SCR-578 “Gibson Girl” Emergency Transmitter
Written by: Heather Salazar, Curator
Photos by: Ed Patton, Photographer
A German invention; British enhancements; American production; and a woman – that is how the SCR-578, also known as the “Gibson Girl” Transmitter came to be.
In 1941 the German Luftwaffe introduced a small, buoyant, waterproof transmitter for their pilots to use in emergency situations. With its’ internal hand driven generator, downed pilots could use it to signal for rescue without battery power or electric. Soon after, the British captured the German invention and enhanced it with a kite to pull the antenna into the air for transmission. The British also programed the transmitter to automatically send an “SOS” message to anyone within a 200 mile range.
Due to limited manufacturing capabilities, the British reached out to Bendix Aviation Company in the United States to begin production. Here the transmitter received the identifier SCR-578. Bendix strengthened the transmitter with a balloon and generator to inflate the balloon in times when the winds are insufficient. It also added the capability to type a message in addition to the automatic “SOS.” With a superior transmitter than the British and the Germans, Bendix Aviation mass produced these throughout the remainder of World War II and into the 1960s for both use in military and civilian aircraft.
The SCR-578 unique shape helped it become known as the “Gibson Girl” Transmitter. The transmitter’s hour-glass shape allowed the user to position the transmitter between their legs to hold it stationary while turning the generator handle. It resembles that of Charles Dana Gibson’s pen and ink illustrations of a fashionable American woman. His drawings date back to 1890 and are based upon images of his wife, Irene Langhorne Gibson. These drawings appeared in Harper’s, Collier’s Weekly, and Life magazines.
“Artefact of the Month: The Museums Gibson Girl Transmitter.”
“Charles Dana Gibson: American Imagist.”