PowerPoint slides - MHS Blogs

Patriotism and profit
rewarding innovative communications in the Great War
Elizabeth Bruton & Graeme Gooday
AHRC project: “Innovating in Combat”
University of Leeds & Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
‘Innovating in Combat:
Telecommunications and intellectual
property in the First World War
• Aims: to help museums, archives,
and public to better appreciate the
significance of communications
technologies and patents during
World War One
• Partners: BT archives, IET archives,
Imperial War Museum North,
Porthcurno Telegraph Museum,
Science Museum, University of
Leeds HSTM Museum
Museum of the History of
Science, Oxford Lecture
23rd January 2014
• WW1 centenary commemorations –
reconsider role of science, tech etc
• One issue of debate: who were victors?
Industrial war profiteers (e.g. Vickers)
• Commercial profit vs. patriotic sacrifice
Inconsistent? Merchants of Death thesis
• Telecommunications important but
overlooked case of non-lethal innovation
• Marconi, Moseley and Fuller: rather
contrasting WW1 perspectives.
'Are YOU in this?', courtesy of the
Imperial War Museum.
© IWM, Art.IWM PST 2712.
Archival resources
• BT Archives preserves the historical information of British
Telecommunications plc and its predecessors from the early part of the
nineteenth century up to the present day, effectively the history of
telecommunications services in the United Kingdom and from the UK to
• Recently (July 2013) launched digital archives in collaboration with
University of Coventry and National Archives http://www.digitalarchives.bt.com/web/arena
• IET Archives hold a unique collection of material promoting and
preserving the history of science, engineering and technology. Includes
biographies, featured articles, online exhibitions, research guides,
information about the IET's history.
• http://www.theiet.org/resources/library/archives/
New perspectives on WWI?
• BBC World War One season offers ‘new
perspectives on World War One’ including
exploration of propaganda and patriotism
• Historian Dan Snow argues ‘much of what
we think we know about the 1914-18 conflict
is wrong’ in Lions and donkeys: 10 big myths
about World War One debunked
• January 2014: Education Secretary Michael
Gove criticises depictions of World War 1 as
a ‘misbegotten shambles’.
• A denigration of patriotism and courage?
• Was it, as Gove claimed, ‘plainly a just war’
to combat aggression by a German elite bent
on domination?
Michael Gove MP, 2010.
Image licensed through
Creative Commons license
via Wikimedia Commons.
New perspectives on WWI? contd
• Much of these “new perspectives” on WWI
are instead revisionist accounts
• But can a truly new perspective on WWI be
• Yes! WWI telecommunications is
understudied field and examines nonweapons technologies which had significant
impact on post-war developments
• In relation to Michael Gove’s comments,
should we accept his rhetorical framing of
this debate in terms of patriotism ?
• What about those who profited from war?
• How might we use the themes of patriotism
vs profit to interpret wartime science and
Wire-laying on the Western
Front, World War One.
Image licensed through Creative
Commons license via Wikimedia
Some key themes
The Cost of
“Through” 1917 Francis Martin,
Royal Engineers .
Image courtesy Royal Signals Museum.
£1.5million awarded to 140+
inventors, 1919-32.
Compare British national debt
post-WW1: £1.5. billion
Patriotism vs profit in science?
• Ethical question: should innovators ever
profit from warfare – funding or careers?
• Motives only of altruism, e.g. patriotically?
• Is patriotism necessarily opposed to profit?
• Present: Scientists for Global Responsibility:
UK’s science’s 20th C great reliance on
military funding (Edgerton: Warfare State).
• But not so in early World War One: sacrifice
of scientists’ lives to war more than profit
• Young physicist Henry Moseley served in
Gallipoli as signals engineer: died 1915.
• Could have safely researched in Oxford lab or
pursued wartime research like Henry Tizard
Henry Moseley, c.1910.
Copyright: Royal Society
Experimental account of
‘atomic numbers’ via X-ray
spectra in 1913.
So what was World War 1 about?
• Romantic tragedy for poets? Owen, Brooke
But many UK survivors held different views
• Patriotic fight over deeply-held principles?
Many soldiers felt they were pawns in a game
• “Chemists’ War” (Rose & Rose) but…
J. Ambrose Fleming in 1915: “It is beyond
any doubt that this war is a war of engineers
and chemists quite as much as of soldiers” (UCL)
• Science made warfare nastier, not more
decisive, but engineering & chemistry gained.
J. Ambrose Fleming, 1906.
Professor of Electrical
Engineering, UCL
• Industrial war: battle of imperial economies
Outcome of Great war about finance:
Germany’s economy collapsed
Image available in the
public domain via
Wikimedia Commons
Telecommunications mattered too
• Communications key feature of warfare –
need interconnected combat machinery
pigeon, messengers, telegraph etc
• Key issues: speed, reliability, & noninterception – telephone brings benefit?
• Wireless used since Second Boer War (18991902).
• Symmetrical use of wireless & telephone in
Russo-Japanese War (1904-5).
• Counter-measures taken against security
risks: defensive and offensive.
Transcript of wireless message
sent from Marconi station at
Poldhu on 4 August 1914.
• In UK outbreak of war on 4 August 1914 &
armistice on 11 November 1918 both
announced by wireless signals – Marconi
Image courtesy of Burton-uponTrent Amateur Radio club.
