The Robert Dollar Story - By Edward Prather

Part 1

The Dollar Companies were established by Captain Robert Stanley Dollar.  His native country was Falkirk, Scotland, he gave a Park to Falkirk and it was named “Dollar Park”.

Capt. Robert Dollar’s life was filled with daring adventure, hard work and brilliant achievements.  History shows that he and his family were in Bracebridge, Ontario in 1880 and then they moved to Upper Michigan in 1882 and then on to San Francisco in 1888, selecting a residence in San Rafael.

 Capt. Dollar first became interested in foreign trade in the 1880’s when he was a lumberman living in Michigan.  Learning there was a market for huge pine timbers in England, he sent a cargo of timber on a chartered sailing ship then departed on a faster vessel and sold his lumber in England to buyers in Manchester and Liverpool.

In 1898 Captain Robert Dollar built his first ship, named the Grace Dollar.  It was launched at the Fulton Iron Works in San Francisco on May 7th. She was built as a lumber schooner but the Klondyke and Nome gold rushes were on and gold-crazed prospectors were begging for transportation to Alaska’s new El-Dorado.

Another deck, to carry passengers and freight, was quickly added to the Grace Dollar and the ship chartered to a group of gold-seekers. Because the charter money was paid in advance, this vessel gained the distinction of paying a dividend to her stockholders before she ever went to sea.

The Robert Dollar Company was incorporated December 10, 1903.

 One of Capt. Dollar’s employees, Hugo Lorber, who started work for him in April, 1893, in an issue of  the Globe Wireless news paper “FYI”  “Mr. Lorber’s interest in Globe Wireless dates back to its inception as Dollaradio.  He remembers the Simpson patents that R. Stanley bought, and how he got Heintz and Kaufman to build the radio equipment at their little shop on Natoma Street in San Francisco.  This equipment was installed in the first Dollaradio station built at Mussel Rock in 1928.Although the transmitters were housed in tiny wooden buildings 20 feet square, where the radio operators worked, slept, and ate, many notable “firsts” emanated from this crude establishment

 Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his companion flew the Southern Cross from California to Australia in 1928, spanning the Pacific Ocean by air for the first time. The radio operator on the plane, using H & K transmitter, kept in constant communication with ships at sea and with the Dollaradio station at Mussel Rock.

During the 7,362-mile flight. This was the first time constant communication had been maintained over such a vast distance.

Admiral Richard E. Byrd took H & K equipment on his expedition to the South Pole in 1929. After he reached Little America, and set up hjs radio station 30 feet below the snow, he began communication with the Dollaradio station at Mussel Rock. Night after night the operator on duty would copy material from Admiral Byrd for relay to the New York Times for publication in the morning newspaper.

Hugo Lorber is a Director of Globe Wireless Ltd.

Captain Robert Stanley Dollar died May 19, 1932.


“R. Stanley Dollar, the son of Captain Dollar, was born in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 1880. He moved with his parents to Michigan on his second birthday.  Six years later the Dollar family came to California and settled in San Rafael.  On May 2, 1898, 17-year- old  Stanley went to work in his father’s office as book-keeper, stenographer and office boy at a salary of $26.00 per month.  At that time the Dollar office consisted of two small rooms at 10 California Street, and the Dollar fleet was the tiny steam schooner NEWSBOY, that Robert Dollar had bought on April 19, 1895 to carry his lumber from the mill at Usal to markets along the California coast.

 Five days after Stanley began his business career, on May 7, 1898, the GRACE DOLLAR was launched at the Fulton Iron Works in San Francisco.  This was the first of a long line of Dollar ships that Captain Robert Dollar and his sons built and bought during the next forty years.  First they were small wooden steam schooners, then great steel freighters, and eventually palatial ocean liners plying across the Pacific and around the world.

With WW I to win, American shipyards began turning out ships at their capacity, but more ships were needed. Foreign shipyards out of the war zone were called upon.

In 1918 the U. S. Government contracted with the Chinese Government to have four 10,000 ton ships built by the Kiangnan Dock & Engineering Works, in Shanghai. All the material used in these ships was purchased in the United States and shipped to China.  Mr. Corbaley was  employed by the Robert Dollar Company in their New York Office; his job being to secure this material and supervise its shipment to China.

