History of Radio

of the
First Thirty Years of Radio

1895 – 1925

This timeline focuses mainly on the years 1895 – 1925.
For context, several related items earlier than 1895
and a few later than 1925 are included.

This history is about events that occurred before 1940.
Here, the words "wireless" and "radio" are used interchangeably,
to mean communication without wires by means of radio waves.

This use of "wireless" and "radio" as having the same meaning
was  the  normal  usage  through  the  first  half  of  the  twentieth
century.   In  the mid-1950s,  ultrasonic  remote controls  became
widely available; these devices broadened the meaning of "wireless"
to include  sound  waves  as  well  as  radio  waves.   In  the  1960s,
Zenith  sold  more  than  nine million  ultrasonic  remote controls for
television sets.  In the early 1980s, infrared remote control devices
became available, again broadening the meaning of "wireless".

Today there are many practical applications of wireless (radio):
broadcast  radio  and  television,  the  cell  phone,  overland
microwave links, satellite and deep space communications, GPS,
and many more.  When you lock your car with your remote
entry system, or your toll fee is automatically deducted from
the  little  plastic  box  attached  to your  windshield  without
having to stop at the booth, or you press the button on your
garage  door  opener  remote  control,  you  are  using  radio.
There are also applications of radio waves for purposes other
than communication, such as radar, and microwave cooking.

How did all this get started?


William Gilbert

First book about electricity and magnets

De Magnete

The Magnet

William Gilbert was a pioneer of the experimental method and the first to explain the magnetic compass.  In 1600, Gilbert published his great study of magnetism, De Magnete – "On the Magnet", in six volumes.  He described the legends and scientific facts associated with magnets, lodestones, amber, and other materials that have the mysterious natural ability to attract or repel.  Gilbert gave the first rational explanation of the puzzling ability of the compass needle to point north-south: the Earth itself is magnetic.

Also called magnetite, lodestone is a magnetic oxide of iron (Fe3O4) which was mined in the province of Magnesia in Thessaly (central Greece) from where the magnet gets its name.

De Magnete – the first ever book about experimental physics, and arguably the first ever scientific text – opened the era of modern physics and astronomy and started a century marked by the great achievements of Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others.  The book is similar to a modern PhD thesis in layout, starting with a survey of previous work, moving on to experimental results, discussing these and setting them in the broader context of worldwide results, and ending with speculation and unsolved problems.

Title Page 1600 edition, De Magnete, by William Gilbert Title Page
Anno MDC
1600 edition
Title Page 1628 edition, De Magnete, by William Gilbert Title Page
1628 edition
Title Page 1633 edition, De Magnete, by William Gilbert Title Page
1633 edition
De Magnete, magneticisque coporibus, et de magno magnete tellure
(On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on That Great Magnet the Earth)

For a larger view, click on an image

Gilbert makes a clear distinction between the attractive properties of magnets and rubbed amber: "for it pleases us to call that an electric force".

Amber is called elektron in Greek, and electrum in Latin, so Gilbert decided to refer to the phenomenon by the adjective electricus and the noun electricitas, giving rise to the modern terms "electric" and "electricity".  He was also the first person to use the terms "electric force," "magnetic pole," and "electric attraction".  Gilbert was also court physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and briefly to James VI/I.

De Magnete has never been out of print; an English translation in paperback is now listed for sale by Amazon.com.
Image of page 155, De Magnete (original edition) University of Glasgow
William Gilbert by BBC
William Gilbert: forgotten genius by Physics World
William Gilbert by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
William Gilbert by Mary Bellis
William Gilbert by Russell Naughton
William Gilbert by Pierre Roberge
William Gilbert Wikipedia
De Magnete Wikipedia
(1) The Great Magnet, the Earth by David Stern
      Commemorating the 400th anniversary of De Magnete by William Gilbert
(2) The Great Magnet, the Earth by David Stern (website hosted by NASA)
"On the Magnet" by William Gilbert of Colchester review by David Stern

"On the Magnet" by William Gilbert
     reviewed in May 2000 by Stuart Malin and David Barraclough
Four hundred years might seem to be an excessively long time for the production of a book review, even by slow-reading reviewers, but there are reasons why a prompt review would have been difficult... It is constantly necessary to remind oneself while reading De Magnete of just how early it is.  Here is science, based on experiment and observation rather than hearsay...

