The Alaska Communication System

For more than half a century, long-distance telecommunication in the U.S. territory of Alaska was provided by the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps, which was charged in 1900 by the U.S. Congress to establish communication between a hub in Seattle and the far-flung military bases in the territory. The system, composed of wired links, submarine cables, and radio communication, also carried civil traffic and operated as the long distance telephone company for private communications. In 1962, the system was transferred from the Army to the Air Force, but continued to operate as before. Finally, in 1970 the system was sold to RCA for US$ 31.5 million.

This film is a “kinescope” of a live NBC television broadcast from 1950, “Invisible Rampart”. The first half describes the Alaska Communication System and the second half is propaganda about the wonders of the Signal Corps. Kinescopes were made by photographing a television screen with a movie camera, and the image quality is wobbly and has limited dynamic range—that’s the best they could do until video tape was invented in 1956.