Alfred Traeger, Giving the Outback a Voice
Alfred Traeger ... page one ... page two
Imagine not being able to talk to anyone outside your immediate family for as long as a year. That’s what it was like in the outback before Alfred Traeger applied pedal power to the problem.
Alfred’s first idea was to fit a generator to an emery wheel and turned it by hand to generate the electricity. Unfortunately this meant the operator would only have one hand free to operate the equipment. Alfred rejected this. Instead he decided to adapt a WW1 idea and use pedal power.
Alfred attached bicycle pedals to the emery wheel and secured it to the floor so it wouldn’t move when pedalled hard. This allowed a person to generate the power needed by the transmitter while having both hands free. Unfortunately uneven peddling caused the frequency to change which meant part of the transmission would be lost. He solved this problem by adding crystal frequency stabilizers from the USA.
Alfred’s invention would soon transform communications in isolated areas of the world. He built the first ever pedal transmitter-receiver in 1929 at a then cost of £33 ($66).
The first design had its limitations. The homestead could receive voice, but had to return messages by Morse code, which was hard to learn and master.
Alfred’s next invention was the Morse Keyboard. This clever twist on a typewriter meant that the user did not have to know or learn Morse code. The user simply hit a typewriter key on the Morse Keyboard and the corresponding Morse signal would be sent.
The first pedal sets had been introduced in Queensland in June 1929 at Augustus Downs. This was 320 km north of Cloncurry, Queensland, where the first Flying Doctor service started a year earlier in May 1928.
Alfred continued to perfect his invention and in 1935 built a transceiver that could transmit voice in both directions. This was an important improvement. It allowed the outside world to enter the outback thus diminishing the isolation endured by the homesteaders.
School of the Air
More than 30 years after the first model left the Traeger factory, pedal sets were still being sold in countries such as Nigeria. Ten years after that Traeger's firm provided the sets to the School of the Air in Canada, an educational radio network. In Australia, his sets were used in the School of the Air.
Traeger continued to invent a variety of things from a turbine-driven car to the use of solar power to convert salt water to fresh water.
Alfred Hermann Traeger died in Adelaide on 31 July 1980 at Rosslyn Park, Adelaide, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. At a sports field in Alice Springs a plaque was erected and the Royal Flying Doctor Service added one of their old aeroplanes to his memorial.
Alfred was the eldest son of Johann Hermann Traeger, a farmer, and his wife Louisa, née Zerna, both South Australian born. His grandparents migrated from Germany to Australia in 1848.
Alfred was educated at Balaklava Public School and the Martin Luther School before spending two years at technical high school. He received an Associate diploma from South Australian School of Mines and Industries in 1915. Alfred Hermann Traeger was awarded an OBE in 1944.