The sterling character of Captain Robert Dollar, and the high regard with which he was held in China, was brought to Corbaley’s  attention by an incident which happened at that time. While the contract for these four ships was being negotiated, Honorable Wellington Koo, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, called on Edward N. Hurley, President of the United States Shipping Board, and saidto him: “You can turn the money over to Captain Dollar as our depositary, When we complete the contracts, he will then turn the money over to the Chinese Government.” “Very well,” replied Mr. Hurley, “but thirty million dollars – how about Captain Dollar’s bond?” “Bond! exclaimed Ambassador Koo, “he doesn’t need any bond or agreement so far as the Government of China is concerned. I have a cable from the President of China instructing me to take neither bond or contract” That cable was attached to the contract and Captain Dollar handled the thirty million dollars without a bond being required by either Government.  Early in 1919 Mr. Corbaley was sent to China to supervise the completion of the four ships. They were named: CATHAY, CELESTIAL, ORIENTAL and MANDARIN.  A few years after WWI, in 1922, The Robert Dollar Co. bought these four ships from the US Shipping Board and renamed  them the Dianna Dollar, Margaret Dollar, Melville Dollar and Stuart Dollar.

The Dianna Dollar was the first American freighter of the Dollar Line to be placed in the Around-the-World service. In fact the Diana Dollar was the first privately owned United States freighter to ever engage in around the world service.

 The famous ‘round the world passenger’ service of the Dollar Steamship Line was inaugurated on January 5, 1924…a ship sailing from San Francisco westward every two weeks.  These were the first ships to carry the American flag around the world on regular schedules.

 In those days, early 1920’s, cable rates to the Orient were excessive….it cost 58 cents a word for messages from San Francisco to Manila, and 78 cents per word to Shanghai, China. This was too expensive for the major portion of the company business, and it had to go by letter which took 30 days to cross the Pacific.

 In February 1920 the Robert Dollar building at 311 California Street was completed and the Robert Dollar Company offices were moved into the building. They were at 230 California Street, 3rd floor.

 Ralph Heinz (1896-1980) had established a small manufacturing facility on Natomas Street in San Francisco and was very active in providing experimental high frequency radio equipment. In April 1925 the SS Kaimiloa, KFUH, was in the southseas with Radio Operator Fred Roebuck aboard and sent a message to Ralph Heinz “build new transmitter, use your judgment, be in Honolulu in 3 weeks. Standard Navy 1 KW spark not getting through” Ralph’s solution was the first SW transmitter ever used by a ship. SW was in the experimental stage and this transmitter used TGTP oscillator down to 10 meters. Many Hams worked Fred. The word spread rapidly and of course R. Stanley Dollar was listening.

 In 1926 R. Stanley Dollar went to Washington, D. C. to see what the Government was going to do about this new invention “wireless” which was beginning to attract attention. This was before the FCC was established, and the Department of Commerce had jurisdiction of the wave lengths.

After Mr. Dollar explained how essential it was that he have radio communication with his ships sailing around the world, and his offices in the Orient, he was given exclusive use of certain wave lengths for experimental purposes. The experimental station received the call sign of “6XBB”

The new method of communication was named Dollaradio, and the first station built at Mussel Rock.  The transmitters were housed in a small wooden building about 20 feet square, and receiving operations were conducted in a similar structure 100 feet away. Here the radio operators worked, slept and ate.

It was the duty of the operators at Mussel Rock: Roger Bunce and Neil Brown, to keep in contact with operator Fred Roebuck, who was now on the S. S. President Taft as it crossed the Pacific from San Francisco to Manila. R. Stanley Dollar was also aboard.

That trip of the President Taft in 1929 was history making, for R. Stanley Dollar. Two days out of Honolulu en route to the Orient, he was the first San Franciscan to establish contact with the Graf Zepplin on its round-the-world flight.  Mr. Dollar wirelessed the commander, Dr. Hugo Eckener, “Welcome to the Pacific.” Then for eight minutes, Mr. Dollar, with the aid of the radio operator on the TAFT, and Dr. Eckener chatted back and forth through the ether.

