The San Francisco Call | July 9 1908 | page 1
retyped from



Trustee Hopkins Orders Experimenter from Laboratory When Voices Sound

Stock Holder in  Commercial  System Resents Sordid Spirit of Worker

Brave Professors Comes to Aid of Young Scientist with Offer of Barn

When advancement of  learning  leads to sordid gain should it be frowned upon by a university? Trustee Timothy Hokins [sic] of Stanford, the temporary business manager of the institution while Treasurer Charles G. Lathrop is away, has answered this question emphatically in the affirmative by withholding the privileges of the laboratories for a brilliant young graduate of the cardinal institution, who has lately developed some startling improvement in wireless telephony.

Dr. C. D. Marx,  head of the department of civil engineering and a member of the commission of engineers, engaged in the rebuilding of the university, has answered the question just as emphatically in the negative by installing the apparatus of the young inventor in his spacious barn,  where  it is said that the system has proven so successful that the professor’s livestock have been driven into a  state of panic by the mysterious voices in the loft of their home.


Friends of C.F. Elwell, the inventor in the case, have been unkind enough to suggest that Hopkins was moved to issue his ukase by the fact that he is a heavy stock holder and a member of the executive board of the Pacific States telephone and telegraph company. They point to the significant fact that the apparatus of the big steel tower of the ruined library building was allowed to remain  undisturbed  as long as the university authorities believed that it was there to catch dots and dashes and not vocal sounds.

Elwell has become well known for his original work in electrical engineering and long before his graduation he was made an assistant in that department at Stanford. Last year his work attracted the attention of the men who are trying to sell a wireless telephone system to the government, and the young engineer was appointed to conduct experiments for the company on this coast. The backers the enterprise supplied him with $6,000 worth of apparatus, and while college was still open he used this in conjunction with the electrical and chemical laboratories of the university.


As soon as Stanford closed for the summer he applied to Hopkins for the privilege of using the  laboratories during the vacation period, and it is said that the business manager, still laboring under the delusion that the experiments were concerned with wireless telegraphy alone, granted the required permission without question.

The secret was well kept for a time, but the voices in the tower swore at central one day, and Hopkins must have been passing at the time, for the inventor was summoned to his office and ordered to remove himself and his apparatus from the campus.

Asked for a reason for this order, the business manager declared that the project was purely a commercial affair, and ans such should be given neither the aid nor the sanction of the university. With no place to take his expensive apparatus, Elwell was in danger of despair until Marx came forward with his offer of a refuge.


The Measured Circle note: it’s fascinating that we already see the narrative of a corporate interest trying to prevent disruption to its industry. Wireless voice transmission? Sounds like a cellphone…which may make the use of one in Oz a few years later less impressive (The Wizard of Oz invented the cellphone). Is it also being suggested here that it was profanity that led to the shutdown (“…the voices in the tower swore at central one day”), or was that just because it was loud enough to be overheard? If the former, it mirrors issues which still exist today.

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