Marconi the patriotic exception?
• Marconi company innovations in wireless
point to point communication: 1897 & 1900
• 1914: British Marconi Co. patriotically offers
wireless operators & training to services.
• Company allowed government ‘censors’ to
monitor all wireless communications – codebreakers in Admiralty’s secret ‘Room 40’.
• No upfront demand for payment. In summer
1915 Marconi’s General Manager
complained “not one penny-piece has yet
been refunded to us.”
BT Archives POST 30/4162
Marconi’s famous foursevens patent, granted in
Image available in the public
Meanwhile in the French trenches
‘In the summer of 1915 the enemy did
suddenly appear to be extraordinarily well
informed of all that was going on behind
our lines. This was manifested in many
Carefully planned raids and minor attacks
were met by hostile fire, exactly directed,
and timed to the minute of the attack.
One day, even, a well-known Scotch
battalion took over its new front to the
strains of its regimental march,
exceedingly well played upon a German
Major R.E. Priestley, The Signal Service in the European
War of 1914-18 (France) 1921, pp.98-99
Raymond Edward Priestley, by
unknown photographer, 1938.
University of Melbourne Archives,
1915: Changing role of science:
• Stalemate in trenches: German innovations in poison gas
warfare, and devastating telecommunications interception
• Reveals German model of state investment in centrally coordinated scientific research could potentially win war
• Uncoordinated private industry, laissez-faire invention, and
old-fashioned British heroism clearly was not enough!
• UK government moves to establish national Department of
Scientific Industrial Research (DSIR) – costs £1m, opens 1916.
• ‘Defence of the Realm’ Act (1914) extended to compel (!)
industries to prioritise government & military orders.
Winning wars, rewarding victories
• Arms and infrastructure supported by science raised to a level
that, with US input from 1917, could support military victory
• State support had noticeable effect: key development of tank
and aeroplane rapidly developed to radically revised forms
• 1919: Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors rewarded
hundreds of innovations credited as crucial to victory
• Commission rejects many claims for inventions it judged to
lack genuine novelty or life-saving significance.
• Eventually paid £1.5 million (about £75 million today) in a
Britain nearly bankrupted by overall cost of war(£1.5 billion)
• Anti-interception telegraphic device by
Major A. Clement Fuller in 1915-16
• Invented privately in ‘cottage’: technique
of chopped up tiny telegraph signals
• Miniscule earth currents of signal
transmuted to ‘noise’ - very difficult to
• Claim for telegraphic ‘Fullerphone’ to
Royal Commission on Awards to
Inventors, 1920
• Claimed £21,899 – but only awarded
£3,500 due to limited originality &
patent benefits
• Instead made OBE 1922 and CBE 1941,
promoted to Major General
World War One Fullerphone.
Image available in the public
The Marconi case for reward
• Key role in intercepting hostile
communications, and “direction
finders” tracking German navy and
• Marconi Company entered legal
dispute with UK government over
unpaid patent royalties in 1920.
• Protracted discussions on six-figure
royalty claims: devolved to a private
• Marconi Company: discreet
deliberations 1922-8 £590,000
• Soon to form Cable & Wireless
Temporary wireless direction-finding
station on the cliffs of Hunstanton,
Norfolk, c.1915
Image from the Marconi archives, Bodleian
Library, University of Oxford.
Conclusions on patriotism and profit
• Overall: war benefits telecomms innovation & vice versa.
Fewer deaths and less profit than munitions manufacture.
• How to commemorate Fuller & Marconi for their innovations?
(compared to Moseley who paid the highest price in WW1… )
Paid more than cost of developing their inventions: was
warfare for them just profit by other means? (c.f. Clausewitz)
• The counterfactual of opportunity cost: Fuller & Marconi
could have profited more e.g. selling to both sides in the war.
• Devoted to country’s needs while also profiting in process: no
incompatibility – but patriotism a matter of degree.
Epilogue (1): International Element
• So can our conclusions about British patriotism and profit and
the need for wartime scientific research be extended further?
• August 1916: Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the US Navy,
gave a welcoming speech to members of the Naval Consulting
Board including Thomas Edison.
• Daniels noted that at the outbreak of World War One the
many nations involved lacked one thing essential to war:
– “…the utilization of the inventive, engineering and scientific talent,
and the ability to readily mobilize the industries of the country to
national defense [sic]. Trained men were called from munitions plants
and machine shops to serve in the trenches. It required reverses to
teach the folly of putting men skilled in the making of shells to carrying
Thomas A. Edison Papers, Part V: Special Collection Series, Naval Consulting Board, 19 September 1916
Epilogue (2): Who profits?
• Historian Bill Astore: “World War I was for making the world
“safe for democracy” - for global American business interests
• But perhaps innovators and commerce are not the only ones
to profit from war – do we all benefit from wartime
developments? Should we worry if we do?
• Technology developed during wartime have civilian
application in peace, e.g. radio telephony developed by RFC/
RAF and Marconi Company during World War One contributes
to development of broadcast radio in the early 1920s.
• Final Conclusion: Successful relationship between scientific
research & military application lays the groundwork for World
War Two “Big Science”: A-bomb, radar, code-breaking etc.
Thank you!
w: http://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/innovatingincombat/
@WWITelecomms / @lizbruton