New skyway spans nation with words, pictures: AT&T's wireless data plan, ca. 1951

"The demands of defense are heavy and urgent." A Bell Telephone ad from 1951, lovingly scanned and posted to the Vintage Advertising Pool on Flickr by James Vaughan, whose collection of vintage ads is astonishingly awesome.


  1. Wow.

    And if the network/broadcast went down we could just fall back on semaphore though it would drastically slow downloads.

    But hey, if orcs attacked they could light bonfires, at least Washington could be warned

  2. Before optical fiber hit the scene, microwave backbone links were pretty serious business. Waveguides still crop up in certain niches; and 802.11b/g/n would like a word with you about the continued viability of microwave communications; but it is my understanding that microwave backbone arrangements like this were more or less wiped out.

  3. Nevermind the exposure to weather, bad airplane pilots and lightning strikes — it can carry hundreds of calls!   But seriously, I wonder how much it costs to lay fiber compared to building monoliths.  Whereas additional fiber can be run through existing conduit to increase bandwidth, with towers, well, you need MORE  / BIGGER TOWERS!

    1. Given that glass suitable for low-attenuation fiber wasn’t produced until 1970, and the combination of (relatively) cheap lasers and very pure fiber wasn’t commercially available until the mid to late 70’s, that was probably a non-question at the time…

      Once it matured, though, the matchup between the two technologies was a bit of a bloodbath.

  4. I work on this stuff for a living. I still find it fascinating that almost all of these towers are now bare, replaced by fiber. Even satellite has been replaced by fiber. I had signs taped to the floor, walls, and cabinets during the Olympics in China; the video feeds were transported to NYC via trans-pacific fiber because it was cheaper than satellite.

    Some of the radio links still are in use in places that are too expensive to lay glass to; remote communities, rural areas, etc. These poor folks still have dial-up access to the ‘net, unless they subscribe to satellite internet service (which has horrible latency if you’re a gamer). Some of the links are still in use as a backup for critical customers that require more than redundant connectivity.

    What has really sealed wireless’ fate is bandwidth. A single fiber routinely runs over a terrabit/sec these days, and the nodes in the network often enough pass data in the petabit/sec range.

    1.  Just last week as I was pedaling past the old main AT&T switching building in downtown Sacramento they were pulling the microwave horns off of the roof – end of an era.

      1. I’m tempted to plan a roadtrip that passes as many of these old towers as I can manage just to photograph (ok, image…it’s all digital these days) them and the “remote terminal” buildings at their bases. I wonder if they’ve changed the locks….

        1. If you consider the etymology of photograph, I think you’ll agree it’s a perfectly fine term for taking a picture with any tech.

          In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with referring to MP3s as records. LP is the tech-specific term…

  5. This is how actually how I connect to the internet (and am viewing the image). I’m too remote to have DSL or Cable, so I have a microwave antenna for internet service. It’s better than dial-up (of course) or satellite.

  6. As far as lovingly scanning goes, I’m always torn between full restoration as performed here, and preserving a record of the stained, yellowed medium the image came on…

    After all, if you provide the original, anyone can restore it themselves if they like… only most folks won’t be interested in the original.

  7. Actually, some of this is coming back. In the low-latency trading market Microwave communications offer the lowest latency paths. Many trading firms are building them in, and as I understand it, there is work being done to connect Chicago to New York (among other places) right now.

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