The primary purpose of  Dollaradio during those early years was the handling of the vast amount of Dollar Steamship Inter-ship and inter-office correspondence.  The Dollar Line vessels were stretched around the globe at regularly spaced intervals corresponding in point of time to two weeks between ships.  Radio contact from the offices of the company to any ship anywhere was almost instantaneous, either directly or by relay.  It was possible to know the exact position of the ships in the Red Sea with the same ease that the company could determine the location of craft between San Francisco and Honolulu.  This was of inestimable value to the company in planning port facilities, handling passenger reservations, etc.

The experimental pioneering of the Dollaradio network proved so successful that the company was incorporated as GLOBE WIRELESS LTD., and on April 10, 1934 entered the public communications field.

In addition to being President of Globe Wireless Ltd., R. Stanley Dollar was also president of the Robert Dollar Co., and Dollar Associates, Inc.

He was a Limited Partner of Dean Witter & Co., and Chairman of the Board of Lucky Stores, Inc. He was Director of the First Western Bank and Trust Company, the Pacific National Fire Insurance Co. of San Francisco, and the A. P. Giannini Scholarship Foundation.  He was a trustee of the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in New York.”

In 1936 the Globe Wireless Receiving Station was moved from Mussel Rock to a new Skyline location consisting of 60 acres of leased property. This was approximately 20 miles airline distance from Mussel Rock. This was necessary to provide more space for diversity spaced receiving antennas for point-to-point plus providing space for large KTK receiving antennas. Also to  eliminate the inherent noise of being close to the MR Transmitters. 

In 1938 there was a disappointing U.S. Government decision passed down, which took over the Dollar Ships and created a new company “The American President Lines” to operate them.

This did not reduce the Globe Ship radio traffic a great deal as most of the ship radio operators had been closely associated with the Globe stations.

In 1940 a new Point-To-Point station was opened at Hillsboro, Oregon. KEK.

After WWII started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 the Radio Stations were taken over by the U. S. Army for the duration.

Part 2


In the developing radio world, until about 1923, the use of short wave was mostly ignored by the Government & Commercial Wireless establishment. However some researchers, amateur radio enthusiasts and experimenters were establishing short wave communications firsts during this period. Looking at the chronology of events it seems like it took a long time from the Lee DeForest’s initial 3-element tube patent announcement, in 1906, until 1923 but it is a given that it typically takes 10 to 15 years from discovery until  to application, plus WW I may have added several more years.

Most radio communication systems both U. S Government, commercial and foreign were concentrated in the “Long Wave” spectrum, typically centering around 1,000 meters but of course they were both scattered above and many below.

In 1912 Armstrong developed the regenerative receiver which immediately launched a patent squabble with DeForest. But the receiver survived and was an important achievement in the technological struggle to develop better receiving devices.

In 1912 rules were issued for all Amateur Radio operators. These rules restricted amateur transmitters to 200 meters or shorter. (This move was supposed to eliminate interference by Amateurs to the long wave Government and Commercial stations). Also Amateurs were required to have operating and station licenses, call signs, and were limited to 1 kw of transmit power.

By 1912 there were approximately 600 Amateur Radio Stations and their ranks were growing rapidly. This was important to the development of short wave as numerous amateurs achieved firsts in that part of the spectrum.

In 1916 two manufacturers brought out regenerative receivers.

In April 1917 WW I started and all communications, by Government Order, ceased.

But note that the demands of war are usually a growth period for technology, radio was no exception.

WW I ended November 1918. All prewar radio services were gradually restored. Immediately there was a huge demand for power radio tubes but no manufacturer was turning them out yet. When WW I ended the Government had a large tube stockpile and some of these found their way into the hands of a fortunate few.  Power tubes did not become commercially available until 1921.

We now turn to the communication needs of the ocean going vessels.

Illustrates the extensive use of long wave in the year 1918.

