The following is from the ARRL Web Pages:

"Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'"

That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's The Telegraph Instructor even before radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession.

In those early days, spark was king and every station occupied the same wavelength-or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. When this happened, frustrated commercial operators would call the ship whose weaker signals had been blotted out by amateurs and say "SRI OM THOSE #&$!@ HAMS ARE JAMMING YOU."

Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.

Louise Ramsey Moreau W3WRE/WB6BBO

However, the one put forth by  Gerald Crenshaw WD4BIS an is a little more kind, and he also claims it can be checked out in the Congressional Record:

(This was previously published in the Amateur Radio Communicator MARCH/APRIL 1994)

Have you ever wondered why we radio amateurs are called "HAMS"? Well, according to the Northern Ohio Radio Society, it goes like this: the word ham was applied in 1908 and was the call letters of one of the first Amateur wireless stations operated by some members of the HARVARD RADIO CLUB. There were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy and Peggie Murray. At first, they called their station Hyman-Almy-Murry. Tapping out such a long name in code soon called for a revision and they changed it to HY-AL-MU, using the first two letters of each name.

Early in 1909, some confusion resulted between signals from Amateur wireless HYALMU and a Mexican ship named HYALMO, so they decided to use only the first letter of each name and the call became HAM.

In the early pioneer unregulated days of radio, Amateur operators picked their own frequency and call letters. Then, as now, some Amateurs had better signals than some commercial stations. The resulting interference finally came to the attention of congressional committees in Washington and they gave much time to proposed legislation designed to critically limit Amateur activity.

In 1911, Albert Hyman chose the controversial Wireless Regulation Bill as the topic for his thesis at Harvard. His instructor insisted that a copy be sent to Senator David I. Walsh, a member of one of the committees hearing the bill. The Senator was so impressed, he sent for Hyman to appear before the committee. He was put on the stand and described how the little Amateur station was built. He almost cried when he told the crowded committee room that if the bill went through, they would have to close up the station because they could not afford the license fees and all the other requirements that were set up in the bill.

The debate started and the little station HAM became a symbol of all the little Amateur stations in the country crying out to be saved from menace and greed of the big commercial stations who did not want them around. Finally, the bill got to the floor of Congress and every speaker talked about the poor little station "HAM."

That's how it all started. You will find the whole story in the Congressional Record. Nationwide publicity associated station HAM with Amateurs. From that day to this, and probably to the end of time, in radio, an Amateur is a HAM.

GL and 73's de Gerry WD4BIS

Copyright 1996 Gerald Crenshaw WD4BIS. All rights are reserved.