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Virginia Utermohlen on: Jack Binns
Virginia Utermohlen Q: Give me that thumbnail sketch of Binns?

VU: Binnsy, that's what we called him in our generation, was an orphan and he was brought up by family, aunts and uncles who were quite poor. So after he reached the age of 12, he realized that he could get a job in England. He felt very strongly that he was a burden on the people who were taking care of him. So he then left to get a job. And one of the few jobs that was available, that was really kind of interesting and fun, was as a telegraph messenger boy. And so he went and got the job and proved to be a very efficient messenger because he knew all the shortcuts in town. In the process, he also was able to develop a knowledge because he was intensely curious. Even without the formal education. He was intensely curious about science and mass and so he basically taught himself electronics and more advanced mathematics, in order to understand the entire telegraph process. On one of these message trips, he took a shortcut through a train yard and one of the ways to get through the train yard was to crawl under the trains. He crawled under a train and the train started to move and it ran right over his legs. It was said, although he never heard this because he passed out immediately, that the yell he gave was so blood curdling that absolutely everything stopped cold in the train yard. They brought him to the hospital and they were convinced he was not going to survive. They decided not to cut his legs off, which they otherwise might have done, but instead to try a new medication or a new serum actually that they had brought in by train from Edinborough and he was served as a guinea pig for this. Well fortunately, it worked and fortunately they hadn't cut his legs off, so he actually was able to then go on to be the Marconi man that he was.

Q: How old was he? Had he crossed? What did he make for a living?

VU: He earned 12 dollars a week working as a Marconi man which wasn't much in those days, but for him it was a royal sum and, of course, there was the camaraderie of all the other Marconi men, all young men like him who were so excited with this new technology and its promise for the world.

Q: So how did he feel about being a wireless operator?

VU: He enjoyed it. He loved it. He loved the opportunity to use his mind, to have an apparatus that really meant something. He always looked to the future and this was part of the future, in his mind, electronics were. He loved the part of the camaraderie. He had an instant group of really close friends, people who are in on the secret of telegraphy and who could communicate with each other in ways that nobody else really knew how to do. And so they were all great sort of telegraph key pals among each other and again as I said they were young men who loved to play tricks and jokes on each other. So they had a marvelous time with the telegraph system doing just that.

Q: Give me a little sense of Binnsy's character? Did he take his work seriously?

VU: Binnsy was an incredibly serious person when it came to work. But when it came to play, and especially playing with us, his grandchildren, he was a big joker and was always full of kind of funny tricks, of making a lot of fun of things around him. He was a very smiley, happy sort of person with a twinkle in his eye, and when we were being had by one of his jokes, his twinkle was just incredible.

Q: What about his sense of right and wrong? I mean he was only in his 20s.

VU: One of the things that always struck me, and I spent a great deal of time with him as a child, was his very strong sense of right and wrong. There were things you had to do and things you had not to do and they were always based on what was good for the other person. Always what was good for the duty that you had to do, whether it came to doing homework or whether it came to how you interacted with other people. Friendliness, warmth, kindness, especially kindness, was really important to him.

Q: And what about his sense of duty and his sense of his equipment? I mean this is a little newfangled job, it wasn't very important in some eyes?

VU: It may not have been an important job in some people's eyes, but to him it was critically important. He had a duty in keeping his equipment working and keeping his messages coming and going. He had a duty to secrecy, also, because many of these messages were private and he sensed very strongly that these were not things, even where there were newsworthy things, they were not things to go blurting to people about. He was not in the job for himself. He was in the job because the job had to be done and because he knew he could do it so well.

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