A short story by Geoff Lloyd,Globe Employee 1939 now Globe Employee Honolulu (1955), told of his ship radio operator days in the Pacific, while on the SS Protesilaus, GSC. Bulletins from MUU (Carnarvon, N. Wales, a CW generator station on about 12,000 meters, NAA, the Arlington 500 Kc Rotary Spark on 2500 meters and OUI, Eilvese, near Hannover, Germany, were copied daily. Press releases from our own Naval stations, particularly NPG, San Francisco, a Poulsen Arc on 4800 meters, and NPM which was testing with NPO then under construction, kept us copiously supplied with news – far more than could be handled comfortably. We copied NPG’s press in Vladivestok harbor as easily as if we were at Goat Island. Among other stations heard all over the Pacific were EAA, Aranjuez, Spain a quenched spark which worked daily schedules with LP, Konigwusterhaven, Germany with rough spark on about 3900 meters. Other rough sparks heard were FL, the old Eiffel Tower, Paris, on about 19,000 meters; MSK, Moscow, Russia, on about 5000 meters which used to work LP after the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and a host of British Naval stations signing the three letter BZ or BY indicators and located at Mauritius, Hong Kong, Singapore and as far west as Aden. Geoff didn’t comment on propagation conditions or how much of a copying window each of these stations presented but no doubt the window was narrow and the static was something else.

Near the end of WWI four ships were built in China on an order from the U.S. government. These ships were named the Cathay, Celestial, Oriental and Mandarin. They were purchased by the Dollar Lines in 1922 and renamed Dianna Dollar, Margaret Dollar, Melville Dollar and the Stuart Dollar.

CW grew rapidly and the Low Frequency contingent started looking for CW equipment. Long distances were achieved with relatively little power and the mighty spark contingent were starting to give way to the, newcomer – Short Wave.

In 1924 the Hoover Radio Conference assigned amateurs bands at 20, 40 and 80 meters.

The viability of short wave had been established and the Government found it necessary to license all frequency assignments. This is significant since it shows the growth into the short waves and as we will see, Ralph Heintz, of the Consulting Firm bearing his name, was actively participating in this new radio short wave field.

The Dollar Steamship Lines started the around the world service in 1924, with a shipdeparting San Francisco every two weeks.

In April, 1925, the Kamiloa, a four masted schooner, with Fred Roebuck aboard as the Radio Operator used Heintz & Kaufman radio equipment to make the first shortwave contact from a ship.

R. Stanley Dollar made a trip to Washington, D. C., January 5, 1926, to explain his dire need for communication to/from his ships. He, successfully, came away with an assignment of the experimental call sign of “6XBB” and frequency assignments in the short wave spectrum his company could use.


In 1927 Dollar SS Lines signed an agreement with Heintz and Kaufman, a Company of consulting Engineers, to pursue equipping the Dollar vessels with short wave radio.

In 1927 two 20’ X 20’ wooden shacks were built at Mussel Rock (MR), located on the North end of Pacifica (then called Sharp Park) and on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. These shacks were separated by about 100’. One housed the transmitter(s) and the other was used for receiving & living quarters for the operators. The call sign was 6XBB. This was the SF Dollar Radio station called Dollaradio.

In October 1928 the Dollar Line vessel SS President Taft sailed from San Francisco.

Roger Bunce was one of the Radio Operators at MR and it was their job to contact the President Taft hourly. Few contacts were made. Roger Bunce was sent to Seattle to look at the radio equipment aboard the ship. He was joined in Seattle by Neil Brown. They found the transmitter was not loading into the ships antenna properly and made the necessary changes.  When the Taft sailed again Roger was aboard as one of the Radio Operators.

They consistently kept in contact with MR clear to Manila. They continued the rest of the trip consistently keeping in contact with MR.

With the above success Ralph Heintz put into action plans to manufacture a large quantity of the MC (Marine Combination) transmitters.

One of the first of these transmitters was installed on the SS President Polk, which sailed July 29, 1929 and Fred Roebuck was aboard as one of the Radio Operators.

In early1929 construction of the Mussel Rock Transmitting Building on a point above the two shacks got underway, the site consisted of 13 acres.  Two self supporting towers were also added at this time, the one near the building was 225’ and the east tower was 250’, the towers supported the 600 meter flatop antenna. The Receiving building, similar to the above transmitting building, was built on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The receiving building was completed in late 1929. James McPherson “Mac” started to work for Dollar Radio May 7, 1930 and he said that they were just putting the finishing touches to the two Red Hollow Brick buildings, which are still there at this time (Jan 1956).

