Somewhere between 1915 and 1920, a gesture as simple as fumbling through one’s pocket came to signify a completely different kind of cultural technique. Rather than sifting among a private collection of utilitarian or discarded objects, the user of the “pocket wireless” receiver now opened himself up to a “receptive situation” in which live bits of information (time, weather, stock quotes) or messages from home might be skimmed from the airwaves.
Five or six years ago, [Leon W. Bishop of Elizabeth, NJ] won a reputation as being more or less of a nut because he might often be seen walking about the streets with wires dangling from his hat and running down to a cane, while another wire trailed from one foot. Occasionally Bishop would hold out his cane, put one hand in his pocket, fumble with somethingand announce that he was receiving a wireless message. Today almost anyone would know what he was doing, but five or six years ago the man who knew anything about wireless was an exception and unless Bishop took the time to let spectators listen in to the dots and dashes, no one believed him.
(Binns, Jack, Amateurs Race to Make Vest-Pocket Set,New-York Tribune, February 19, 1922, p. 6. Above, illustration from F.H. Collins’s 1898 patent application for the Magneto Ear Phone.)