by Paula Bosse
Above, one of the wonderful illustrated covers of the Electrical Experimenter, a magazine of science and invention. This July, 1919 cover — “The Trees Now Talk” — is the work of artist George Wall (see the image larger here). The story that inspired this illustration is “Talking Thru the Trees; How Trans-Atlantic Radio Messages Are Copied Via Tree Antenna,” by Major-General George O. Squier (1865-1934), Chief Signal Officer, U.S. Army. Squier (pronounced “Square”) was an inventor and military man whose Wikipedia entry is quite impressive (despite the fact that he developed the technical basis for the service which was later named “Muzak” and made the “beautiful music” heard in elevators and dentist offices inescapable).
But the tree thing? Squier had worked since 1904 in developing the “tree wireless,” which turned living trees into essential elements of in-the-field (…literally…) radio/telegraphic/telephonic receivers and transmitters by embedding metallic nails into trees, stringing cables, and, basically, using trees organic antennae (I’ve left out a lot, but it’s all contained in his article, linked below). Squier’s inventions were used during World War One and were especially useful in intercepting enemy electrically-transmitted messages as well as transmitting messages received from American war planes on to military headquarters in Washington, DC via telephony.
Squier was insistent that live trees were necessary for his technology to work optimally. He wrote in the article:
It would seem that living vegetation may play a more important part in electrical phenomena than has been generally supposed.
He even proposed names for his tree-borne messages:
The messages carried over this tree telephone and telegram system have been named by the writer. They are to be called “floragrams.” The tree telephone is to be a “floraphone”; the tree telegraph a “floragraph.”
Below, a photo of Squier and the U.S. Signal Corps Laboratory near Washington, DC, “where remarkable results were obtained from using living trees as radio antennae.” (Click picture so see larger image.)
And here are illustrations explaining Squier’s technology.
The be-medaled George O. Squier at about the time of this article:
Sources & Notes
All images from the July, 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter. Squier’s article — and, in fact, the entire issue — has been scanned in a PDF here (Squier’s article begins on p. 14 of the PDF).
Photo of Squier (“circa 1916”) is from his Wikipedia page.
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