The full title of Gilbert's book is: De Magnete, magneticisque coporibus, et de magno magnete tellure; Physiologia nova, plurimis et argumentis, et experimentis demonstrata.  Note the last two words of the title, "experimental demonstrations", which has a very modern sound.

Cover, modern English edition, De Magnete, by William Gilbert
Cover, modern English edition by Dover Publications

Click on the image for a full size view

William Gilbert, by Eugenii Katz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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1681 July 24

Lightning Damages a Ship's Compass

An early observation of the relationship between magnetism and electric current

The Effect of a Thunder Clap on the Compass of a Ship
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v14 1684 pages 520-521

1732 December 6

Lightning Magnetizes Cutlery

An early observation of the relationship between magnetism and electric current

An Account of an Extraordinary Effect of Lightning in communicating Magnetism
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v39 1735-36 pages 74-75

1746 January

Pieter van Musschenbroek

Discovery of the Leyden jar (electrical capacitor)

Dutch physicist Pieter van Musschenbroek discovered an important feature of electrical technology that then was called the Leyden jar, and now we call "capacitance".  Nowadays, you can classify all electrical technology into two basic classes: DC (direct current) and AC (alternating current).  AC technology is by far more widely used than DC.  All AC technology — including electric power systems and radio, with many others – depends on capacitance as one of its fundamental components (along with resistance and inductive reactance).
Pieter van Musschenbroek by Pierre Roberge
Pieter van Musschenbroek Wikipedia

The Leiden jar, the first electrical capacitor by Univeristy of Leiden
Leiden Jar by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.
The Condenser by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.

Modern (1960s) electrolytic capacitor 66,000 µf 15V
Modern (1960s) electrolytic capacitor   66,000 microfarads   15 volts
Size: 9.1cm height, 7.6cm diameter   (the 25¢ coin shows scale)

Pieter (Petrus) van Musschenbroek, by Eugenii Katz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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1748-49 February 22   (4 March 1749 N.S.)

Lightning Destroys the Polarity of a Mariners Compass

An early observation of the relationship between magnetism and electric current

A Letter...concerning the Effects of Lightning in destroying the Polarity of a Mariner's Compass; To Which Are Subjoined Some Remarks Thereon
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v46 1749-50 pages 111-117

1757 November 9

William Mountaine and James Dodson

That great magnet, the Earth

Page 329, Royal Society, Dec 1757, v50

Observations concerning the Magnetic Needle

Fifty thousand observations, 1700-1756, throughout the known world

(pages 333-334):—   We conclude that the magnetic needle "is influenced by various and different magnetic attractions, in all probability occasioned by the heterogeneous compositions in the great magnet, the Earth."
Observations concerning the Magnetic Needle... December 1757
by William Mountaine and James Dodson F.R.S. (Fellows of the Royal Society)
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society v50 Dec 1757, pages 329-349

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London, England

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An eLib (Electronic Libraries Programme) Project by the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford, England

1777 January

William Henly

Comment on the future of electricity

We now (1777) know a lot, but there's still much more to be discovered
Royal Society, Dec 1777, v67 page 97 ...as the electric matter... operation is so secret, so rapid, and at times so tremendous; as it is so easily excited or put into action by friction, by heating and cooling, and perhaps by means we are totally unacquainted with; I think we may safely conclude, that electricity, as it is one of the most powerful, is also one of the most important, agents in nature.  Many useful discoveries have been made respecting the action, influence, and effects of this subtle fluid; but certainly much remains to be done, and the field for future labourers [investigators] seems daily to enlarge.  Indeed, notwithstanding the number of discoveries in electricity this age may justly boast of, I cannot but be of the opinion (which I mention as an incitement to the study) that, compared with the facts still undiscovered in that branch of philosophy [science], they bear but a very small proportion.
Experiments and Observations in Electricity, January 1777
by William Henly (?-1779) F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society)
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society v67 Dec 1777, pages 97-98

