The Signal Heard ‘Round The World
Wireless communication may be taken for granted in these days of satellites and cellphone towers but on this day in 1901, it all began with “dit. dit, dit” – Morse code for the letter “s.” Guglielmo Marconi stood atop, aptly named; Signal Hill in St. John’s, N.L., and heard the first wireless, transatlantic signal transmitted from his staff at the Poldhu Wireless Station in Cornwall, England.
Marconi was born to a wealthy family in Bologna, Italy and privately educated. Although he reportedly failed a university entrance exam, a keen interest in physical and electrical science was not dissuaded, and experiments at his father’s country estate led to development of an apparatus able to send wireless signals. The Italian government had no interest in sponsoring the inventor’s continuing work so in 1896, Marconi moved to England where he found support. In 1896, he took out his famous patent No. 7777 for “tuned or syntonic telegraphy.”
St. John’s would not be Marconi’s first choice to test his theory that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the Earth. However, after the original antenna in England was damaged in a storm and replaced with a smaller one, he decided to play it safe and move the transmitter from Cape Cod, Mass. to the oldest and most easterly city in North America.
Marconi intended to establish a wireless telegraphy station in Newfoundland but the government had already granted Anglo-American Telegraph Company a 50-year monopoly upon cable telegraphic communication – so he set up in Glace Bay, N.S., on Cape Breton Island instead. However, it was not the end of Marconi in Newfoundland, he would perform another transmission stunt on Signal Hill and install a wireless station at Cape Race that would, in 1912, receive the SOS message from the Titanic.