Until 1840 any immediate communication between human beings was limited to the range of the eye or the ear. In nations such as France, Russia and Great Britain, fire signal towers stretched the length of the country to serve as early warning systems.
During the nineteenth century scientists and inventors came to better understand electricity’s ability to transmit sound, and with this understanding came such inventions as the telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1840, the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1875, and the phonograph by Thomas Alva Edison in 1877.
In addition to these new wonders came such scientific advances as James Clerk Maxwell’s 1865 theory, which postulated electromagnetic waves existed and moved at a uniform speed, but varied in length and frequency.
In 1888, Heinrich Hertz proved this theory by demonstrating that electricity could bridge a gap from one coil to produce a current in another. These all laid the groundwork for humanity’s delving into the possibility of wireless communication.
Then came Guglielmo Marconi (who was born at Bologna, Italy on April 25, 1874.) In 1895, he began laboratory experiments at his father’s country estate where he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles.
In 1900, he took out his famous patent No. 7777 for “tuned or syntonic telegraphy” and, on an historic day in December 1901, determined to prove that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the Earth.
He used his system for transmitting the first wireless signals across the Atlantic between Poldhu, Cornwall, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, a distance of 2,100 miles. (Nobel Prize)
In the Islands, “Telegraph communication seems likely soon to be in operation between our islands. Marconi has successfully sent telegrams across the British channel without wire.”
“An invisible electric ray is flashed from lofty mast, directed to receiver thirty miles away, which records it. So Hawai‘i will not need an inter-island cable. Rain, fog and darkness do not obstruct the ray.” (The Friend, May 1, 1899)
Then interisland wireless came; “Just about the latest wonder accomplished by science is telegraphing without wires, communicating between far distant and mutually invisible points by means of the ether which is believed to exist as a sort of cement holding the molecules of the atmosphere together.”
“Today Hawaiians will be given their first opportunity of witnessing the workings of this marvel the marvel by which a young Italian boy named Marconi astonished the world a few years ago.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 16, 1900)
Then, the American Marconi Company began establishing global coverage with long distance, paired sending and receiving stations not only in England, France and the United States, but also Spain, Italy, Egypt, India, and Argentina.
Hawaii was viewed as a bridge facilitating wireless communication between California, Hawaii and Japan as well as Australia; he planned facilities at Koko Head and Kahuku. At the time of Kahuku’s opening, it was the largest wireless telegraph station in the world in terms of capacity and power.
Everything in the plant was in duplicate, the one system backing up the other, so there was no reason to have to shut down operations because of a need to undertake repairs. (NPS) “Quite a large staff is housed in the Marconi Hotel, some operators and some engineers.” (Marconi Service News)
“Besides being included in the great chain of wireless stations which are to be erected by the Marconi Company, Hawai‘i has been favored with being selected as the site for the largest wireless station in the world.”
“While situated in the middle of the Pacific ocean, isolated, as it were, from the rest of the world except for a single cable and a wireless station only capable of working at night …”
“… Hawai‘i will be able to throw off this isolation with the coming of the Marconi system, get into a more complete touch with the rest of the world, and be drawn into closer relations with the country of which it is a territory.” (Star Bulletin, April 19, 1913)
The transoceanic stations were officially opened on September 24, 1914, approximately two months after the start of World War I in Europe. (NPS)
The first message (from Governor Lucius Pinkham to President Woodrow Wilson) read, “With time and distance annihilated and space subdued through wireless triumphs and impulse …”
“… the Territory of Hawai‘i conveys its greetings, profound respect and sympathy to Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, as he so earnestly seeks the blessings of peace and good will for all men and all nations. (Star Bulletin, September 24, 1914)
President responded with a short, “May God bring the nation together in thought and purpose and lasting peace.” (NPS)
“Today marks a new era in transpacific and world-communication for the people of Hawai‘i. With the opening of two great wifeless stations on Oahu by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America ‘’
“… Uncle Sam’s midpacific territory is brought closer and is bound closer than ever to her sister commonwealth of the mainland.” (Star Bulletin to Associated Press, September 24, 1914)
The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station at Kahuku includes four buildings: the power house/operating building, hotel, administration building, and manager’s cottage.
With the end of WWI, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) took over the facility; then, preparations and defense facilities, in anticipation of WWII, started popping up on the island.
The north-Oʻahu facility was under the overall command of the Hawaiian Air Force (HAF) headquartered at Hickam, Oʻahu. The HAF was activated on October 28, 1940, as the first air force outside the Continental US. (Bennett)
On November 25, 1941, Army Engineers took over the RCA facility and started constructing an Army Air Base in and around it. (They also constructed two other North Shore airfields at Kawaihāpai (Mokuleʻia/Dillingham) and Haleiwa.)
The old Marconi/RCA administration building was converted into air base headquarters and Commanding Officer’s quarters. The RCA buildings, with the exception of the powerhouse/operating building, were also used by the air field.
The hotel became the base headquarters, the administration building housed base operations, and the manager’s house became the commanding officer’s quarters.
The usual theater of operations support buildings were constructed (i.e., control tower, barracks for enlisted men, officer’s quarters, mess halls, chapel, dispensaries, cold storage, two fire stations, paint shop, Post Exchange, radio station, telephone exchange, etc.)
The April 1, 1946 tsunami devastated the Kahuku Air Base, destroying numerous buildings and covering the runways with debris. Following this tidal wave, military air operations ceased at Kahuku and sometime between June 12, 1946 and March 1947 the lands were returned to Campbell Estate.