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London, England

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Luigi Galvani

The electric effect of different metals

Luigi Galvani's work with frogs led to his discovery in 1781 of galvanic or voltaic electricity.  Galvani found he could make the muscles of a dead frog twitch when he touched them with different metals or the current from a nearby static electric generator.  Galvani's exploration of electric induction of twitches in severed frog's legs was an important step in the scientific investigation of electricity.  His name is recalled by a word in modern English, galvanized, used to describe someone stirred to sudden, abrupt action.
Luigi Galvani by the California Energy Commission
Luigi Galvani by Pierre Roberge


Charles Augustin de Coulomb

Coulomb's Law of Electrostatic Force

In the 1770s, Charles Augustin de Coulomb invented the torsion balance, a very sensitive scientific instrument that can measure small forces such as those produced by electrostatic charges.  In the 1780s and 1790s, Coulomb was involved in a great variety of scientific and engineering work.  He developed a clear description of the forces generated between two electrostatic charges, that we now know as Coulomb's Law.  Every modern physics textbook includes Coulomb in its index.  The coulomb, the basic unit of electric charge, is named in his honour.

Coulomb's Law, the scientific principle describing the behaviour of the electric force, one of the basic physical forces, is named for a French physicist, Charles Augustin de Coulomb, who in 1785 published the results of an experimental investigation into the correct quantitative description of this force.  An understanding of Coulomb's Law is essential for anyone who wants to understand the structure of atoms.

Charles Augustin de Coulomb by University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Charles Augustin de Coulomb by Highfields Amateur Radio Club, Cardiff
Coulomb Balance by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.

Charles Augustin de Coulomb, by Eugenii Katz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta

The first battery to supply electric current

In 1800, after six years of experimenting with chemicals in an effort to produce electric current, Alessandro Giuseppe Volta asembled a device that was able to produce a large continuous flow of electricity.  He placed side-by-side several cups filled with a salt solution, and then connected them with special strips of metal that were copper at one end and tin or zinc at the other end.  Volta described his invention in a communication of 20 March 1800, to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London.

This was a revolution in electrical technology.  It had been known from very early times that a piece of amber, when rubbed, acquired the ability to attract small pieces of paper or straw.  This curious behaviour was considered to be of no practical significance, even after William Gilbert collected various scattered observations and, adding many of his own, laid the foundations of electricity in his great book De Magnete published in 1600.  All through the 1600s and 1700s, static electricity was well-known and the subject of many casual experiments, and some serious investigation, by many people.  Static electricity was produced by rubbing an insulating object such as a glass or ebony or sulphur cylinder with a cloth or animal fur (a cylindrical shape was better than a sphere because it could be rubbed vigourously).  The presence of static electricity could easily be demonstrated by bringing near any of a wide variety of materials, such as bits of paper or silk ribbon.

These static electricity demonstrations generated high voltages but only very tiny currents.  As a result the static properties of electricity were widely known but the magnetic effects were never observed because they require much larger electric currents than can ever be produced by static methods.  Furthermore, anyone studying the magnetic effects has to have a steady electric current available over a significant period of time – at least several seconds, and several minutes is much better.

Volta's breakthrough invention suddenly made it possible for people to have a reliable and predictable supply of significant electric current.  It is no accident that many important electrical discoveries came in the next few decades.  In 1820, Oersted's observation of the magnetic effect of electric current was reported; then Schweigger's galvanometer (the ancestor of all of the now-familiar electrical instruments with a needle moving across a marked dial); and in 1831, there were the crucial discoveries by Faraday in England and Henry in the United States – all involving some version of Volta's battery. 

Useful electric telegraph systems, powered by batteries, began to appear.  In 1809, less than a decade after Volta's invention became publicly known, von Soemmering demonstrated a working electric telegraph to the Munich Academy of Sciences – although not very practical because it required 35 separate wires between the sending and receiving ends, von Sommering's telegraph was able to deliver messages reliably at a distance by electric current.  This quickly became widely known and stimulated others to activity.  In his 1835 trip to Germany, William Cooke saw the electric telegraph built by Professor Muncke at Heidelberg; on returning to England, Cooke worked with Wheatstone to develop an electric telegraph good enough to be put into regular use in May 1838.  All of these telegraph systems, and all commercial telegraph lines throughout the rest of the 1800s and well into the 1900s, were powered by batteries – all of them being close relatives of Volta's battery made of two different metals immersed in a chemical solution.

