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Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to President Woodrow Wilson




March 30, 1917

My dear Mr. President:-

               I have the honor to recommend that the Congress be urged to provide at this time, as an urgent military necessity, the immediate operation of all privately owned radio stations under the jurisdiction of the United States which can be used for military purposes, and the closing of stations of every kind which can interfere with the communications of or with the fleet or the military forces, or which can be used against the peace and safety of the United States; and to provide, as a measure necessary to the future safety of the nation, for the purchase and operation in peace and war of stations not required by private interests for the development of the art of radiotelegraphy, for the training of operators, or for special emergency use in cases where no other rapid means of communication are available.

               A careful study of this matter, covering a period of many years, has convinced the executive departments that, distinct from all other considerations of the question of Government ownership, this is a natural Government monopoly. In radio communication, an instrumentality so vital to the operations of our fleet and the defense of our coasts, interferences are so destructive that unless somebody controls the means of transmission, nobody can succeed in it. The energy used is transmitted in all directions, and the number of communications that can take place in a given area is limited. No title can be given to any portion of the medium through which these communications take place. Control, to be effective, must be absolute. A monopoly is necessary, and such monopoly may be obtained and maintained only by the Government.

               The possibilities of harm being done by radio stations, especially high power stations in the hands of private interests under foreign influence, have been found to be very great. At all times the signals from high power stations cross our boundaries and bring us into direct relations, not with one nation but with many nations, and only the strictest military control can insure our neutrality in these present circumstances, and our future safety. At this period the danger should be removed for all time.

               You may be confident that the needs of commerce for this means of communication, as far as shore stations are concerned, can be very successfully provided for by the Navy Department, by slightly extending the service which it has rendered to the public in many seas during the past four years.2

Very respectfully,

Josephus Daniels                  

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65. At the end of the letter following the signature is typed “The President.” At the top of the letter is a handwritten note with the initials “JD” stating, “Do not send”, and Daniels’ signature is crossed out. The reasons for this are unclear, but may be due to the fact that Daniels references maintaining the neutrality of the United States in this letter and, by the time he was prepared to send this letter, the United States had declared war on Germany. Nevertheless, Daniels’ plan was put into action as part of an Executive Order of 6 April 1917.

Footnote 1: Director of Naval Communications.

Footnote 2: According to a report given soon after the war’s end by the Capt. Samuel W. Bryant, Acting Director of the Naval Communication Service, on 1 January 1917, the U.S. Navy operated 55 radio station distributed along the coast of the United States and its possessions. Per an executive order from President Wilson on 6 April 1917, the Navy took over 59 commercial stations. Naval Investigation, 2: 1715-16; Winkler, Nexus, 112-120. Also, see, Daniels to Wilson, 23 March 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65; and, Woodrow Wilson Executive Order, 6 April 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

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