Telegraphing Across the Ocean Without Wires

Ray Stannard Baker (1870–1946)

Above: “Preparing to fly the kite which supports the receiving wire; Marconi on the extreme left.”

St. Johns, Newfoundland,  December 12, 1901


Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), in 1902 at Newfoundland

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)  in 1902 at Newfoundland

“Think for a moment of sitting here on the edge of North America and listening to communications sent though space across nearly 2,000 miles of ocean from the edge of Europe!  . . .  Nothing but space, a pole with a pendant wire on one side of a broad, curving ocean, an uncertain kite struggling in the air on the other — and thought passing between.”

Wireless Receiver on a Steamship

Early Wireless Receiver on a Steamship

“On Thursday, the 12th (1901), a day destined to be important in the annals of invention . . . Marconi sent up one of his kites, a huge hexagonal affair of bamboo and silk nine feet high . . .  The weather was so blustery that it required the combined strength of the inventor and his assistants to manage the tetherings (but) they succeeded in holding the kite at an elevation of about 400 feet.  Marconi sat waiting, a telephone receiver at his ear, in a room of the old barracks on Signal Hill.  A wire ran out through the window, thence to a pole, thence upward to the kite . . .” 

Receiving Station, Cape Cod

And the implications —

“When Marconi’s discoveries were first announced . . . the public inquired “How are you going to keep your messages secret? Supposing a warship wishes to communicate with another of the fleet, what is to prevent the enemy from reading your message? How are private business despatches to be secured against publicity? Here, indeed, was a problem.”

Recorded for Vol. 46 of the Nonfiction Collection;  originally from
McClure’s Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, February 1902, p. 291 ff.

You might enjoy an account of another inventor, Robert Hooke (1635-1703), who did early work in microscopy.