PA3CLQ's Leuke Linken Nr. 378


Most text is from the SlowSpeedWireGroup pse see:


The Word "LID"

Does anyone have any history on the term "lid" when referring to a telegrapher's capability?

How did it originate and what is the significance if any of each letter?

73, Maurie Challinor


One explanation was that when a relay office Telegrapher couldn't handle the work on the wire he was assigned to, he was "lifted" off the job and reassigned or let go.

In telegrapher parlance when discussing such events over the wires, other operators shortened the word " lifted" to " li'd".

Over time a poor or incapable operator that had been or was about to be "lifted" became known as a "LID".

That's my story an' I'm stickin to it.



The story that most often makes the rounds in amateur radio circles is that some telegraphers used the lid of a Prince Albert tobacco can to better hear the sounder.

These fellows were, in general, poor operators, and "lid" became the designation of any poor operator.

I like Lake's story better.

I'm not a pipe smoker, but it was unclear to me how strategically placing a tobacco can lid near a sounder would make it louder or more intelligible.

73! Dan KB6NU


Sorry Dan, the story you heard doesn't make much sense.

Tobacco cans, usually with the lid still attached, were used extensively in both railroad and Western Union offices, by all sorts of telegraphers.

I don't recall ever working, or even being in, a railroad telegraph office which did not have a tobacco can stuck behind the sounder the the resonator.

The can made a lot of difference in amplifying the sounder.

I supposed that you could say that a telegrapher was so incompetent that he used the lid of the tobacco can, rather than the can, but that sounds like s stretch to me. Plus, the term "lid" in the context we are talking about may very well have been used before tobacco was sokl in tin cans.

My father begang as a telegrapher in 1906 and he used the term frequently.

He also used "ham" as a synonym for lid.

Ed's story makes more sense, except for the fact that "lid" would not be the normal abbreviation for "lifted."

My father also often said that certain telegraphers were too "light": for the job.

It may be the the "l" in lid comes from light.

We need more information.

73 - Warren McFarland MorseKob- & SlowSpeedWireGroup


Hi Dan:

I've read multiple accounts of the origin of the term.

This later version involving the Prince Albert can, which has found its way into the ham radio community in recent years is essentially what today's generations call an "urban legend."

It's circulation generally coincides with the rise of the Internet and it undoubtedly began to "propagate" through the usual "borrowing" via email lists and various social networking.

It is also not true.

I suspect that someone made up a plausible story based on ignorance of the telegraph profession, and once it escaped onto the Internet, it simply propagated through the ham community.

It's sort of like the National Enquirer....if it's in print, it must be true, eh? LOL.

Ed's account is likely more in line with the truth.

In older first hand accounts we have on file from those who worked in the industry in the later part of the 19th century, the explanation for LID varies somewhat, but it generally involves an operator being removed from a wire due to incompetence or the suggestion that an operator with a bad fist "put a lid on it."

By the way, both good and bad operators used the tobacco tin.

It adds some resonance to the sounder, not unlike the sounding board on a musical instrument and it makes 8 (or 12) hours of listening to the sharp report of a sounder a bit easier on the ears.

Personally, if I were to create a story about the origin of the term, I would probably fabricate a version in which the operator was told to put a lid on his growler and stop drinking on the job. LOL.

73, Jim Wades


The tobacco cans, when I worked, were used to differentiate the sound of one sounder from another.

73, Lavina Shaw


I think "Lid" is going to have to suffer the same "legend" problems as "OS."

No matter how many times I have explained that its conceptual meaning is "On Sheet," somebody with little or no telegraph experience and/or who has read too many rule books or heard too many urban legends pipes up and swears that it means something else.

Only if you have been a dispatcher, either by Morse or phone, can you appreciate the significance of "On Sheet."

It has to do with the fact that occasionally for reasons better than somebody being a messy housekeeper, the train sheet is not readily accessible; and if someone rattles off an OS under some other signal or introduction, you'd not be capable of recording it "at once" as required by rule.

Good train dispatchers kept their desk and sheet clean and ready to use MOST all of the time, certain report-making and the issuance of train orders being a necessary exception- - - But I digress.

"Lid" and "OS" are always going to have explanations that somebody pulled out of their arse.

But no offense taken here, as it all makes good reading. PS- Lavina is correct that each PA can makes a slightly different sound.

And it certainly is correct that PA or similar cans were stuck in sounders most everyplace and indeed increased the resonance, much like the old Edison type Victrolas with their wooden sounding boards could amplify the sound of an acoustic phonograph record. //

Dave S.


Hi All,

Warren mentioned "hams".

