Title: Address of President Coolidge at the Opening Meeting of the International Radiotelegraph Conference
Date: October 4, 1927
Location: Washington, D.C.
Context: Coolidge delivers an address to the IRC on the impact that radio has had on civilization
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my privilege to extend to the delegates to this conference a most cordial welcome on behalf of the people of the United States. Seldom has a more representative world conference assembled. The presence here of delegates from so large a proportion of the nations of the earth is of itself sufficient evidence of the importance which will attach to your deliberations. The large number of subjects to be considered is at once apparent when it is remembered that there has been no conference of this nature for about 15 years. Meantime there have been many improvements in transmitting and receiving radio messages and a perfectly tremendous expansion in their use.
It is scarcely 30 years ago that the transmission of intelligence by radio began. For almost 25 years it was largely confined to Government use, mostly in navigation. Within the past five or six years has come the enormous popular development which has brought the radio receiving set into such general use in the home and the construction of so many privately controlled broadcasting stations. The chief marvel and usefulness of this modern invention lies in the instantaneous service it is able to render over great areas of the earth’s surface, using as its medium of transmission only the natural elements of the atmosphere. In military defense, in navigation, in commerce, in education, in musical and theatrical entertainment it has come to play a great part in the life of our people.
Communication is one of the important supports of civilization. If we glance at any of the backward portions of the earth we shall see at once that methods for the transmission of intelligence are lacking. In such places there are few and poorly constructed highways, railroads are lacking, telephone and telegraph lines do not exist, newspapers do not circulate, the radio is unknown, and, finally, there is almost nothing in the way of post-office service. These are the necessary equipments for a people desiring to live according to modern standards and become partakers in modern progress. I believe that the radio holds great promise of reaching into these dark places of the earth because the cost of its installation and maintenance will represent almost nothing in comparison with the cost of the other means of communication. To use it does not even require an elementary education of reading and writing. Its main weakness appears to me to lie in the fact that it produces no permanent record for future consideration.
An instrument of such far-reaching magnitude, fraught with so great a power for good to humanity, naturally requires national and international regulation and control, to the end that there may be the most perfect order and the largest possible uniformity in its use and enjoyment. It is to consider methods and rules for securing these results that this conference has been called. I commend to you the adoption of the policy of candid discussion, generous conciliation, and wide cooperation. This is a field where it will be exceedingly easy for a single nation to render uncertain and useless a broad area of surrounding territory, greatly to the disadvantage of itself and all others concerned. A large opportunity exists for an economic treatment of radio problems through standardization. A uniformity of action among different peoples is always a most important step in advance.
In many fields our country claims the right to be the master of its own independent development. It cordially concedes the same right to all others. But in the radio field the most complete development, both at home and abroad, lies in mutual concession and cooperation. Your main endeavor will be to discover the rules which will be for the mutual advantage of all those who are connected with this great industry and who are the users of this means of communication.
This conference recognizes that the radio has become a great influence in the world. Like every invention which increases the power of man it may be used for good or for evil. It can serve the cause of understanding and friendship among people and among nations, or it can be used to create ill will and dissension. The world will not be benefited by this increase in the scope of its power unless there is corresponding increase in moral development. Your main object will be to raise this great industry into the realm of beneficent public service.
Those of you who are present here from foreign lands I trust may gain a deep appreciation of the cordial friendship which this country entertains toward all of you. I hope you may have the opportunity of coming into closer contact with the life of our people, that you may secure a helpful knowledge of our commercial and political institutions, and that out of the deliberations of this conference there may come an increased power for the service of humanity.
Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, Library of Congress
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Milo Chang, who prepared this document for digital publication.
Reading this speech, it really strikes me the amazing nature of human ingenuity. To people living in the 21st century, radio technology seems like something of the past, something that has long been outdated. Reading Coolidge’s speech allows us to see the incredible potential that people of the 20th century saw in the radio, making us re-evaluate a technology we take for granted, allowing us to recognize how far we have come and dream about where we might yet go.