Add a Comment to this Note (list members only)
Dead medium: Crandall's Electric Sign
From: (Dan Howland)

Source(s): Scientific American magazine, July 4, 1898

Crandall's Electric Sign was an early changeable electric sign. It consisted of one or more frames holding an array of electric light bulbs, arranged in patterns similar to modern LCD characters. However, there is a charming Victorian twist == Crandall's sign displayed a serif alphabet. With several of these frames linked together, the sign strongly resembles a baseball scoreboard.

The switching device looks like a typewriter keyboard attached to an Autoharp, with electrical contacts replacing the felt pads, and current-carrying wires replacing the zither strings. By pressing the key for a letter, contact was made with the wires, lighting the required segments of the letter.

According to *Scientific American,* the "government" (Federal? State?) tested the system in New York Bay on the night of April 2, 1898. A single frame, three feet by five feet, sat on top of a hotel. A boat withdrew to a mile offshore, where the sign was legible to the naked eye. At three and a half miles, the sign was visible through the spyglass.

The front cover shows a Times Square-style headline: "CERVEARA'S FLEET IS AT SANTIAGO DE CUBA". (The apostrophe appears in the same frame as the letter A, but how it would work elsewhere is a mystery.) Apparently, the system was in regular use displaying the headlines of a newspaper which Scientific American only identifies as "well known". Also shown is the control room for this sign. Each letter (and space!) has its own separate keyboard == 38 in all.

Dan Howland (
Journal of Ride Theory, P.O. Box 2044, Portland, OR 97208- 2044