The earliest reference I have found to this is in an article in the January 1902 issue of McClure's Magazine.

I'm sure that there are earlier one's but this is the earliest I ever tripped across.

I've included the relevant section below out of a much longer article titled, "Telegraph Talk and Talkers" by L. C. Hall.

    An interesting side note about the PA can.

I have commonly seen cans in old photos of the triangular "Acme" style resonators but not in the rounded back "Mascot" style resonators.

What I find, however, is that the thin wood back of the Mascot (three lamination plywood in the real ones I have) itself resonates quite well itself whereas the thicker wood in the Acme does not but just reflects the sound.

Further, I have found it difficult to position a tobacco can in a Mascot resonator such that it stays in position whereas there are several can positions which work well in an Acme each giving a slightly different sound.

Just my two cents......The article excerpt:


Like any other language, Morse has its patois -- a corrupted version of the purer speech used by the inexperienced or by those to whom nature has denied the finer perceptions of timing and spacing.

This patois might be called "hog-Morse."

It would be quite impossible to give even a rude idea of the humor contained, for the expert, in some of the corruptions of which hog-Morse is guilty.

These consist largely in closely joining elements which ought to be spaced, or in separating others that are meant to be close-coupled.


In the patois of the wires "pot" means "hot," "foot" is rendered "fool," "U. S. Navy" is "us nasty," "home" is changed to "hog," and so on.

If, for example, while receiving a telegram, a user of the patois should miss a word and say to you "6naz fimme q," the expert would know that he meant "Please fill me in." But there is no difficulty about the interpretation of the patois provided the receiver be experienced and always on the alert.

When, however, the mind wanders in receiving, there is always danger that the hand will record exactly what the ear dictates.

On one occasion, at Christmas time, a hilarious citizen of Rome, New York, telegraphed a friend at a distance a message which reached its destination reading, "Cog hog to rog and wemm pave a bumy tig."

It looked to the man addressed like Choctaw, and of course was not understood.

Upon being repeated, it read, "Come home to Rome, and we'll have a bully time."

Another case of confusion wrought by hog-Morse was that of the Richmond, Virginia, commission firm, who were requested by wire to quote the price on a carload of "undressed slaves."

The member of the firm who receipted for the telegram being something of a wag, wired back: "No trade in naked chattel since Emancipation Proclamation."

The original message had been transmitted by senders of hog-Morse, called technically "hams," and the receivers had absent-mindedly recorded the words as they had really sounded.

What the inquirer wanted, of course, was a quotation on a carload of staves in the rough.

    The mere sound of the styles of some transmitters is irresistibly comic.

One of these natural humorists may be transmitting nothing more than a string of figures, and still make you chuckle at the grotesqueness of his Morse.

It is an every-day thing to hear senders characterized as Miss Nancys, rattle-brains, swell-heads, or cranks, or "jays," simply because the sound of their dots and dashes suggests the epithets.

    When a telegram is being read by sound, the receiver is not conscious of the dots and dashes that make up the sentences.

The impression upon the ear is similar to that produced by spoken words.

Indeed, if an experienced telegrapher were asked suddenly what a certain letter is in dots and dashes, the chances are that he would hesitate before being able to answer. In view of this fact I should say that thinking in telegraphese is not possible, and in this point of comparison with a spoken tongue the Morse is deficient.

Curiously enough, however, as an aid to memory in the spelling of words the telegraphese is useful.

If a telegrapher should be in doubt as to the orthography of a word, whether it were spelt with an ie or an ei, for example, he would only have to sound it on an instrument or click it out on his teeth to dispel at once any uncertainty.

    Among the other interesting facts is that, in Morse, family resemblance is shown as often as in face and manner.

Furthermore, just as two persons of kindred temperaments, man and wife, say, who have been long associated, are said gradually to grow into a physical resemblance to each other.

So, in a like manner, two telegraphers who have worked a wire together for years insensibly mold their Morse each after the other's, until the resemblance between them is readily perceptible.

73, Chris Hausler


Ed; I agree with your " One explanation about a relay office Telegrapher" The writer worked a "Relay Office" as a RAILROAD TELEGRAPHER Having worked with a lot of "OLDE HEADS" with early 1900 to 1920 seniority ::: Both Commercial and (OCS) Railway - "LID" is an inherited title from the land-line (wired) Morse Telegraph days - The majority of "OPEN" Canadian Railway Stations were TELEGRAPH OFFICES and handled both Commercial and Railway traffic!

