This is the prototype for the first radiotelegraphy machine made in the United States. Orville Hardcastle, a physicist at Oxford, working closely with Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge at University College in Liverpool, took from the work of Nicola Tesla and in conjunction with Thomas Edison in his offices at Menlo Park, built the first radio receiver a year before Gugleilmo Marconi obtained the British patent in 1896.
This radio employs a coherer, a device also called a lightning detector which was invented but not patented by Alexander Stepanovich Popov in 1895. Hardcastle found the coherer required an extensive cooling system to offset overheating and in early attempts, such as this machine, used a water cooled system to accomplish this. This, of course, proved unnecessary in subsequent aircooled vacuum tubes but this early model stands as the first working precursor to our modern day wireless radios.
The light bulbs were a non-functioning concession to the work of Mr. Edison and the hand crank, a method of producing power in the uncertain years of spotty electric service in the late nineteenth century.