Early Years of Navy Intercept on the East Coast

The U.S. Navy took over the privately owned transmitting station at Sayville, Long Island, New York, on 9 July 1915. The excuse given was “majority of stock owned by a belligerent.”

That belligerent was Germany, at war with England since August of 1914. Although the United States was neutral, public opinion was rapidly veering away from imperial Germany after a German submarine sunk the British liner LUSITANIA on 7 May 1915 with a loss of 1,195 souls including 128 U.S. citizens.

Our Navy had already taken over an East Coast transmitting station at Tuckerton, New Jersey, on 9 September 1914 but the one at Sayville was better equipped.

Tuckerton had been completed just prior to the beginning of World War I by the German firm Hochfrequenz-Machinen Aktiegesellschaft fuer Drahtlose Telegraphie (HOMAG) for the Compagnie Universelle de Telegraphie et Telephonie of France. It had as a transmitter a Goldschmidt 100 kilowatt HF reflection type alternator and utilized an umbrella antenna. The Navy installed a 30 kilowatt arc.

Under normal conditions, the Tuckerton transmitter could be heard by the German station at Eilvese, a distance of 3,382 miles.

100 kW Goldschmidt alternator at Eilvese, Germany. The 250 HP DC electric motor (right), turned the 3 ft. diameter, 5 ton rotor (center), at 4000 RPM. The rotor had 360 poles, and the fundamental frequency of the alternator was 24 kHz.

The Sayville transmitter, on the other hand, had been set up by the Atlantic Communication Company to be a sales agency for Telefunken apparatus as well as to the U.S. terminus of a proposed trans-Atlantic circuit.

It was Telefunken who offered the singing-spark system of radiotelegraphy, based on the discovery that is called the quenched-spark gap. Sayville was originally equipped with spark transmitters, later replaced by a 100 kilowatt Telefunken alternator.

The Telefunken system had been developed to a remarkable degree, probably due to the powerful influence of the German government.

German Wireless Network

Germany had long been in favor of an extensive wireless network. By 1914 there were wireless stations in all the German colonies, built at a cost three times as high as the Marconi Company is said to Kaye asked of the British Government when they proposed building high-power stations in all the British possessions.

This investment paid off for Imperial Germany in one single afternoon. At 1700 on 4 August 1914, some seven hours before Britain declared war, Germany sent out a message to all its wireless stations. This message, passed from one to another and out to sea, was “War declared upon England. Make as quickly as you can for a neutral port.” Thus Germany contrived to save the greater part of its mercantile marine.


When the Atlantic Communications Company ran the Sayville transmitting station, it had an American board of directors, but its actions were completely dominated by the Gesellscaft Fuer Drahtlose Telegraphie m.b.h., manufacturers of Telefunken equipment.

Sayville operated in conjunction with a sister station at Nauen, Germany. Twice a day it sent out press news known to have been picked up by the German military and merchant ships in the South Atlantic.

A report of the German light cruiser KARLSRUHE stated that news sent out by the Sayville Wireless Station was an invaluable service for watching the trend of events.

It can readily be assumed that more than news was sent to marauding cruisers, i.e. rendezvous information for supplies and fuel.

After the U.S. Navy takeover, communication with Nauen continued but careful censoring of incoming and outgoing messages was maintained.

By NCVA: David White