Google Doodle marks Alessandro Volta's birthday The Guardian 18 February 2015 01.27 GMT
New Google Doodle Honors Alessandro Volta, Forefather of the Modern Battery Time
March 20, 1800:  Volta describes the Electric Battery This Month in Physics History APS

Alessandro Volta by Pierre Roberge
Alessandro Volta by Russell Naughton
Alessandro Volta Wikipedia
Count Alessandro Volta by the California Energy Commission
Postage stamp: Alessandro Volta

The humble battery: 210 years later,
the breakthrough we still await

The battery could be a shoo-in for the most confounding of all technologies.  Invented in 1799 by Alessandro Volta, it not only has yet to be perfected, but has operated all along on essentially the same chemical principles.  Were that it were different: If engineers could figure out how to store sufficient electricity in a sufficiently small, light, safe container, there would be a cascading revolution – in super-utilities, electric cars, laptops and mobile phones.  With the possibility of a trillion-dollar industry at stake – if consumers en mass decide that they want plug-in hybrid automobiles, for instance – engineers and scientists from the Silicon Valley to Japan, China and Korea are manically working on the technological challenge... The missing history of the battery is still missing...
The humble battery: 210 years later, the breakthrough we still await by Steve LeVine, published 27 April 2010
Steve LeVine


von Soemmering's electric telegraph

Samuel Thomas von Soemmering (1755-1830) was a physician, anatomist, anthropologist, paleontologist and inventor in Bavaria (now part of Germany).  Sommering discovered the macula in the retina of the human eye.  His investigations of the brain and the nervous system, of the sensory organs, of the embryo and its malformations, of the structure of the lungs, etc., made him one of the most important German anatomists.  In 1809 von Soemmering demonstrated the first electric telegraph.  He used a device with 26 wires (one wire for each letter of the German alphabet), terminated in 26 jars filled with an acid solution.  At the sending end a battery was connected to one wire, then another, to spell out the message one letter at a time.  At the receiving end, the electric current caused the acid to decompose chemically and the message was read by observing which jar showed bubbles of gas.  Soemmering was able to send messages over a distance at a rate of about two letters a minute.  This was a genuine electric telegraph that could deliver messages reliably over a distance that was limited only by the length of wire available.

Von Soemmering's telegraph is often described as an "electrochemical telegraph", a misleading term which sounds like something different from an "electric telegraph".  Von Soemmering's telegraph was a genuine electric telegraph.  The means of transmitting the message from the sending end to the receiving end was purely by an electric current carried by a metal wire.  The chemical part existed only at the receiving end, as a way to detect the electric current.  This detection arrangement had nothing to do with the transmission of the message from one end to the other by electricity.

Samuel Thomas von Soemmering Wikipedia

Samuel Thomas von Soemmering, by Eugenii Katz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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Hans Christian Oersted

Observation of magnetic effect of an electric current

Before 1820, the only magnetism known was that of iron magnets and of lodestones (natural magnets).  This was changed by Hans Christian Oersted, an obscure professor of science at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.  In April 1820 Oersted arranged in his home a science demonstration for friends and students.  Using a voltaic battery to supply electric current, he planned to demonstrate the heating of a wire by an electric current, and also to carry out demonstrations of magnetism with a compass needle mounted on a wooden stand.  While performing his electric heating demonstration, Oersted noted to his surprise that every time the electric current was switched on, the compass needle moved.  Most surprising, the compass needle pointed in a direction perpendicular to the wire.  When the current in the wire was reversed, the compass needle also reversed, pointing in the opposite direction but still at a right angle to the wire.  This was the first demonstration of a connection between electricity and magnetism.  We now use the words “electromagnetic” and “electromagnetism” to refer to the combined effects of magnetism and electricity.  Today, our world is dominated by electromagnetic technology.
The Electromagnetic Revolution: Oersted's discovery
      by the Magnetism Group, Physics Department, Trinity College, Dublin
Hans Christian Oersted by Pierre Roberge
Hans Christian Oersted by David Stern
Hans Christian Oersted by Russell Naughton
Hans Christian Oersted Wikipedia
Lodestone Wikipedia

