Robert Dollar Equipment (long)

Larry Esau leesau at FRESNO.K12.CA.US
Wed Oct 21 18:14:28 EDT 1998

Fellow Anchorites:

Awhile ago I was fortunate enough to obtain a Dollaradio 237-A
Transmitter, several A-4921-M Receivers, and a 5411 Remote Control
Console. I posted a message on the Boatanchors Reflector to see if there
was any more of the Dollar equipment out there and see what I could find
out about the Company. This is what I have learned so far:

Robert Stanley Dollar Sr. was an important man in San Francisco and
around the Pacific Rim in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born
in Scotland in 1843, he later emigrated to America and built the Dollar
Steamship Company known for its transpacific liners bearing the names of
US presidents. That portion of the Company operating the president
liners later became known as the American President Lines. Dollar Sr.
soon became the most successful ship owner in the nation, and an ardent
enemy of labor unions. His legacy is being felt to this day as there is
still a Dollar Building at 141 Battery Street in downtown San Francisco
and a Dollar Ranch outside the City. Because of his large influence,
Dollar Sr. associated with many influential people of his time including
President Wilson, Secretary of State Henry Stimson, Chinese President
Chiang Kai Shek, and Phillipine President Carlos Garcia.

Dollar Sr. was also an extremely energetic man and was actively involved
in his company well into his 80s. Later his son, Captain Robert Dollar
(Robert Stanley Dollar Jr.) succeeded him and assumed full control.
Under Captain Dollar the family business continued to grow, and by 1919
it included several subsidiary companies supporting the main steamship
business. There was a Dollar company in Oregon called the Green Mountain
Logging Company, some type of business in the Phillipines, and even some
operations producing early wireless equipment. Thorn May's "Wireless
Communications in the United States" (1989) says the Dollar radio
manufacturing operations had their roots back in the early days of

In 1926 Captain Dollar built the state-of-the-art "Dollaradio"
communications installation on Mussel Rock in Pacifica to maintain
communications with his fleet, and in 1929 he purchased a 2/3 interest
in the famous radio manufacturing firm of Heinz and Kaufman in South San
Francisco to expedite production of radio equipment for his ships.
Dollaradio, as this portion of the Company also became known, supplied
equipment and operators for the ships in a captive operation similar to
the services the Marconi Company provided for others. Captain Dollar
somehow managed to avoid the RCA and DeForest patents on vacuum tube
technology during the period and stay in the radio business until at
least WW2. In 1930 he also formed another company devoted entirely to
radio communications called Globe Wireless Limited. That name was
recently resurrected by a successor company who now operates radio
station KFS and a global network of HF coastal stations.

The Dollaradio Company evidently made some very nice commercial radio
equipment just before WW2, but there is no indication they sold any of
it to Amateurs. Some of this equipment did wind up in Ham shacks,
probably because it was available surplus and was easy to convert to 160
meters. I know of only one other Ham that has any of the equipment now,
but I'm hoping there is more still in existence. Several Hams responding
to my post told me the Dollaradio plate power supplies in particular
were famous in Ham circles for their rock-solid construction on thick
copper plates. Mine is built this way, and the RF deck I have is also
very conservatively designed.

The panels in my Dollar 237-A transmitter are finished in gray
hammertone with a large red dollar sign logo in the center of each
panel. The workmanship on everything is very good. There is a canted
meter panel at the top of the transmitter rack with 4 square meters that
looks terrific. I'm a sucker for transmitters with rows of square
meters. According to the manual I got with the equipment, the 237-A was
designed for use by municipalities in the old public service band on the
frequencies just below the 160 meter band. I am told these frequencies
were used by police radio systems in the years preceding WW2 and that
this range was often marked on the dials of home BCB/SW receivers of
that era.

The 237-A is a 2 channel, crystal controlled, 250 watt AM transmitter.
It will operate in the 160 meter band with just a change of crystals.
Starting at the top, there is the canted meter panel with 4 square
meters, an exciter panel, a multipurpose meter panel with a round meter
and a switch, a final amplifier panel, a modulator panel, and a power
control panel. The behemoth plate power supply with 3 large inductors
and 866 rectifiers sits in the bottom of the rack. The exciter panel
contains the crystals, oscillator and buffer circuits, and a 2E26
driver. The 2E26 drives a pair of 813s in the final modulated by a pair
of 811s in the modulator. The rack the Transmitter is in also has enough
space to include 2 of the Dollar A-4921-M single channel receivers and a
speaker panel that makes a complete two channel transmitting and
receiving system. The receivers include squelch and can be monitored
simultaneously. The transmitter and receivers can be controlled at the
rack or remote controlled from up to 25 feet away using the 5411 Remote
Control Console and extension cable. The console is a small sloping
panel cabinet finished in matching gray hammertone with some controls
and two speakers behind red metal grilles.

One Ham told me he encountered a Dollar system in the Humboldt County
RACES office in the 1960s that used just one 813 in the final, so other
versions of the transmitter must have been made. Another Ham said he saw
a Dollar rig in an old shack just after WW2 that was originally used in
an early police radio system. Yet another Ham told me he has an RF deck
from a Dollar transmitter in his collection. My system and those pieces
of equipment are the only ones of which I have any knowledge. All the
other information I have was provided by the Pacifica Historical Society
and the UC Berkeley Library. Please contact me if you know anything more
about the Dollar Company or their equipment.

73, Larry AD6W.

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