Very early in the Telegraph era, North American Telegraphers began to refer to novice and inept operators as "LIDS" 1912 Antedating:-


And if some "HAM" who sounds insane, should move me to say things profane O stay my hand upon the key And may I not get "H" for "P" May I refrain to open my door, And kick through it,some tedious bore Who brings to me his half-wit kid, To be transformed into a "LID".

Most early wireless Operators came from the wire telegraph ranks so when pioneer amateur radio operators began to interfere with commercial traffic,they immediately condemned the interlopers as "HAMS" and the epithet came to include all amateurs.

Willard McPhedrain- CNR Agent/Telegrapher is Lavina (McPhedrain) Shaw's father.

Willard was a CNR Agent in Sifton,Manitoba.

The writer, similar to Willard - copied handled both Commercial and (OCS) Railway (WIRED) Telegraph.

Canadian Railways had "thousands" of Branch Line Stations handling Commercial (including cables - press) & OCS Railway Telegraph.

That's my story - & - like Ed Trump- I am not changing it! I don't expect "SCIENCE" to be able to settle this one!!!!


Former ORT & VE3GLS


One explanation was that when a relay office Telegrapher couldn't handle the work on the wire he was assigned to, he was "lifted" off the job and reassigned or let go.

In telegrapher parlance when discussing such events over the wires, other operators shortened the word " lifted" to " li'd".

Over time a poor or incapable operator that had been or was about to be "lifted" became known as a "LID".

That's my story an' I'm stickin to it.



Having been raised on "Railroad Magazine" since a young child, I was surprised when I hired out on the old Illinois Central that you seldom saw a can stuck into a sounder and resonator.

We were a very old pioneer railroad and had some of our own ways of doing things.

The only can I remember seeing was at Clinton, Ill. relay office "CO" which I worked pretty often.

It always sounded funny to me.    


    Hard to blame anyone, as it was a very busy job and there was always a bunch of train crews or section foremen talking outside the window.

This was on the Illinois Division, so I cannot speak about any of the others.

There was no prohibition that I know of about tobacco tins, but I wonder sometimes if maybe our division lineman supervisors had something against them.    


    Anyway, just to chime in and say that the cans were not absolutely univeral.

73, Skip Luke


Att'n Skip Luke; Mouth's-like envelopes are often opened by mistake!

The writer believed it was a "PHENOM" south of the border!

That is why I evaded commenting on the subject of Prince Albert Tobacco tins/Lucky Strike/Pica/bac/Edgeworth and many others!

Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make you shine any brighter !!!!

First of all, the writer learned American Morse in a branchline Agency - living with an "OLDE HEAD" the batchelor Agent,WW I veteran, diabetic - a Sgt Major type - a.k.a. Mr McNasty.

We had a telegraph circuit into the cottage on the bank of a River in Town - about 150 feet from the Railway Station.

It was in the living room and was cut in-live all the way to the Commercial Office-and relay office in Toronto.( 24/7) It was just a plain old sounder but I have listened to Press Reports being sent late into the evening from Haliburton Station to a wire desk in Toronto. G.J."Gordon" Tobin -CNR Agent-Haliburton rec'd commission, so sent the press correspondence after dinner in the evening when the wire was not bizzie!

There was no resonator or tin can- but that sounder was really singing!

He was leaning on his bug!

There was NO resonator in the station- Just a 150 Ohm relay and a 5 ohm J.H..Bunnell & Co sounder!

Plus local power for the 5 Ohm sounder.


The CNR GREAT LAKES REGION is the largest of the five CNR Regions in Canada.

The majority of CNR Stations were Branchline and they never had resonators - ( Portable or Dual arm) It was just CNR Depot - Mainline - Stations that had Dispatchers telephones and "Resonators" as they were commonly noisy areas with Trains switching-Crews-Public passengers etc. lOTS OF "hub-bub"

There was never a time in a branchine Agency that I could not read a sounder "IF" the line was cut in!!!

Memory tells me that those Li'l Old - J.H.Bunnell & Co - sounders patented in about 1898 - with an aluminum lever - and an aluminum base- "5 Ohm" had an " INCISIVE" sound!!!

They were penetrating, clear and sharp!

I do not think it mattered whether you were in a "BIZZY OFFICE" with a portable and/or a dual arm resonator - with,and/or without a Prrince Albert Tobacco can - I think the idiom of " TIN EAR" - a poor ear for MORSE CODE applied to a lot of telegraphers!

I have been present when some of them were copying off the wire and " If blood had been water- THEY WOULD HAVE BLED TO DEATH.

This was quite prevalent after July 1951 when the Canadian Railroads went from a " six day week to a five day work week"!!!

    Another major issue with a lot of Telegraphers was - they had delusions of grander- and were using a bug, which was running away with them!!!