Other stations were in progress at Edmonds Washington, New York, Honolulu, Guam and Manila and a little later Shanghai. Chet Pelmulder, the 6XBB Chief Operator was sent to Honolulu to build the Honolulu Transmitting and Receiving stations. Roger Bunce acted as Chief Operator during his absence. In June 1930 Roger Bunce was sent to Los Angeles to build and manage the Dollar station there The coastal station call was KSM, located at Cypress.The Manila installation was handled by an installation crew sent from San Francisco. One of the first operators at Manila was Al Lusey. After WWII he applied for a position at KTK and we had an opportunity to talk to him briefly about his early days in Manila. I believe he said it was late 1929 or early 1930 when Manila was installed and he also told me the names of other operators at that time but somehow I have misplaced that information. I’m not real sure but Don Harris may have been the original Manager/operator at the New York Woodcliff Lake, NJ station.

The operation from Mussel Rock, 6XBB, to/from Ships, which was now called Dollaradio, was very successful but the interference by their nearby transmitters was still a huge problem causing considerable interference when receiving even though the Transmitters were moved up the hill into their new building which was now about 1600’ from the receivers. Note that the marine call sign(s),  (6XBB at MR), of the various stations was for ship-to-shore use only. The Point-to-Point frequencies, such as Cypress, California to Mussel Rock was assigned separate call signs for each frequency used. 

Many of the post WWII personnel were prewar Operators at Mussel Rock. These included Chester Pelmulder, Superintendent, Irv Kaufman, Fred Roebuck, Duke Eisenberg, Bill Phillips, Jim McPherson, Bruce Albertson, Bill Hunting, Ralph Sutton, Jim Chambers, Ed Lindsay, Larry Day, George Burke and one of the first was Roger Bunce. (This is not a complete list). Another name was Louie Lukianoff. He was part of the construction/maintenance crew and C. Pelmulder often spoke of him. One incident he related was that Louie while on top of the 225’ tower and stood on his hands! The large $ sign on the tower required frequent maintenance, even so, it didn’t last very long as the wind and severe fog soon destroyed it.

Ralph Heintz established a manufacturing facility in South San Francisco where they were rapidly turning out the MC201 Transmitter (It had a pair of 255 Gammatron tubes with an input power of over one Kw.) They were also building the SG3 Receiver and the SS President Polk was the first to be equipped. Later they built the Model 900 regenerative receiver. Some of these receivers were still in use at the Skyline Receiving Station post WWII. (Although severly modified).

All was not a bed of roses.  RCA was threatening a patent suit over HK’s use of the Gammatron tube which they claimed was a patent infringement.

Around 1931 the patent suit proceeded in Court. Ralph Heintz, in a demonstration at 311 California Street showed that the Gammatron could function without a Grid Structure, he won the suit and an agreement was worked out with RCA to allow HK to manufacture conventional grid type tubes.

In early 1934 the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Dollar Radio could no longer operate a private radio system.  This brought about a system that entered commercially into the communications field and was named “GLOBE WIRELESS, LTD.”

It was about this time that planning was underway to build a receiving station far away from the transmitting site.  This would occur in 1936.  Also at that time a San Francisco central operating facility would be established. 

The Skyline Receiving Station opened for operation in late 1936, some 20 miles airline from Mussel Rock. Also a San Francisco Traffic Center was established. This provided a central point to collect and redirect all commercial messages and ship messages to their destinations.

The system Chief Engineer was Hans Otto Storm, joining the system about 1932.

For many people who still have a Christmas Card showing a 1928 picture of the two Mussel Rock original Shacks, with names of the MR Operators, several times recently inquiries have been made asking what year this card was sent out. All I can say is that Globe Wireless came into being in April of 1934 and I know that J. McPherson worked there from 1930 until 1936 so that leaves either Xmas 1934 or 35. My guess was that it was 1935.

The H&K plant in South San Francisco had expanded its tube manufacturing and was turning out an expanded line of Transmitting Tubes.  A very popular tube as used in the Amateur ranks was the 257B.  I will cover the H&K tube story in an associated article.

A blow to the Dollar Lines came about in 1938 when the Government took over Dollar Lines and created the Operating Company “American President Lines”

Globe Wireless opened a Portland, Oregon radio station in 1940 at Hillsborough.

The Robert Dollar Company at Drum Street location in San Francisco was handling all equipment construction in 1936, under direction of Otto Storm, and the Intermediate Frequency Transmitters, relay control panels, dial selection systems and some attempts at remote tuning control were manufactured. Later the A4001 Transmitter, using the MC-201 enclosures, were manufactured. These transmitters had HK 854 finals (equiv. to the 450TH) for about 3 Kw output.


THE KAIMILOA.   It was in April 1925, that we received this message from Mr. M. R. Kellum, Skipper of the Four-Masted Schooner “Kaimiloa, who was gathering scientific data in the south seas: “Build new Transmitter… use your own judgment…. Meet you Honolulu three weeks”

Hampered by tropical static, the 1 KW Navy standard spark set aboard the yacht was not getting through.  It was imperative that Mr. Kellum keep in touch with his business interests on the mainland, so he placed the problem in the capable hands of one of the co-founders of HEINTZ and KAUFMAN, LTD.  The solution was the first short-wave transmitter ever installed aboard a ship.  Short-wave was then in the in the experimental stage, and there was great confusion as to how transmitters should be designed, among other things, the tuned-grid, tuned-plate circuit was said to be worthless on short-waves. But in the allotted three weeks were installing the Kaimiloa’s new transmitter, in Honolulu, and it had a tuned-grid, tuned-plate circuit that oscillated down to 10 meters!  From then on KFUH put through consistently good signals to the states, and many Hams still recall the thrill of the working Operator Fred Roebuck in the South Pacific.  The swift and brilliant solution of problems in Radio Communications, traditional with Heintz and Kaufman Engineers, is exemplified by the constantly expanding line of Gammatron Tubes which handle the most difficult electronic assignments with unsurpassed efficiency.

(Advertisement by)

Heintz and Kaufman, Ltd.

South San Francisco

Gammatron Tubes

R. Stanley Dollar

April, 1929. R. Stanley Dollar arrives in Shanghai aboard the S. S. President Taft accompanied by Radio Operator, Fred Roebuck. They had maintained communication with the radio station at Mussel Rock during the entire voyage across the Pacific.  Now anchored in the river at Shanghai, the Skipper, Captain Ahlin, decided to send a message to Captain Robert Dollar in San Francisco.

Fred Roebuck dispatched the following radiogram to Capt. Dollar “For the first time in the history of shipping, communication by short wave radio is possible at any hour of the day or night between the home office of the Dollar Steamship Line and their ships in the Orient”.                                                                   

Fred was born August 13, 1900 Passed away March 1978 in San Mateo, CA

In 1936 the Skyline Receiving building was built along with many antennas, water pump and a water tank on the hill above the station. A two car garage with attached space for a gasoline generator large enough to operate the station (except the electric heaters).

I found one fairly authentic note that operations were transferred to the Skyline Station from Mussel Rock on October 18, 1937. Fred Roebuck, Chief Operator. Also the San Francisco Message Center was established at that time at 311 California  Street and Bruce Albertson was promoted to Chief Operator at the message center.

For Skyline all operations were conducted on the top floor which included Point-to-Point receiving, the major portion of the floor space and KTK the Marine ship-to-shore operation. KTK was in a room, glassed-in, with doors that could be closed. This was necessary due to the loud din of speakers operating, often making it difficult to converse.  Additionally, up stairs there was an office.

Down stairs there was a rest room, wash basin and lots of storage space.  This space was used in the post-war area to house equipment for several airlines.

In 1938 an event occurred that changed the scope of the Dollar Lines.  The Dollar Steamship Line came under Government control and became the American President Lines. Many of the Radio Operators on those ships continued to send the bulk of their radio traffic to Globes KTK and other Globe stations.

Additional Point-to-Point circuits were opened by Globe Wireless:

Shanghai, China February 1939.

Bogota, Columbia, August 1941

Havana, Cuba November 1940.

Shanghai and Bogota antennas were installed at both Mussel Rock and Skyline.  Havana was handled by the New York Woodcliff  Station.

Globe Wireless was closed down by Government decree shortly after the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.