Saturday, October 5, 2013

In The Beginning They Called It Wireless

Since previous communication had been by means of wires, "wireless" seemed like the logical name and it served until 1906.

In that year, an international conference meeting in Berlin, Germany, decided that, instead, the word "radio" should be used to describe the new means of communication.  (Coe)

In the 1920s, there were four communications organizations in the US: the American Telephone and Telegraph Co, Western Union Telegraph Co, International Telephone and Telegraph Co, and Radio Corporation of America.

Two of them operated international radiotelegraph circuits - the ITT and the RCA. The ITT had a radio-telegraph subsidiary known as Mackay Radio and Telegraph Co, which operated radio circuits to a few foreign countries, in addition to its radio service to and from ships at sea.

Mackay Radio & Telegraph Company was founded by Clarence H Mackay, son of John W Mackay.  Clarence Mackay was the father-in-law of composer Irving Berlin.

John Mackay initially made his fortune in Comstock silver, but he later (1883) moved into telegraphic communications.  Mackay formed several telegraph communications companies to compete with Western Union.

When John Mackay died in 1902, Clarence inherited the businesses.

Clarence Mackay saw to the completion of the transpacific cable. Radio was added to the business end of things in 1925 to provide "radiogram" service to every area of the world.

In May, 1928, the Federal Mackay Radio Company opened a new station at Kailua, Oʻahu. Intended to take overflow cable traffic, the station operated on the then new high frequency radio system for transpacific communication and developed into an important transpacific station.  (Thrum 1929)

Mackay Radio was mainly interested in maritime communications which went along with the maritime radio-telegraph business.  By 1928, ITT had merged with most of Mackay's business interests but the Mackay name continued on for several decades.

The Mackay Radio and Telegraph Co radio tower was located on the Kāneʻohe side of Kailua Road just before you get to the bridge that marks the entrance to Kailua town (the wooden bridge was replaced by a concrete one in 1940.)

The tower was an inescapable landmark overshadowing the community.  It's gone now; and so is Mackay's company from the community.

But Mackay Radio and Telegraph has left a lasting legacy in corporate operations.

By the mid-1930s, Mackay Radio’s principal West Coast office was in San Francisco, and it had other sending facilities in several cities. These facilities transmitted and received both telegraph and radio messages.  From the San Francisco facility, the company maintained point-to-point radio circuits with Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Hawaiʻi, Tokyo and Shanghai, among other locations.

However, the Mackay system had long been in weak financial condition and, by the mid-1930s, its corporate parent stood under considerable strain.  Disturbed by cutbacks in their working conditions and changes in employment policies, the Mackay workers began a union-organizing effort in the early part of 1934.

They then sought to negotiate with the Company. No agreement was reached, and a strike began at 12:01 am on October 5, 1935.  A later National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finding led to a lawsuit and subsequent US Supreme Court decision.

In a landmark 7-0 ruling (NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co (1938)) the Supreme Court made two significant decisions: (1) an employer may hire strikebreakers and is not bound to discharge any of them if or when a strike ends and (2) workers who strike remain employees for the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act and an employer may not discriminate on the basis of union activity in reinstating employees at the end of a strike.

The "Mackay Doctrine," as the striker replacement portion of the ruling is known, is one of the most significant Supreme Court rulings in American labor law, and has defined collective bargaining in the United States since its publication.

The rule forbids employers to discharge workers who engage in a legal strike. At the same time, it allows employers to hire other workers to take their jobs.

Mackay was more than a decision that provided an instrumental method for a firm to replace economic strikers and to resist their return to employment after a strike. It was also a decision that established important practices that constituted the conduct of union-management bargaining.

The ruling is highly controversial, even over 70-years later. It is strongly and uniformly condemned by labor unions, and resolutely defended by employers. In the legal community, however, "the doctrine continues to provoke the notice and the nearly universal condemnation of scholars."  (Getman & Kohler)

The lawsuit that initiated this decision was based on the economic conditions of the larger company, not its Kailua presence; however, Mackay was here at the time of the decision and, as such, Kailua and Hawaiʻi are a part of that legacy.

The image shows the Mackay Radio and Telegraph tower in an aerial image of Kailua in 1949 (UH-Manoa.)  In addition, I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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© 2013 Hoʻokuleana LLC

1 comment:

  1. I remember the abandoned little radio station building (shack really) by the 'Welcome to Kailua' sign on the mauka side of the canal. It was tiny. I don't think it was much bigger than about 10x10 ft. You could see inside through the windows. Of course, all the equipment had been removed and all there was to see was a bunch of metal mounting panels on the walls.

    But the big antenna was gone already. Do you happen to know when they actually took it down?

    Interesting post. Thanks for putting it up. ;)