Historic Monument - Telegraph Tower, Tuckerton

Along Radio Road, just a short distance from the beaches of Gravelling Point in Little Egg Harbor, stands a piece of New Jersey history. The Tuckerton Telegraph Tower is an oddity amidst the aging developments of Mystic Islands. Some errant residents spray painted the remains of the tower, marking its foundation as a true relic of yesterday. Three concrete blocks, 20 feet below the earth and 24 feet above ground, stand as remnants of “one of the tallest telegraphic towers in history.“(1) Although observers may find the artifact a simple and meaningless relic, this unusual tower was reported to have played a part in the defeat of the British passenger liner “Lusitania” by a German U-boat, an event that helped to spur the United States into War World I.(2)

Dr. Rudolph Goldschmidt, an early pioneer of wireless communication, chose the Jersey coast as the location for one of his groundbreaking trans-oceanic experiments. First constructed in Germany, the 680-foot tall Tuckerton tower was reassembled on a dirt path set aside for the purpose in 1912.(3) Engineers arranged for the tower to be delivered by horse-drawn vehicles across the damp meadow. Supported by four cables on three sides, steel reinforced blocks stabilized it in high winds. By 1914, messages were sent on a “limited range basis” from the tower.(4). With Germans employed as construction bosses and engineers, strict secrecy was maintained; publicly the project was declared a “commercial experiment.”(5) Using the highest voltage of any radio tower of its time, six columns of glass, and an insulted base, the tower stood atop a solid steel ball. The U.S. government first inspected the tower on May 5, 1913, when William M. Smith of the Bureau of Yards and Docks called for an inspection by the U.S. Navy Department. President Woodrow Wilson reportedly sent birthday greetings to Kaiser Wilhelm II for his 55th birthday through the Tuckerton wireless. The Kaiser replied that he hoped the tower station would become “a new link between our countries.”(6)

As war broke out in Europe in 1914, the tower was believed to have been used for war purposes by Germany, which resulted in a public outcry from both England and France. Although President Wilson forbid the use of the tower for contacting ships at sea, the Tuckerton tower had communicated sailing information to the German cruisers “Dresden” and “Karlsruhe.” Joseph Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, enforced an “operational takeover” of the tower with nine enlisted men assigned to handle transmissions, although German workers remained for maintenance purposes.(7) During 1915, newspapers printed a warning from the Imperial German Government stating, “Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and Great Britain; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles. Vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters.”(8)

Soon after, the commander of the Imperial German submarine U-20 received a message, “Get Lucy,” allegedly sent from the Tuckerton wireless tower.(9) 1,198 lives were lost as the Lusitania was torpedoed arriving to the British coast.(10) By 1917, all German employees of the Tuckerton tower were ordered to leave and the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Secret Service men arrived in Tuckerton, placing the remaining German staff under arrest. The tower was then used solely by the U.S. government for the rest of the war.

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Monument to the Tuckerton Telegraph Tower, Tuckerton

Monument to the Tuckerton Telegraph Tower. Photograph © Tom McNally.
Base of the Tower

Base of the Tuckerton Telegraph Tower. Photograph © Tom McNally.
Base of the Tower

Base of the Tuckerton Telegraph Tower. Photograph © Tom McNally (see link below).

Around 1942, twenty four ships were attacked and sunk by the Axis powers off the New Jersey coast. “The Razor” and “The Gulf Trade” spilled over seven million gallons of oil onto New Jersey beaches after sinking near Barnegat Inlet.(11) World War II brought the tower into use once more for “anti-submarine service,” and shortly after it became the property of the Mystic Islands Corporation, which chose to demolish the structure in December 1955 in order to attract residents to a newly built housing development. Although most of the tower was recycled for its 800 tons of steel and two miles of cable, its large concrete anchors could not be removed without explosives and remain today at the roadside for residents to ponder and admire. (Elizabeth Parsons)

(1,2,4-9) William McMahon, South Jersey Towns, History and Legend (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1973).

(3,10,11) McNally web site (see link below).

Additional Reference:

David D. Oxenford, The People of Ocean County, A History of Ocean County, New Jersey (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ: The Valente Publishing House, Inc., 1992).


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