The "original" Extra gave no additional privileges. Very few ever got that Extra because there was no incentive other than to be able to say that you had it.
Sorry, that's not true. Here's why:
From the 1930s until 1951, the US licensing scheme consisted of three license classes: A, B and C. All licenses required 13 wpm code (after 1936; it had previously been 10 wpm) and a written test of about 50 questions on regulations, theory, and operating practices.
Class A was the top level license. It could only be earned at FCC exam points. It required an additional written test and at least 1 year experience as a Class B or C licensee. If the Class A applicant was a Class C, s/he had to pass the code and written tests for the Class B license before attempting the Class A.
Classes B and C were the same except that Class B was tested at FCC exam points and Class C was "by mail" using a volunteer examiner. The VE system did not exist; a volunteer examiner was pretty much anyone with an amateur or commercial FCC license (but there were some restrictions). Class C was only open to shut-ins and people living more than a certain distance from an FCC exam point.
All licensees could use full power on all amateur frequencies. However, only Class A could use voice modes on the bands between 2.5 and 25 MHz.
In the late 1940s there were two small groups who felt that Class A wasn't rigorous enough. Despite opposition from ARRL, they convinced FCC to add a new license class above Class A, and phase out the Class A license completely. This became part of the 1951 restructuring.
In 1951 the FCC restructured the license classes by adding three new classes and renaming the existing ones:
- Novice was a 1 year 1 time beginner's license.
- Technician was a specialty license for experimenters - in its original form, it only allowed operation above 220 MHz
- Conditional was old Class C, renamed.
- General was old Class B, renamed.
- Advanced was old Class A, renamed. No new Class A/Advanced licenses would be issued after the end of 1952.
- Extra was the replacement top license. It required a General license, two years' experience, 20 wpm code, and a written test that was higher level than even the old Class A. A Class A/Advanced licensee did not get any special credit towards the Extra.
An Advanced or Extra was required for voice operation on the ham bands between 2.5 and 25 MHz. This caused a lot of hams to get their Advanced before the end-of-1952 deadline, because after that date the only way to full privileges would be the much harder Extra. Some folks got the Extra...because they could.
Then, in December 1952, FCC did an astonishing thing: They granted full privileges to all Generals and Conditionals, effective Feb 1953. There was no longer any operational difference between 4 of the 6 license classes! The Advanced was still closed to new issues at the end of 1952.
The 1950s were a period of rapid growth in US amateur radio. From about 100,000 US hams in the early 1950s we grew to over 250,000 in the early 1960s. By 1963 or so a large majority of US hams had never known any other system, and thought it had always been that Generals and Conditionals had full privileges.
In October 1957 the USSR launched the first man-made space satellite, Sputnik 1. It was a complete surprise in the West - no one knew they had anything close to that level of technology. The Soviets continued to stun the world with a long list of space firsts, well into the 1960s.
This caused a lot of folks to find fault with many things in US culture. The "New Math" was one result, JFK's push for physical fitness another, the race to the moon still another. Amateur radio did not escape notice - US hams, who were increasingly using store-bought equipment to operate voice modes, were seen as inferior to the Soviet counterparts, whose license tests were much more rigorous and who homebrewed practically everything.
That concern led to changes which became known as "incentive licensing". The Advanced was reopened to new issues in 1967, and Generals, Conditionals and Advanceds no longer had full privileges after November 22 1968.
Some hams were really against the changes, thinking that because they'd earned a Conditional or General license once-upon-a-time, they were ENTITLED to full privileges FOREVER. Much wailing an gnashing of teeth over how difficult the higher-level tests were, yada yada yada.
Some of us were too young and stupid so we just studied and passed the tests. In my case, I earned Advanced in 1968 at age 14 in the summer before I entered high school. Two years later, when the experience requirement was met, I earned Extra (1970, age 16). So how hard could the old exams have really been?
73 de Jim, N2EY