Rock outcrops, evergreens, and flowing springs each registered as strong sensual attractants. Could it be that they were sensual attractants because they conducted and projected special ground currents? Was he enthralled and drawn into certain spots because of their projective energy? But … what energy? Did it contain or exceed the qualities of electricity?
He developed numerous “vibrating telephones” which were used by local residents in 1887. They were powered by an extraordinary receiver of ground electricity, which produced great quantities of a strange “electricity”. The telephonic devices were patented in 1888 and represent the first commercial wireless telephones, using the ground as the transmission medium. The years when telephonic lines were suddenly made available to the world betrayed the fact that the new medium was one, which only the very rich could afford. Common people could simply not be serviced with local telephones until prices were made cheaper. While telegraphy employed thrifty iron wire, telephony demanded the expensive and better conducting copper lines. Telephones designed by A.G. Bell did not give powerful enough signals through iron wire at any distance because of their additional high resistance. Among its numerous other telephonic problems, the Bell telephone could simply not transmit or receive a strong and clear vocal signal without very excessive battery power. The Bell System was thus not a truly “democratic” medium of communications.
A mysterious and unrecorded sequence of discoveries preceded Stubblefield’s early developments, but he was able to dispense with wire connections entirely. His was not a “one-wire” system. Nathan Stubblefield performed the “impossible”; he developed, tested, demonstrated, and established a small, democratic telephone service, which did not require wire lines at all!
Mr. Stubblefield discovered that telephonic signals of exceptional clarity could be both transmitted and received through the ground medium alone. There was simply no precedent for this development. His system utilized the ground itself as the conductive medium, an inexplicable natural “articulation” connecting all ground placed telephones.
The first effect of this wonder was that common people could now have the much-needed communications, which both great distance and poverty prevented. Farms could be interlinked by the Stubblefield exchange by simply plugging both terminals into the ground. Wire would not take up the expense, which the telephone exchange would later charge to the customers in addition to service. Signals were loud … and clear. All those who experienced this kind of telephonic conversation declared that Stubblefield’s telephone was “exceptionally clear”. He had discovered a true wonder.
We have photographs of his telephone sets. These reveal small, ruggedly built wooden cases, which are surmounted by conventional transmitter-receivers. Heavy insulated cables run to the outer ground from this apparatus. Stubblefield developed an “annunciator” (horn loudspeaker), which amplified the voice of distant callers. These telephone sets appeared in his numerous demonstrations on the east coast, from New York to Delaware.
The signals were so loud and clear that they defied commercial levels of excellence provided by the now growing monopolies of American Telephone and Western Telegraph. Thomas Edison broke the Bell telephone monopoly when he developed the carbon button microphone for Western Union. While sounds were indeed louder with the Edison carbon microphone, these carbon microphones needed excessive battery power … and batteries were not cheap. Some telephone companies began utilizing dynamo systems to power their lines. The fuel needs of dynamos drive customer costs much too high, prohibiting the ordinary people from having their own service installed. But Stubblefield’s devices defied all the known electrical laws. In the early Stubblefield system, twin terminals into the ground formed the initial bridge among telephones.
As system users were effectively joined together through the ground itself, the high cost of wire was eliminated! The signals were exceptional, and did not fade or intensify with rain. This fact was never considered in theoretical discussions of his work. Those who experienced speech through the Stubblefield system each reported similar impressions. While ordinary “soil conduction” telephonics require a certain degree of ground water for their operation, we know that his system did not operate on this principle.
The theoretical reasons explaining ground conduction telephony had later been established by researchers in England, notably Sir William Preece. Preece successfully attempted only telegraphic signals across great distances of land and sea. Stubblefield was telephoning through greater distances with the legendary clarity and strength, which became equal to his other mysterious developments.
The first telegraph lines of Morse were two-wire lines. The circular flow of electrical signals among station receivers, batteries, and keys was conserved with great efficiency. Double wire systems were very expensive however. It was quickly discovered that single lines, terminated in the ground with heavy metal plates, could exchange equally strong signals. The immense savings in wire, poles, insulators, and maintenance was an attractive feature of the single-wire method. Company owners were elated.
The problem in single-line telegraph systems was finding the right ground spot. It was quickly recognized that “good” and “bad” grounds could affect the behavior and operation of the line. Improperly placed ground plates could ruin a system by not conducting signals properly. In time improperly placed lines would actually fail. Spurious conductivity in a line could ruin critical transmissions and receptions. Telegraphic lore is filled with discussions about both “good ground” and “bad ground”.
The linesmen, workers in a yet primarily agrarian society, had experience with soil and earth in general. Many of them were farm boys who had watched certain old-timers “divining” for water. Linesmen frequently discussed such natural means for discerning the “good ground” for terminating a telegraph line. Telegraph linesmen found to their delight that the dowser’s skill always located “good ground”. This is why so many of them guided the telegraph lines through those meandering paths across the countryside.
The true difference between the Stubblefield system and these early “conduction telegraphy” systems became obvious as soon as we delve into the record. Stubblefield developed a means by which calls could be individualized among customers. Later, his central telephone exchange included power-amplifying relays, set in the ground at specific distances. Calls were handled by an elaborate system of two-wire, ground connected automatic switches and relays, which were placed in specific spots across the countryside. Telephone signal purity was remarkable for the time, using a single carbon button for both transmission and reception.
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