Thursday, May. 23, 2019

Romance Inaugurates TransPacific Radio in West Marin

By Richard Nielsen · September 21, 2016

Celebratory Banquet at the Marconi Hotel; Ruth Sayers stands towards the center on the lower step, with a broad white collar and black hat; her new husband, Adolph Rau, stands next to her <span>&copy; Richard Nielsen </span>

Celebratory Banquet at the Marconi Hotel; Ruth Sayers stands towards the center on the lower step, with a broad white collar and black hat; her new husband, Adolph Rau, stands next to her


Starting on September 24, 1914, the Bolinas and Marshall Marconi radio stations were officially on the air.  Among the group of dignitaries and upper echelon Marconi personnel who attended the celebratory banquet to mark this milestone was a young woman who didn't quite seem to fit in.  In this photograph, a well-dressed Ruth Sayers stands just to the right of Adolph Rau, the Marconi engineer who was overseeing the building of the Bolinas station. 

Ruth had been a telegrapher in San Francisco. After hours, she had been carrying on a Morse code relationship that had nothing to do with the establishment of Marconi's West Marin TransPacific radio stations.  In the early days, radio transmissions could be heard by a multitude of operators aboard ship or at coastal radio stations.  Therefore, there were no secrets in this over-the-air relationship, which was being closely followed by Ruth’s fellow operators. 

Disappointment reigned on the evening of September 23, however.  No romance was weaving a path through the airwaves.  Had she broken off the relationship?  Was it all over?  On the contrary.  On the evening of September 23rd, she took her marital vows with engineer Adolph Rau, with whom she would depart several days later for a two-week honeymoon in Hawaii.

Men dominated the guild of radio-telegraphers as the twentieth century dawned.  Unsuccessful strikes for better working conditions and better pay culminated in large numbers of male radio-telegraphers being replaced by women.  This had been made possible by a new technology that allowed women with typing skills to use a keyboard to send those dot-and-dash communications over the airwaves.  Typewriters had already replaced the hand-written transcripts of received messages.  Now, typewriter skills could be employed for both sending and receiving messages.  That was why Ruth had been a radio-telegrapher.  That was why she was able to find love out of the blue and long before romances bloomed via the Internet.

After their honeymoon, Adolph became the first engineer-in-charge of the Bolinas transmitting station. Later, he and Ruth returned to Hawaii, where he became engineer-in-charge of the Kahuku transmitting station.

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