Thorn Mayes’ Interviews on Early Radio Now Transcribed

Originally published September 4, 2013

Thorn Mayes, born April 19, 1903, graduated from the University of California in 1927 with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He was an avid amateur radio operator, working W6AX, W9AX, 6BDQ, 6AX, K6BI, K2CE, and W1CX under the handle “Thorn.” His first 2-way wireless contact was in 1921, and he was member #229 of the Old Old Timers Club. After retiring from his managerial position at General Electric Company, Mayes became a serious collector of antique gear (prior to 1922), books and magazines, as well as an historian of early wireless in the United States. In his own words1,

after spending about 38 years with the General Electric Company, I retired in 1963. The last 20 years with the company was in the East, so in ‘63 we moved back to California and I set up my machine shop, electronics laboratory, and became interested in recreating the history of the three main, early, commercial wireless stations on the West Coast. KPH, which I think is by far the most important of all; KFS who was a competitor, and NPG, which is sometimes called the NAA of the West Coast because of the similarity in transmission equipment used at NPG and also at NAA.

Mayes published numerous papers in the amateur radio press, as well as several publications, including:

  • The Federal Telegraph Company, 1909-1920 ([Rochester, N.Y] : Antique Wireless Association, c1979)
  • Brief history of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America: 1899-1919 (1972)
  • Wireless communication in the United States : the early development of American radio operating companies, prepared for publication by Arthur C. Goodnow, Robert W. and Nancy A. Merriam (East Greenwich, R.I. : New England Wireless and Steam Museum, c1989).

Mayes was able to draw on his many friends and contacts within the amateur radio and electronics community for his research. As part of his work, he recorded a large number of interviews with names familiar to students of early electronics, particularly in the Western United States, including Ralph Heintz, Haraden Pratt, Richard Johnstone, and Robert Palmer. Mayes also recorded many of his talks at amateur radio associations. These recordings are part of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics, and the majority of these interviews and talks have been transcribed by History San Jose. A full list of recordings is available below, and copies of transcripts can be requested through the Curator of Library and Archives (research@historysanjose.org).

List of Thorn Mayes Sound Recordings

1Interview of Thorn Mayes by Ray Meyers, January 20, 1968 (Thorn Mayes Sound Recordings, 2003-38, History San Jose Research Library & Archives)