Well, you can do all of these things and more at the Vintage Radio & Communications Museum of Connecticut. Located just north of Hartford in Windsor, the museum is a treasure trove of artifacts about the history of communications, from the telegraph to modern computers.
The museum's director and founder, John Ellsworth (pictured above), took us on a tour of nearly every corner and item inside the warehouse tidily appointed with exhibits. Some of the highlights included learning the origin of the term "limelight"; before the advent of electric lighting, theaters would create light by igniting calcium oxide, or quick lime. The museum has a an example of a limelight rig likely used by a Vaudeville troupe around the turn of the century. We also got a chance to play with a Tesla coil, an experimental device invented by Nikola Tesla during his attempts to transmit electric power wirelessly (if you would like to learn more about this inventor and his connections to New York City, check out the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.)
Mr. Ellsworth also told us the story of Edwin H. Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, who conducted many of his experiments from Meriden's West Peak – due to its history and continued use as a broadcasting center, the area has been dubbed "Radio Mountain." W1XPW (now WCHN, a once great rock station that now plays adult contemporary), established in Meriden in 1938 under Armstrong's early FM standard of 42-50 MHz, was the first FM broadcaster in the state and one of the first in the country. Patent disputes with RCA over the standard – as well as the company's successful lobbying of the FCC to move the FM band to today's location of 88-108 MHz, rendering Armstrong's radios and transmitters obsolete – caused him to become deeply depressed, and he committed suicide in New York City in 1954.
The museum has also developed an innovative way of supporting itself. In addition to the small admission fee visitors pay, the museum also generates income by repairing equipment and selling parts and schematics for vintage electronics. As most electronics have moved from vacuum tubes to solid-state components, these parts have become more and more difficult to find, and there are only a handful of factories in the world still making them. Luckily, the museum has tens of thousands of vacuum tubes for sale at very reasonable prices, and they can help you get your old radio back to playing crystal clear analog sound.
Even for someone who is not an electronics aficionado, the personal touch of the staff and volunteers make a visit to the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum a special experience. Its well-crafted hands-on exhibits make it an ideal place for children and school groups. The museum is a real treasure, and we encourage you to visit – and if you are in the market for equipment or parts, or looking to get rid of some old radios, your purchase or donation can be another great way to support them.
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