Subject: Re: Why the term ---HAM---
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 1997 16:11:04 GMT
From: ke4zv@bellsouth.net (Gary Coffman)
Organization: Destructive Testing Systems
 Newsgroups: rec.radio.amateur.antenna, rec.radio.amateur.homebrew,
rec.radio.amateur.boatanchors, rec.radio.amateur.equipment

On 7 Sep 1997 19:25:53 GMT,  wrote:
Where did the term HAM come from? When did it come to popular use?

The *real* explanation appears to be lost in the mists of time. There are a
number of theories. Some more plausible than others. The one you'll likely
hear the most is about "little station HAM". It goes like this. In the early
days of radio, the government didn't assign call letters to amateurs. They
just made up their own. Supposedly, three students at Harvard named
Hyman, Almay, and Murray set up a station. They decided to use their
initials as the call. Thus we have the little station HAM. When the Navy
tried to grab control of all radio frequencies, these guys are supposed to
have testified before Congress, and the story of little station HAM 
supposedly didn't leave a dry eye in the house. The press is supposed
to have picked up this story of little station HAM, and amateurs have
been known as hams ever since.

Unfortunately for this story, none of it checks out. A past president
of the ARRL did extensive research in an attempt to confirm this
story. There is nothing in the Congressional record about little station
HAM. There is nothing in contemporary press records. And there
is no record of a Hyman, Almay, or Murray at Harvard at the time
this supposedly happened. This story first surfaced in an amateur
publication in 1948, and doesn't seem likely to die. But it appears
to have no factual basis.

Another story you may hear is that ham is the result of a Cockney
pronounciation of (h)amateur. But that is unlikely for two reasons.
First, the term was in use in America before there was substantial
amateur activity in Britian. And second, voice transmission wasn't
used by amateurs of the era, so how did a pronounciation get propagated
by Morse?

Another story you may hear is that it comes from a landline telegrapher's
insult. Many operators of the day came from a landline background, and
on the landlines a common insult was that someone was "ham fisted" in
his sending. It is possible that commerical operators used this slang to
refer to amateurs and it caught on. Certainly, the term LID came from
landline telegrapher slang. (LID was a reference to use of a tobacco can
lid on the sounder to aid a poor operator in copying Morse.) This one
may be true. It wouldn't be the first time that a group adopted a term
originally meant as an insult to serve as a slang term for themselves.

But the one I like best goes like this. This era was filled with pulp
magazines catering to the experimenter. (Everyone at the end of
the Victorian age apparently viewed himself as a closet inventor
or tinkerer.) One of these magazines was called Home Amateur
Mechanic, and it featured many simple radio sets a person could
build. It is likely that when asked what kind of radio an operator
was using, he might send back RIG HR ES HAM, meaning that
it was one of the circuits shown in Home Amateur Mechanic
magazine. Since telegraphers tend to abbreviate everything, due
to the low throughput of Morse, this is plausible, and Home
Amateur Mechanic magazine certainly did exist in the correct
era. So it was those HAM radios which started the use of ham
in amateur radio.
Gary Coffman KE4ZV  

Another Version Of Ham is from the telegraph days where a poor operator 
was said to be "Ham-Fisted".
Then there is this one. It is a corruption of "AM", which was a 
truncation of the word "amateur".

My granddad was a railroad telegrapher.  He said that the term lid 
came from operators who would put the lid of a Prince Albert tobacco 
tin on the sounder so they could copy the code easier.  It was a 
practice that was frowned on by operators who did not have to do 
this and it became the slang used for bad operators.   
They would also say that such an operator had a "tin ear".


The best explaination I have heard was that if "lid" was not sent
properly in landline (American Morse) code, it sounded like "dd":

daaah,  dit dit,  dah dit dit.     (daaah = long dash)

It was a basic test of a proficient operator.
JD, ac6pv

I have also heard that LID came from the early days of land morse.. an
operator who could not send well put a LID eg: slowed down the traffic

 J. Gold  WB2AFS

Actually no, it isn't the lid, but it is the can itself. The tobacco can was 
shaped similar to a pocket flask but had a flip top metal lid on it. If you 
removed the lid and stuck the can in between the sounder and the reflecting box
then it amplified the sound and gave it a little rounder tone (removed some of 
the click).

Some of the local old timers tell me they would fill the tobacco can
with sand.  Varying the depth of the sand changed the tone.
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