While they may seem quaint or even primitive by modern standards, upon their completion in 1913, the Navy’s Radio Station Arlington Towers were considered to represent the height of cutting edge communications technology.
In their day, “The Three Sisters” as they were known, were the second largest manmade structure in the world behind only the Eiffel Tower, with the tallest of the three standing a full 45 feet higher than the Washington Monument.
Located at the intersection of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road, the towers were built to launch the Navy’s effort to establish a worldwide communications network. Using the call letters NAA, the towers functioned to provide the first long distance radio conversation, the first transoceanic radio telephone circuit (fittingly, to a French station broadcasting from the Eiffel Tower), and served to introduce the regular broadcasts of time signals, which was important to ships at sea who relied on accurate time checks for navigational purposes.
The towers were taken down in 1941 upon the opening of National Airport as they were considered to be an aviation hazard. Today, the site at Columbia Pike and Courthouse road continues to be occupied by military communications departments, chiefly the Defense Communication Agency. There are photographs like the one above, showing the Three Sisters and cavalry exercises from Fort Myer, and you can find out more information on the towers using newspapers on microfilm, all in the Virginia Room.
What About You?
What do you remember about the Arlington radio towers? What was early radio like in the Washington area? Let us know what you remember!