Tag Archives: 2LO

Artists impression of the GPS Satellite model

Science Museum enters the Information Age

Charlotte Connelly is a Content Developer for Information Age, a new communications technology gallery opening in September 2014.

Last night the Science Museum announced exciting details about a new £16m communications gallery, Information Age, which will open in September 2014.

Artist’s impression of the Cable Network exploring electric telegraph.

Artist’s impression of the Cable Network exploring electric telegraph. Image credit: Science Museum / Universal Design Studio

The gallery will be a celebration of information and communication technologies. We’re already working on cutting edge interactive displays and participatory experiences that will reveal the stories behind how our lives have been transformed by communication innovations over the last 200 years.

Hundreds of unique objects from the Science Museum’s collections will go on display, many of which have never been seen before. They will include the BBC’s first radio transmitter 2LO, the BESM-6, the only Russian supercomputer in a museum collection in the West, and a full sized communications satellite.

Laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858 proved to be a tricky challenge to overcome. (Source: Science Museum / SSPL)

In Information Age we tell some of the dramatic stories behind the growth of the worldwide telegraph network in the 19th century and the influence of mobile phones on our lives today. Visitors can uncover stories about the birth of British broadcasting and learn about pioneering achievements in the development of the telephone. The role of satellites in global communications and the birth of the World Wide Web will also be explored in the new gallery.

Not only are we working hard behind the scenes of the Museum, we’ve also been working with lots of other organisations to develop the gallery. For our mobile phone display, we have a great selection of objects collected in Cameroon – look out for a blog post all about that coming soon! We’ve been working with Cameroonian communities in both Cameroon and the UK to decide how these stories are displayed.

We’ve also interviewed women who worked on the manual telephone exchange at Enfield in North London. Their stories have been selected by young women from the same area to be included in the gallery.

Our Curator of Communication, John Liffen, looking at a section of the Enfield exchange when it was installed in the Enfield Museum (Source: Hilary Geoghegan)

Watch this space to discover more about Information Age as the team will be writing regular blog posts about their work on the gallery to keep you up to date. Add your comments below to tell us what you would like to find out about.

Exploring our vintage radios

When I was asked to help develop ideas about early radio broadcasting for a proposed new gallery at the Science Museum I soon realised that I needed help to build up my knowledge quickly. I began with the usual resources – I read some books, looked online and scoured our collection for likely looking objects to explore. While all of these resources could provide me with a technical understanding of the history of radio, I struggled to get a grasp of what it must have felt like to have used early radio sets or listened to early broadcasts. It was time, I decided, to seek some expert help.

The 2LO transmitter at Marconi House in the Strand (Science Museum)

Several members of the British Vintage Wireless Society (BVWS) were already pencilled in to pay a visit to the Museum to look at the radios in our collection. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to recruit a few of them to work more closely with us. We knew we wanted to display one star object from the collection – the 2LO transmitter, which transmitted the very first BBC radio broadcasts in 1922. In addition we have a large collection of radio receivers from the 1920s and 1930s. What we were missing was a range of fascinating stories to help us choose between all those radios. We invited the members of the BVWS to help us select the stories that represented their experience and knowledge of vintage radios.

Five of the group offered their time, and I worked with a colleague to plan a series of four sessions for them. Over the course of the sessions the group got to know our collections and gradually built up their own set of criteria for selecting radio equipment. We asked them to arrive at a list of three objects each, meaning we would have a total of fifteen radio receivers as a long-list to work with.

Mike and Martyn inspect a speaker horn with my help (Science Museum)

As well as gathering a list of objects we were keen to collect stories about the historical impact of radios on everyday life. We also hoped to find out what led the members of the BVWS to be so enthusiastic about and enthralled with vintage radio equipment. They have a strong emotional attachment to these objects that would be brilliant to share with our visitors. We spent one of the four sessions at the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum which holds an amazing collection of radios and televisions inside the walls of an innocent looking house in South London. While we were there, surrounded by all the fantastic objects in the museum, we interviewed some of the group and asked them about what got them collecting in the first place.

By the end of the four sessions we had a successfully arrived at a list of objects to display alongside the 2LO transmitter, together with stories to support them. One of the more unexpected items to make it onto the list was a ceramic mixing bowl selected by Lorne Clark. He told us how his mother, who had lived near a large transmitter, would place a pair of headphones in a mixing bowl in order to amplify the sound from a crystal radio set and make group listening possible.

The sessions were great fun and I certainly learned a lot about early radio from the group, and much more quickly and enjoyably than if I had been left to my own devices. Inviting outside groups to add their own expertise to the knowledge held by a museum and its curators can add a richness and variety to displays – especially as personal stories such as Lorne’s are often missing from a museum’s formal historic collections. Hopefully all of the BVWS members we worked with enjoyed their experience and gained an interesting insight into how a large museum goes about developing exhibition displays. I’m positive they enjoyed looking at our objects in storage because persuading them to leave the storeroom at the end of a session was always something of a challenge.

Some of the BVWS group with Science Museum staff in the garden of the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum – (left to right) Charlotte Connelly, Martyn Bennett, Marie Hobson, Lorne Clark, John Thompson, Deanne Naula. (Courtesy of Lorne Clarke - www.earlywireless.com)