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By Jonathan Haeber
The Marconi Wireless Station at Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
Long ago, before my grandfather was born, a young Italian named Guglielmo Marconi developed a process of communicating without the aid of land-line telegraph cables. The birth of wireless telegraphy was embraced by the British during their Second Boer War, but the promise of communication across vast oceans between families and friends, businesses and diplomatic bureaus was where wireless truly shined.
I recently traveled to Hawaii to visit a friend (ostensibly), but also to explore the island’s many historical locations (I have my ulterior motives). Earlier, I had spoken of the abandoned sugar refinery on the North Shore and its incredible ties with bird guano (believe me, there’s a connection). In the future, I will talk about Battery Harlow in Diamond Head, a World War I-era array of guns designed to defend the new U.S. territory.
Most important, though, is this station on the North Shore (The Kahuku Marconi Station). In the details of this station, one can parse out a history and trace the root & origins of the Military-Industrial Complex. Today, parts of the station are occupied by a krill farm. The old powerhouse, which supplied the 300 kW towers with their much-needed electricity, is now full of temporary above-ground pools of growing shrimp (and large bull frogs, as well). The old “Hotel” as it was known (which often housed unmarried Marconi workers or visiting dignitaries including Jack London himself) is a crumbling and empty bone.
Image courtesy Library of Congress
If there is any place in Hawaii that desperately needs National Register status, it is this place. When World War II broke out, the Marconi wireless towers were no longer needed (long-wave radio transmission was a thing of the past), but the original line of towers was replaced by an airstrip that sent out cargo planes to their destinations across the Pacific Rim.
I visited the Kahuku Station during the day. The krill farm, though active, was eerily vacant of people. A gentle breeze — like any Hawaiian breeze, warm and humid — came in from the North. The palms danced to the cadence of the wind, which wound its way through the broken window frames of the Hotel. Krill pumps hummed, and I imagined how similar they sounded to the original transformers for the wireless towers.
Photo courtesy Library of Congress
The humidity has a different sort of effect on the plaster and paint of abandoned buildings. Living in California, it was a rare sort of sight for me to see. Each layer of paint peeled away to reveal an older, more colorul version of the wall. And the arched doorways and stairwells gave me an idea of its once grand design — despite the hotel’s utilitarian purpose.
I think the Kahuku Station and its related history deserve so much attention that — in the coming days — I will post a three-part entry on Wireless Telelgraphy during World War I. I hope you enjoy the history as much as I did. This is meant only as an introduction to a fascinating story about government, communication, corporations, and war.