Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland where the first signal was received
at St.John's after receiving the transatlantic signal
aerial that transmitted the first transatlantic signal
aerial supports under construction to replace the masts
decorated with bunting to mark a visit by the Prince and Princess of Wales,
wireless room on board SS Philadelphia
killer Dr Crippen is arrested as he tries to escape to Canada
in use during the second world war
CROSSES THE ATLANTIC
December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received a radio signal that had been sent
by his colleagues across the Atlantic. Although wireless telegraphy was not
new - it had started to be used commercially by coastal shipping three years
previously - Marconi's demonstration was exceptional.
begin with, there was no reason to suppose that a radio signal would follow
the curvature of the earth. As an eminent scientist said at the time, "there
is a mountain of water one hundred miles high to be got over, and electric waves
tend to go straight".
this, Marconi - at 27 years of age - persuaded the hard-headed directors of
his newly formed Wireless Telegraph Company to invest £50,000 and a lot of time
in the experiment. This was a considerable investment - equal to several millions
of pounds today - by a small company still existing on its capital.
confidence was based on his experience of radio transmissions around England1,
to France and to an experimental station in the south west of Ireland. For the
Atlantic attempt, he set up a new station at Poldhu in Cornwall. His aerial
comprised twenty-four ships' masts each 200 feet high, and the transmitter was
powered by a 32 brake horsepower engine driving a 25 kilowatt alternator whose
2,000 volts were then boosted to 20,000 volts. At the receiving end, in St John's
Newfoundland, Marconi waited with kites and balloons to hold an aerial wire
aloft. In the event, a kite with 500 feet of wire received the first signals
- the three dots of the Morse code letter S
reaction was mixed. The Daily Telegraph reported, "The view generally held
is that "electric strays" were responsible for activating the delicate
instrument" while The Times and the technical press - despite accepting
that the message had been sent - were doubtful that transatlantic wireless communication
had any practical application.
news, however, came in an unlikely form. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company
immediately wrote to Marconi saying that it had a monopoly on communications
in Canada's Newfoundland and Marconi was to stop transmissions immediately.
This he did, and was immediately courted by Canadian and United States authorities
incensed by the company's attitude, and keen to be involved in a technology
that they recognised as having great potential.
|The Government of
Canada offered a free site and $80,000 dollars towards the cost of building and
equipping a wireless station at Cape Breton - provided Marconi agreed a maximum
of 10 cents a word for sending commercial messages: the cablegram rate was 25
cents a word.
|Despite only three
days' notice, a dinner in Marconi's honour given by the American Institute of
Electrical Engineers at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York attracted 300 delegates.
The event - a month after the first signal - was a brilliant success. "At
the two ends of the room," wrote historian Gordon Bussey2, "were
large tablets, one reading "Poldhu" in white lamps and the other "St
John's" in letters about a foot long. Immediately opposite the speaker's
table was a similar tablet bearing the name "Marconi". Between the signs
were strung, at frequent intervals, clusters of three lamps to represent the three
dots, or "S", sent across the Atlantic from the Cornish coast to Newfoundland.
At fitting times these were flashed or allowed to stay illuminated."
in those early days was rapid. When Marconi returned to New York from Southampton
in late February on the SS Philadelphia, he maintained readable messages with
Poldhu up to 700 miles out by day, and 1,500 at night. The letter "S"
was received 2,100 miles out, despite the limited aerial rigged on board.
|In January 1903
the first wireless message was received in England directly from the United States.
It read: "President of the United States to the King of England. In taking
advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which
has been achieved in perfecting the system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on
behalf of the American people my most cordial greetings and good wishes to you
and the people of the British Empire. Theodore Roosevelt."
there were theories explaining why radio signals did not ignore the curve of
the earth and disappear into space, it was not until 1924 that the existence
of the ionosphere was discovered - bouncing them back to the ground. By then,
transatlantic wireless communication was commonplace, and the first signal to
be sent successfully around the globe - a possibility predicted by Marconi -
was demonstrated two years later.
was born in 1874 in Bologna, Italy, studying Heinrich Hertz's theory of radio
there and demonstrating its practice in experiments around the family home.
He moved to Britain and filed his first patent in 1896, forming a company in
1897 which became Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company (eventually Marconi plc)
three years later.
first advertised broadcast in Britain - using a Marconi transmitter - was made
in 1920, and the first microwave telephone link was established by Marconi in
1932 between the Vatican and the Pope's summer residence. At that time Marconi
was also demonstrating the potential of blind navigation, the forerunner of
returned to Italy in 1935, and died there in 1937. In a tribute, wireless stations
throughout the world observed two minutes silence and the radio spectrum was
as silent as it had been forty years before.
Early experiments took place on Salisbury Plain, the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth.
In acknowledging the 12 December experiment, King Edward noted earlier ones
conducted from the Royal Yacht Osborne in 1898.
Gordon Bussey is an historical consultant to Marconi plc. His books include
"Marcon's Atlantic Leap" published by Marconi Communications and available
from the Radio Society of Great Britain's bookshop at www.rsgb.org/shop
700 people saved from the Titanic were "saved through one man, Mr. Marconi"