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WHY RADIO AMATEURS ARE CALLED "HAMS"

Text of the "Act to require apparatus and operators for radio communication on certain ocean steamers".

The original act, approved June 24, 1910 and effective July 1, 1911, required certain ocean-going ships, of all nationalities, to carry radio equipment when visiting U.S. ports, and to exchange messages with other vessels, regardless of the system used. The original act only applied to ocean-going vessels, and also only required a single radio operator. On July 23, 1912 the original act was amended. Among the changes were the inclusion of vessels on the Great Lakes, coverage of all ships licenced for 50 passengers and crew (whether they were carrying that many or not), and a requirement for a continuous watch, with at least two operators. Neither act required station licences, but they did require ships to use certified radio operators. [The text for this page came from the 1911 and 1915 editions of "Navigation Laws of the United States", published by the Washington Government Printing Office].



An act approved June 24, 1910 entitled "An Act to require apparatus and operators for radio communication on certain ocean steamers."


Operators.
Sec 1. That from and after the first day of July, nineteen hundred and eleven, it shall be unlawful for any ocean-going steamer of the United States, or of any foreign country, carrying passengers and carrying fifty or more persons, including passengers or crew, to leave or attempt to leave any port of the United States unless such steamer shall be equipped with an efficient apparatus for radio-communication, in good working order, in charge of a person skilled in the use of such apparatus, which apparatus shall be capable of transmitting and receiving messages over a distance of at least one hundred miles, night or day: Provided, That the provisions of this Act shall not apply to steamers plying only between ports less than two hundred miles apart.
Sec 2. That for the purpose of this Act apparatus for radio-communication shall not be deemed to be efficient unless the company installing it shall contract in writing to exchange, and shall, in fact, exchange, as far as may be physically practicable, to be determined by the master of the vessel, messages with shore or ship stations using other systems of radio-communication.
Penalty. Sec 3. That the master or other person being in charge of any such vessel which leaves or attempts to leave any port of the United States in violation of any of the provisions of this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum not more than five thousand dollars, and any such fine shall be a lien upon such vessel, and such vessel may be libeled therefor in any district court of the United States within the jurisdiction of which such vessel shall arrive or depart, and the leaving or attempting to leave each and every port of the United States shall constitute a separate offense.
Sec 4. That the Secretary of Commerce and Labor shall make such regulations as may be necessary to secure the proper execution of this Act by collectors of customs and other officers of the Government.

The Act was amended July 23, 1912. The first section of the Act was rewritten, and an additional paragraph was added to the beginning of the second section. (The rest of Section 2, plus Sections 3 and 4, listed above, were left unchanged):



Auxiliary.

Operators.

Penalty.
Sec 1. That from and after October first, nineteen hundred and twelve, it shall be unlawful for any steamer of the United States or of any foreign country navigating the ocean or the Great Lakes and licensed to carry, or carrying, fifty or more persons, including passengers or crew or both, to leave or attempt to leave any port of the United States unless such steamer shall be equipped with an efficient apparatus for radio communication, in good working order, capable of transmitting and receiving messages over a distance of at least one hundred miles, day or night. An auxiliary power supply, independent of the vessel's main electric power plant, must be provided which will enable the sending set for at least four hours to send messages over a distance of at least one hundred miles, day or night, and efficient communication between the operator in the radio room and the bridge shall be maintained at all times.
The radio equipment must be in charge of two or more persons skilled in the use of such apparatus, one or the other of whom shall be on duty at all times while the vessel is being navigated. Such equipment, operators, the regulation of their watches, and the transmission and receipt of messages, except as may be regulated by law or international agreement, shall be under the control of the master, in the case of a vessel of the United States; and every willful failure on the part of the master to enforce at sea the provisions of this paragraph as to equipment, operators, and watches shall subject him to a penalty of one hundred dollars.
That the provisions of this section shall not apply to steamers plying between ports, or places, less than two hundred miles apart.


Cargo Operators.
Sec. 2. That this Act, so far as it relates to the Great Lakes, shall take effect on and after April first, nineteen hundred and thirteen, and so far as it relates to ocean cargo steamers shall take effect on and after July first, nineteen hundred and thirteen: Provided, That on cargo steamers, in lieu of the second operator provided for in this Act, there may be substituted a member of the crew or other person who shall be duly certified and entered in the ship's log as competent to receive and understand distress calls or other usual calls indicating danger, and to aid in maintaining a constant wireless watch so far as required for the safety of life.




"Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'"

That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's The Telegraph Instructor even before radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession.

In those early days, spark was king and every station occupied the same wavelength--or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working across town, could effectively jam all the other operators in the area. When this happened, frustrated commercial operators would call the ship whose weaker signals had been blotted out by the amateurs and say "SRI OM THOSE #&$!@ HAMS ARE JAMMING YOU."

Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.

From Florida Skip Magazine - 1959
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