They had the bug set faster than they could manipulate!!!

In fact, their straight key skills left a lot to be desired!

Personally, I have restored and built a lot of KOB sets - The majority of them had a Prince Albert tobacco tin in the resonator!

I find them very decorative and colourful! If I can't read the code without a "tin can" then using a tobacco tin will not solve the problem!

There have been cases at MORSE DEMO's when you needed more that a Prince Albert tobacco tin to hear the sounder!!!!

In my youthful years, surround sound and multi-tasking did not bother me- The need for less noise when copying MORSE increased with my age!!!

GNOM - 73



Well around here, western NY, Prince Albert cans are not real hard to find. I have acquired a quantity of them over the years, certainly enough for the half dozen

or more Acme resonators I have.

However to find them one usually has to go to "junk shops" rather than "antique stores".

That said the red Velvet cans seem to be much more available locally, more than any other brand.

I think you posted a photo of that white Lucky Strike can a few years ago, a nice find.

Locally I've also found "Union Leader" and, of course, "Half and Half" cans but I am not a can collector and so the only ones I've acquired are PA cans and those only to populate my Acme resonators.

I don't know when they stopped putting Prince Albert in a can but it had to be after the mid 1970's as I have seen PA cans with a white strip with a UPC code painted on them and UPC codes didn't appear until the mid 1970's.

This is just too modern for me and I have avoided such cans.

However of the ones I have, more than half of them have the US postal "Zip" code in the R. J. Reynolds address and ZIP codes were an early 1960's

invention IIRC.

73, Chris Hausler


Hi Chris et. al:


The quote; "For many years the telegraphed messages that kept the business of America running bounced off the stout frock coated figure of Prince Albert on the front of a thousand bright red tobacco cans," has wonderful imagery and is quite poetic, but, as others have said, it didn't have to be a "Prince Albert" can.

    I once had a Buckingham tin stuck in my resonator and one of the old timers said "wow, you like the good stuff." LOL.

I still have a couple Buckingham tins somewhere (I need to find those!).

In retrospect, they had a beautiful, 1900s motif right out of the Art Noveau era, which I find much more appealing than the image of Queen Victoria's Prince Consort.

    There was certainly nothing magical about the resonance of Prince Albert tins, but for some reason, they have become synonymous with telegraphy.

Perhaps Prince Albert and Velvet were to tobacco as Budweiser and Miller are to beer, making them more common?

Over the years, I have been asked on several occasions if there was something special about the Prince Albert can that made it more suitable for telegraphy. Many assume it had to be a PA tobacco tin, so perhaps your assessment is correct; everyone wants to let Prince Albert out of the can!

    By the way, like musical instruments; sounders and resonators seem to have different qualities even when made to the same standards..

Even good musical instruments have different characteristics despite being manufactured in the same way.

    There's certainly a difference between "brass tongues" and "aluminum tongues." I find the former more pleasant to listen to, but the latter seem to be better in a noisy environment, perhaps due to the fact that they seem to have less "ringing."

I suspect resonators varied a bit too, depending on the density of the tree from which the wood originated, the varnish and stain, and other variations in manufacturing.

73, James Wades


If anyone is interested, attached is a photo I took about 1952, showing a Velvet tobacco can stuck in a resonator.

It was in Missouri Pacific's Tower 74 in Beaumont, Texas.

The photo is also in this list's Files Section, the folder titled Missouri Pacific, Tower_74.jpg.

Steve Bartlett





This has nothing to do with telegraphy, but more to do with PA cans.

My grandfather smoked cigarettes rolled with Bull Durham tobacco.

This was the kind that came in a small cotton bag with a drawstring closure, and a small round cardboard tag on the string.

It was ubiquitous in pictures, paintings, movies, etc., of the Old West.

He worked in a bank in his hometown, Orange, Texas, from a very young age (as a minor) and eventually became Chairman Of The Board.

When he was first promoted to a Vice President position, they told him that they would not have a VP who smoked Bull Durham.

It was not socially nor professionally acceptable.

So, he switched to rolling from Prince Albert.

This was apparently acceptable to the bank's upper management.

Point of the story is that he had a lot of empty PA cans lying around, and many of them could be found nailed by the lids to the various trees in hes yard, containing some kind of ant poison, to kill the ants.

Well, I will add a note re telegraphy.

My grandfather could read and send Morse, having learned it in his early days in the bank, on a local line in the town.

As a bit more trivia, and this is posssibly X-rated, so be warned, the term Prince Albert has a more kinky meaning, which can be discovered by some creative web browsing.

And lest you wonder, I do not know this from any personal quote George Takei, in a cameo as himself on the TV show "Big Bang Theory"

 I read!!!"

