Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / June 1910

June 1910: Congress Passes First American Radio Law

On June 28, 1910, Congress passed the Wireless Ship Act (PL 262, 61st Congress). The legislation was prompted by the 1909 wreck of the SS Republic. When the Republic sank, a radio distress call saved 1,200 lives. This law was first in the U.S to regulate radio and applied only to ships carrying 60 or more passengers and traveling 200 miles. The act required these ships to carry a radio, and a skilled radio operator. Radio was still a cutting edge invention in 1910, but the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in the Commerce Department (DOC) was already investigating its uses. The DOC was given authority to enforce the new law, and NBS increased its radio work in preparation for the Wireless Act effective date of June 1, 1911. In 1912, the Titanic sank, bringing additional attention to the lifesaving role of radio at sea. In 1913 NBS began to hire radio researchers in its Electrical Division and initiated work on fog beacons for ships. By 1916, radio work was so important that Congress created the NBS radio lab. From these beginnings, radio research in the Department of Commerce continues to this day. ITS is now a primary federal radio research laboratory, developing and assessing new telecommunications technologies to assist NTIA in its role as the agency principally responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues.