NEWS COLUMNS

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2014

DICK TRACY’S WRIST RADIO

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
March 8, 2006

It has been 60 years since Chester Gould introduced the famed two-way wrist radio. The story began with Diet Smith, the billionaire industrialist (back in 1946 a billion dollars was a lot of money-not like today), calling Dick Tracy to visit his home to discuss an urgent matter. When Tracy arrived, Smith said that he had killed a man. Taking Tracy to the billiard room, Smith showed Tracy the body of his business partner. The man had been found tied to electrical wires, so that when Smith had earlier come into the room and turned on the lights, the man had been electrocuted.

Somewhat reluctantly, Tracy took Smith down to headquarters and had him booked on suspicion of murder. Tracy doubted that Smith was responsible for the death, but felt that he should hold the man until the investigation developed more information. Before Tracy left, Smith’s chauffeur brought B.O. Plenty to see Tracy with some pertinent information. B.O. had been working as a yardman for Smith and had seen an intruder leave through a window, dropping something on the ground. B.O. picked up the item and found it was a miniature radio. He turned the object over to Tracy.

Later Tracy examined the radio and discovered it was both a receiver and transmitter. He recognized immediately that it was an amazingly useful invention. When he showed it to Smith, the industrialist was astounded that the item had been removed from his home, saying that it was a top secret invention still in the research stage. With Smith’s help, Tracy continued his investigation at Smith’s research lab.

B.O. Plenty told Tracy of a handprint the intruder had left in the snow while leaving the residence. Pat Patton made a plaster cast of the print. Tracy, while interviewing employees at the lab, discovered that a technician named Irma used a set of rubber gloves that matched the suspect’s print. Suspicion then fell on Irma, and Diet Smith was released from jail. Tracy later found that Irma had intended to steal the production plans for the wrist radio. The actual inventor had been Irma’s son named Brilliant, who had developed several ideas that Irma had brought to the lab. Irma then made a getaway, but first shot Smith who had returned to the estate. B.O. Plenty then became an unlikely hero by calling for medical aid and saving Smith’s life.

The wrist radio became a fact in American life with ongoing development from Motorola, Casio and other corporations. One of the earliest practical applications was with the New York City police in 1958. Currently, a small receiver watch with Microsoft engineering is able to show data on a small screen. Examples of this technology are on display at the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum.

Follow-up note: Viewers of the website will see photos of these examples along with extensive information on Chester Gould’s many inventions. Another column will discuss the reward given by Diet Smith to B.O. Plenty for his life saving assistance.

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“When a criminal dies, he leaves his family an estate of hate, a mortgage of remorse, and an income of shame.”
- Chester Gould
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