100th Anniversary of Three Sisters Radio Towers

| February 20, 2013 | 6 Comments

At a period in the history of Arlington, Virginia, long ago, there was an area called Radio, Virginia. It was a neighborhood named for the old U.S. Navy Wireless Station in the vicinity of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road.

A trio of radio antennas – known to locals as “The Three Sisters’’ – towered over the neighborhood. In their day, the antenna towers were the world’s tallest. One of the towers was 45 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The Navy opened Radio Arlington, call sign NAA, in 1913, launching the U.S. military’s global communications system. A streetcar stop was even named “Radio.’’

radio towers

Old Radio Arlington marked the first time the term “radio’’ was used in communications, according to Nan and Ross Netherton’s book “Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History,” which was published in 1987. In the days of Marconi and other radio pioneers, the new communications mode was called “wireless telegraphy.’’

Eiffel Tower

Radio Arlington’s other firsts included a transoceanic radiotelephone circuit with a wireless station at the Eiffel Tower in 1915, and regular broadcasts of time signals, a service that helped ships at sea calibrate their navigational equipment.

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.

The towers were moved in 1941 because they were in the flight path for the newly opened Washington National Airport. The towers stand today at Annapolis Naval Acadamy in Maryland, on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The first time ‘radio’ was used to describe ‘wireless’ communications was when these towers were built and tested.

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Category: Public Service

Comments (6)

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  1. At the very least it is more instructive than one of the reality Television stars,
    kim who? Joey what?

  2. Tom Dickinson says:

    Could you please ask the author of the article on “100th Anniversary of the Three Sisters Radio Towers” in Arlington VA to contact me at the above email address? I worked for five years in the building where the transmitter was located, and am interested in getting more detail on the radio station that was there and its history. Thank you.

    Tom Dickinson
    Past President,
    Arlington Historical Society

    • Jim Ferstl says:

      What do you want to know? I also worked in the transmitter building and ended my career as the Defense Information Systems Command Historian.

      Jim Ferstl

      • Tom Dickinson says:

        HI Jim:

        I’m interested in any information you might have or could refer me to about the “3 Sister” Radio Arlington towers that were located at the old DISA HQs site. Construction, funding, technical performance, historical highlights, use of the towers, etc.

        Also, I once read in an old newspaper clipping that when the towers were dedicated in around 1913, a brass plaque was also dedicated, and placed in front of the tallest tower. I am curious what happened to that brass plaque when the towers were disassembled and moved to Annapolis.

        Thanks much Jim…did you replace Lance as historian at DISA?

        Tom Dickinson

        • Jim Ferstl says:

          There was a gap of about five years between Lance’s leaving and my becoming Command Historian. During that time, there was no DISA Historian.

        • Jim Ferstl says:

          Contrary to popular belief, the “Tree Sisters” were not moved to Annapolis, but dismantled by a New Jersey salvage company.

          At NAA’s peak, there were five antenna support towers.

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