A Ridiculously Brief History of Electricity and Magnetism Ross L. Spencer

Hans Christian Oersted, by Eugenii Katz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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William Sturgeon

First electromagnet

William Sturgeon was a shoemaker's apprentice as a boy in England, then he joined the British army where he got an education.  He became interested in electricity while watching a severe thunderstorm in Newfoundland.  He returned to civilian life in England and began experimenting with electricity.  In the early 1820s, Sturgeon found that a coil of wire wound around a piece of iron would produce strong magnetic effect when the wire coil was connected to an electric battery.  In 1825 he demonstrated his invention, displaying its strength by lifting nine pounds [4kg] with a seven-ounce [200g] horseshoe-shaped bar of iron wrapped with about eighteen turns of wire, connected to a one-cell (low voltage) battery.  This was the first electromagnet – capable of lifting twenty times its own weight.  It could hold the suspended weight indefinitely with no sign of fatigue or lessening of the magnetic effect so long as the battery was connected, but the suspended weight dropped immediately if the battery was disconnected (a discovery that later was used with longer wires to transmit messages by electric telegraph to faraway places).  Sturgeon's 1825 electromagnet was an early practical demonstration of the close connection between electricity and magnetism that since then has had an enormous influence on communications technology, and many other scientific fields.  In the 1830s, Sturgeon made his living partly by teaching; one of his students was James Prescott Joule.
William Sturgeon Wikipedia
Development of the Electromagnet by John D. Jenkins
The Electromagnet by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.
Sturgeon's Galvanometer by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.
Galvanometer by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.


Andre Marie Ampere

Mathematical analysis of magnetic effect of electric current

Andre Marie Ampere is generally credited as one of the main discoverers of electromagnetism.  The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him.  Ampere is best known for his demonstration that electric currents produce magnetic fields, and his subsequent investigation into the relationship between these two phenomena.  Modern electrical technology – electric motors and generators for example – often is based on an application of the interaction between electric currents and magnetic forces.  Ampere's most important publication on electricity and magnetism, published in 1826, is titled Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience and contains a mathematical derivation of the electrodynamic force law and describes four experiments. 
Andre Marie Ampere by University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Andre Marie Ampere by Pierre Roberge
Andre Marie Ampere Wikipedia
Andre Marie Ampere by the California Energy Commission
Ampere's Frame by Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.


Georg Simon Ohm

Publication of Ohm's Law

What is now known as Ohm's Law first appears in a book printed in Berlin in 1827: Die galvanische Kette, mathematisch bearbeitet (The Galvanic Circuit Investigated Mathematically).  In the mid-1820s, Georg Simon Ohm, professor of mathematics at the Jesuit College of Cologne, Germany, had been studying how electricity is conducted through various materials, using a variety of voltages.  He discovered that, in a particular material arranged in a particular form – an iron wire, or a copper bar, or a lead cylinder, etc. – the electric current in the circuit is directly proportional to the number of cells in the battery.  This is what is now known as Ohm's Law, one of the most fundamental principles of electricity.
Georg Simon Ohm (1) by University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Georg Simon Ohm (2) by University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Georg Simon Ohm by the California Energy Commission
Georg Simon Ohm Wikipedia
Ohm (electrical unit) Wikipedia
Electrical resistance Wikipedia

      In January 2007, several copies of the first edition of Die galvanische Kette, mathematisch bearbeitet by G.S. Ohm, 1827, were available from antique book dealers and listed on the WWW.  One copy in good condition can be purchased from a dealer in Los Angeles for US$25,000.  Another copy is available from another bookseller for C$30,627.  A third copy for sale in the Netherlands is priced at €20,000.
      In January 2008, two copies of the first edition are available, from booksellers in France.  The price is C$44,000 (each).
      In July 2009, there are two copies of the first edition for sale in the United States, one in New York City for US$29,500 and the other in California for US$30,250.  A copy is also available in Paris, France, for US$43,700.


