Revisiting Telefunken during
The Telefunken wireless station, once located on Cherry Avenue in West Sayville, has played a major role in both local and international history.

Photo courtesy of LIRTVHS

Revisiting Telefunken during

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
11/8/2018


SAYVILLE—On Saturday, Nov. 10, the Long Island Radio and Television Historical Society and the Sayville Public Library will host a special daylong event: “Long Island History Day: 100 Years After WWI,” from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the library. While the second half of the program focuses on Sayville’s role during the war, beginning at 10 a.m. the LIRTVHS will be on hand promoting their podcast and will demonstrate radio techniques dating to the war years. In addition, filmmaker Joe Sikorski will discuss his film, “Invisible Threads: the Story of Telefunken.”

In a wireless age dominated by cell phones and the internet, it might be difficult for some to imagine a time when information was delivered in a more primitive way through wireless stations, four of them situated right here on Long Island. Telefunken was a station located on Cherry Avenue in West Sayville that dates back to 1911 and operated on that site until 1917. 

Connie Currie, president of LIRTVHS, noted that the station had been in competition with several others here on Long Island: Tesla operated a wireless station in Shoreham and Marconi operated one in Sagaponak and another in Babylon. However, Telefunken, a German company with a sister station in Germany, is said to have been the only one that was able to consistently reach Berlin. “The early battle for air waves took place here on Long Island,” Currie remarked.

Currie said, regarding the program, that in addition to sharing information, she’s also hoping to glean some as well.

“We’re looking for information on the Telefunken station and the Navy station when they were both in Sayville,” she said. “They would be family stories told to people by their parents.”

The Navy Reserve station was located by the Great South Bay, where Long Island Maritime Museum is now. “They were using the oyster shed [on the property] as their headquarters,” she added, noting that Robert Roosevelt Jr. was in command of the base during the two to three years it was situated there.

Sikorski said Saturday’s program would help to familiarize local residents about the three wireless innovators that once called Long Island home. And it might surprise many to learn that the West Sayville station played a part in our country’s involvement in WWI.

“Telefunken played a major role in getting us into WWI,”
 he said. “It was a communication center for an espionage ring.” He explained that the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, was in part facilitated by information transmitted through Telefunken. However, when it was discovered that a code sent by German Minister Zimmerman to Mexico, urging them to attack the southeastern United States in order to keep the U.S. out of the European arena, it was the last straw for then-President Woodrow Wilson. The U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917. The Navy then took control of Telefunken. 

The station remained in operation through most of the 20th century, but was operated at different times by private companies, the Civil Aeronautics Authority and then the Federal Aviation Administration, until 1995 before being decommissioned. 

Though there were many attempts over the years by local historians to keep the building, which was designed by famed local architect Isaac Green, it was eventually demolished in 1998. The property is now an industrial site.

“No one is aware of the immense history that happened here,” said Sikorski. “It’s so important for people to care about local history, because it is also important in world history.”

The Sayville Public Library is located at 88 Greene Avenue. For more information, call 631-589-4440.