902. The second card is postmarked two years later, and the third card is not postmarked at all. It seems that these cards were all printed in the year 1902, and they could apparently lay claim to being the oldest wireless cards in the world.

A wireless card dated in August in the year 1910 is just on 100 years old. This card is printed
in the German language and script, and it carries the Captain’s arrival message when the ship Blücher arrived at Gudvangen Fjord in Norway.

Another early wireless card shows a large passenger ship communicating a Christmas message to a land station. Quite coincidentally, this postcard is postmarked December 24, 1914, which is the date of the remarkable Christmas truce on the front lines during World War I.

However, we are also holding several QSL card issued for wireless and radio transmissions from transmitters aboard ships at sea; passenger liners, cargo vessels, and navy ships. The oldest of these cards is postmarked May 21, 1924, and it verifies the reception of a spark wireless transmission from a 1 kW transmitter on board the vessel Ka-Imi-Loa. At the time, the Kaimiloa was at anchor off New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

Another QSL card, dated in the year 1925, is actually a reception report on a QSL card, and it reports the reception of an amateur QSO from 7RY in the United States. At the time, the USS Wyoming was in the Pacific, near Hawaii, and the callsign of the transmitter on board this navy vessel was NWQ. This QSL is actually double sized and it is printed on paper rather than on card.

Then too, we hold a QSL card from station NRRL on board another navy vessel, the USS Seattle, at the time when the Great White Fleet was steaming towards the Australian waters.

We go back to the Kaimiloa, and its interesting story. In the year 1924, business man Medford Kellum formed what he called the Kaimiloa Expedition in association with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The purpose of this expedition was to scientifically study peoples and islands in various areas of the exotic South Pacific. The name Kaimiloa means, in the Hawaiian language, distant traveler.

Originally, this schooner carried a spark wireless transmitter licensed with the callsign KFUH and rated at 1 kW. However, during the first phase of its tour in the South Pacific, the operator had difficulty in making adequate wireless contact with the United States.

The owner, Medford Kellum gave approval for the installation of a valve, or tube, transmitter and so the Kaimiloa was taken back to Honolulu to receive the new equipment which was installed in May 1925. The transmitter was actually a double unit made up of two transmitters rated at 250 watts.

Soon afterwards, the Kaimiloa resumed its exploratory tour in the South Pacific, calling at several different island groups. Several QSL cards were issued from station KFUH, and posted in Suva, Fiji. It is probable that several news items from the expedition were passed on at times to the news world via station KFUH, and perhaps, even some voiced commentaries.

The claim to fame on the part of the Kaimiloa was that the electronic transmitter placed aboard was, it is stated, the very first occasion in the history of radio in which a valve, or tube, transmitter was installed on board a ship.

From: Wavescan N72 – July 11, 2010

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).