Michael Faraday

Discovery of electromagnetic induction

In 1831, Michael Faraday began his great series of experiments in which he discovered electromagnetic induction, the ability of a changing magnetic field to produce a voltage in a nearby conductor.  The important term is "changing" – it is not the magnetic field, weak or strong, but a change in the magnetic field that generates a voltage in any nearby conductor.  Any time a conductor (wire loop) is in the influence of a magnetic field that varies in strength, an electric current is set up in the conductor.  It is this effect, that we now call "electromagnetic induction," that is the basis of present-day generation of electric power, the transmission of information using the electromagnetic spectrum (radio, television, radar, microwave, etc.) and many other useful applications of electricity.
Michael Faraday University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Michael Faraday by Pierre Roberge
Michael Faraday by Russell Naughton
Michael Faraday by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
Michael Faraday Wikipedia
Michael Faraday by the California Energy Commission
Electromagnetic induction Wikipedia

On 29 August 1831, Michael Faraday recorded in his notebook his discovery of electromagnetic induction.
Source: IEEE History Center

Faraday and Henry

Michael Faraday in England, and Joseph Henry in New Jersey,
were experimenting at the same time, 1829-1832, with electric
circuits and the associated magnetic effects.  Both were working
without knowing that the other was doing similar work.  Henry's
experiments that revealed electromagnetic induction were done
mostly in August 1830, a few months before Faraday, but Faraday
published first and thus is given primary credit for this discovery.
Today, the unit of measure of electrical capacitance is called the farad,
named for Michael Faraday.
Today, the unit of measure of electrical inductance is called the henry,
named for Joseph Henry.
Note: "henry" (lower-case "h") is the name of the unit of inductance
while "Henry" (upper-case "H") is the name of the man.
Similarly for "farad" and "Faraday", also "ampere" and "Ampere"
"ohm" and "Ohm", "volt" and "Volta", and "coulomb" and "Coulomb".

Having a measuring unit named for you is the highest accolate
that a scientist can achieve.  In the field of electricity, along with
the farad and the henry, we now have the volt (Alessandro Volta),
the ampere (Andre Ampere), the coulomb (Charles Augustin de Coulomb),
the ohm (Georg Simon Ohm), the gauss (Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss),
and the maxwell (James Clark Maxwell).  The hertz (Heinrich Rudolf Hertz)
is not an electrical unit, but it is often used by everyone working with
electrical technology.  Likewise, the watt (James Watt) is not an
electrical unit, but it appears everywhere that electricity is used.


Joseph Henry

Discovery of electromagnetic self-inductance

In 1830, Joseph Henry began experimenting with insulated wires wound an iron core, and succeeded in making powerful electromagnets.  In 1831 at Yale University, he demonstrated a big electromagnet that could lift 2300 pounds 1045kg, the largest in the world at that time.  These magnets were powered by an electric current from a battery made according to Volta's design.

While experimenting with these magnets, Henry needed to turn the current on and off many times, by making and breaking the circuit.  Whenever the magnet circuit was broken, he observed a large spark that was generated at the point where the break was made.  Over time, Henry built bigger electromagnets with more iron in the core and more turns of wire around the core, and he noticed that the larger the electromagnet, the more powerful the spark when the circuit was broken.

(For magnets of this size, these circuit-breaking sparks
can be impressively powerful, even frightening.  While opening
the field circuits of hydroelectric generators – electrically
identical to Henry's electromagnets – I've seen a few that
deserve adjectives such as vicious or dangerous. – ICS)

In 1830-1831, he deduced the property known as self-inductance, the inertial characteristic of an electric circuit.  The self-inductance of a circuit tends to prevent the current from changing; if a current is flowing, self-inductance tends to keep it flowing; if an electromotive force is applied self-inductance tends to keep it from increasing.
Joseph Henry by Alexander Leitch
Joseph Henry's Contributions... by Roger Sherman
Joseph Henry by Russell Naughton
Joseph Henry by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
Joseph Henry Wikipedia


James Clerk Maxwell

Mathematical prediction of electromagnetic waves

In 1864, Scottish mathematician James Clerk Maxwell described electromagnetism – the relationship between electricity and magnetism – in four classic equations.  These equations, which are now collectively known as Maxwell's equations, describe the interrelationship between electric fields, magnetic fields, electric charge, and electric current.  Some of the solutions to these equations indicated that there were such things as electric waves.  At the time, in the 1860s and 1870s, the notion of electric waves (which now we all are familiar with from our early childhood days) seemed incomprehensible, but their existence was proved experimentally in 1888 by Heinrich Hertz, and in the mid-1890s practical applications began to appear through work by Popov, Marconi, Fessenden, Poulsen and others.