Steve Bartlett


Hi Steve,

I've always wondered about this.

Every history (what few of them there are) I've read which mentions the tobacco can in the resonator always mentions Prince Albert.

I suppose this could be due to the old joke about asking someone if he has Prince Albert in a can and if so to "let him out", but I've also wondered if it is due to the red color of the can.

Around this area, if you visit the antique stores, particularly the ones which specialize in "junk" like old barns full of stuff, I find many more bright red Velvet cans than Prince Albert cans and have wondered if what people are really recalling is the color combined with the memory of the Prince Albert joke.

Actually of the old photos I have seen showing a can in a resonator I've seen more Half and Half cans than any other brand and those, particularly older ones are green and black although green and red has been used more recently and possibly only "post telegraphic".

My favorite quote about the PA can, however is: "For many years the telegraphed messages that kept the business of America running bounced off the stout frock coated figure of Prince Albert on the front of a thousand bright red tobacco cans."

This is from a young persons book by Phil Ault titled, "Wires West" published IIRC in the 1970's and reviewed by me some years ago in D&D.

73, Chris Hausler


The resonators used in this country were sheet metal with a wood base.

The oldtimers could recognize the sound of their own circuit sounder from meters away, amongst a cacophony of 20 to 30 sounders or more in a relay office. Each resonator was made to the same specifications but for some reason had their own characteristic sound.

The attached photo was taken round 1948 heading into the dying years of morse telegraph in 1963.

Maurie Challinor




#ALBERTTIN Pince Albert tobacco tin. What's a resonator without a Prince Albert tin to modify and further amplify the sound to the operator's liking? These are old tins without the UPC bar code (pre-mid 1970s). Most have the Prince in an oval on both sides, an earlier one has a legend on the back. One of these on your sounder will provide a colorful finishing touch on your resonator display

Resonators, to quote an old Bunnell catalog, are "for loudening, concentrating and directing the signals of an ordinary Morse sounder to the ear of the receiving operator. Especially adapted for receiving operators using the typewriter, for noisy railroad stations, and for all situations where the sound of the instrument is subject to interference from outside noises."

Text and pictures from: (pa3clq)






The Mascot resonator is older than the Acme pyramid style sold by J.H.Bunnell & Co,New York.

They came in a variety of wooden resonator hoods and are rare today!





This is a very rare and unique portable "silver" candle stick resonator and sounder!

The wood is "top" furniture grade - made from "quarter-cut oak wood"

The wooden base was some scrap lumber from some "wooden skids" that came into Canada with imported product!

The dark wood is very heavy and not sure of the species of wood ??

The LEG key is mounted on a brass coaster with a felt pad -

The sounder in the resonator hood is very very old - solid brass - including the 'sleeves' over the coils!

It was in my "junk box" for a long time before I finally took a special cleaner and took all the crude and black enamel off the brass coils.

What is obvious is the brass lever and brass resonator base sounder compared to the aluminum lever and aluminum resonator base sounder sitting in front of the set!

I will black japan the coils - which was their natural colour in their original form.

They do not look right with brass coloured coils! ( Like me- they don't look good'naked' !)

As a salute to our friendly and affable neighbours to the south, a Prince Albert tobacco can adorns this unique KOB portable Telegraph Instrument !!!

Albert was a GERMAN Prince - Schrader has a similar nationality !!!

That is all that we have in common!!!!

Enjoy, Gren



"Prince Albert" is just a generic term for the tobacco tin.

I have seen tins from every mfr that used tins of that shape, stuck in sounders. Briggs, Bull Durham, both come to mind but there were others.

PA was a common brand so it probably got used more than others.

I also have worked with many sounders with NO can and seemed to get by just fine.

Dave S.


I have used this Picobac tin at a MORSE DEMO - but it is rare and an unknown south of the border!

It was manufactured by IMPERIAL TOBACCO CO of CANADA Limited,Montreal and Granby Canada.

It was a light- air cured tobacco but in a pipe, it had a heavy aroma!!!

Like you, I just kept a stock of PA cans for their decor in telegraph resonators!!!




For Sale.

Just in case anyone is looking for a little railroad themed getaway, here's an old railroad tower reworked as a cabin out in the "back country" just waiting for someone to buy it and move in. Unfortunately, it's in Scotland...What the Brit's call a "signal box" along a now long abandoned ROW.

The photos in this .pdf are beautiful...if only...

73, Chris


I feel sorry for people who do not drink, because when they wake up, that is as good as they are going to feel all day. -Frank Sinatra



73, your editor PA3CLQ



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