Brave New World: The Wireless Age Begins is an exhibition exploring the cutting-edge technology of the early 20th century, which transformed the way Americans thought, wrote, talked, danced and sang. The exhibit opens at the Counting House Museum in South Berwick on Saturday, June 1, 1:00–4:00 p.m. and will run through October on weekend afternoons. The public is invited and admission is free of charge.
A century before social media and search engines consumed our waking hours, the spellbinding power of radio and film caught our imaginations and made us a nation of listeners and watchers.
Astonishing inventions with roots in the 1800s, like the telegraph and telephone, vastly expanded the scope and speed of communication. But after 1900, advances in radio and cinema sparked a revolution in mass communication and accelerated the pace of change to a dizzying degree, much as we feel digital technology has today.
“Hunger for connections—linking us faster, farther, longer, deeper—was a driving force behind much of the early 20th-century technology represented here,” commented exhibit curator Nina Maurer. “That same force compels us now. The question we ask, glancing back, is whether those long-obsolete devices changed us for the better.”
The “talking machine”—what we now call radio—brought the world into our living rooms.
Among the early 20th-century devices from the collections of the Old Berwick Historical Society that are part of the exhibit is a 1927 Atwater Kent cabinet radio, one of the first radios to use household current. Visitors can listen to an excerpt from the first broadcast of the period’s most famous radio drama, The Shadow, narrated by a young Orson Welles.
Kodak Brownie cameras, the first to be marketed to children, are also included in the exhibit, along with a Pathé motion-picture camera of the type used to produce early silent films like The Perils of Pauline. A film clip from comedian Buster Keaton’s 1928 classic The Cameraman will be on view as well.
Local businesses and collectors have supported the exhibition with loans of old and new tech, from printer’s type to the iPad Air. Those generous lenders include Minuteman Press in Rollinsford, Thom Hindle Camera Collection in Dover, and RiverRun Bookstore, Experimac, and MacEdge of Portsmouth.