Maxwell's work – in light and other areas of physical phenomena as well as electricity and magnetism – considered by many physicists as comparable to Newton and Einstein.  Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1965, said: "From a long view of the history of mankind – seen from, say, ten thousand years from now, there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics."

James Clerk Maxwell University of St. Andrews, Scotland
James Clerk Maxwell Wikipedia
James Clerk Maxwell Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
Maxwell's equations Wikipedia

1874 April 25

Birth of Guglielmo Marconi


Temistocle Calzecchi Onesti

Although not well-known in scientific history, Themistocles Calzecchi Onesti is important for his breakthrough discovery of the device that has since become known as the "coherer".  About 1884, working in Fermo on the east coast of Italy, Onesti began researching the properties of metal powders, which usually have high electrical resistance (low conductivity), but he found low resistance (high conductivity) under certain special conditions such as electrostatic induction, and lightning.  Based on these results, Onesti made the so-called "filings tube" that, many years later, was given the name "coherer".  A coherer consists of a glass tube filled with metal filings which acts as an insulator when placed in a circuit with a low-voltage battery.  However, if an electric spark occurs anywhere in the vicinity, the coherer becomes a conductor and allows current to flow in the circuit.  When the tube is tapped lightly, it becomes an insulator again and interrupts the current.  There has never been a satisfactory explanation of how a coherer works.  When it is exposed to an electromagnetic field, the high resistance of the powder (filings) becomes relatively low.  This serves as a way to detect the presence of electromagnetic radiation (which was not easy to do in the 1880s).  Unfortunately, the reduction in the coherer's electrical resistance persists after the electromagnetic field disappears – that is, it works only once – but the device can be reset by tapping, to break the micro-bonds between the particles.  These studies by Onesti predate by nearly six years those of Edouard Branly in France and Oliver Lodge in England, although they are largely credited with the discovery.  At the time, Onesti saw this as an invention for detecting lightning, but a lively debate followed when Branly, Lodge and Marconi used the coherer for radio.  Temistocles' work was important enough for the Italian post office to issue a stamp honouring him in the "First 100 Years of Radio" series in 1995.

Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti by Wikipedia (English)
Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti by Wikipedia (Italian)
Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti by Highfields Amateur Radio Club, Cardiff (English)

1884 October 11

Communication Between Ships at Sea

An early attempt to use electricity to communicate
with ships at sea out of sight of land

Telegraphing across the ocean without a cable

The meeting of the American Association was one of unusual interest and importance to the members of Section B.  This is to be attributed not only to the unusually large attendance of American physicists, but also to the presence of a number of distinguished members of the British Association, who have contributed to the success of the meetings not only by presenting papers, but by entering freely into the discussions.  In particular the section was fortunate in having the presence of Sir William Thomson, to whom more than to any one else we owe the successful operation of the great ocean cables, and who stands with Helmholtz first among living physicists.  Whenever he entered any of the discussions, all were benefited by the clearness and suggestiveness of his remarks.  ["American Association" may mean the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was founded in 1848.]

Professor A. Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, read a paper giving a possible method of communication between ships at sea.  The simple experiment that illustrates the method which he proposed is as follows: Take a basin of water, introduce into it, at two widely separated points, the two terminals of a battery circuit which contains an interrupter, making and breaking the circuit very rapidly.  Now at two other points touch the water with the terminals of a circuit containing a telephone.  A sound will be heard, except when the two telephone terminals touch the water at points where the potential is the same.  In this way the equipotential lines can easily be picked out.

Now to apply this to the case of a ship at sea: Suppose one ship to be provided with a dynamo machine generating a powerful current, and let one terminal enter the water at the prow of the ship, and the other to be carefully insulated, except at its end, and be trailed behind the ship, making connection with the sea at a considerable distance from the vessel; and suppose the current be rapidly made and broken by an interrupter; then the observer on a second vessel provided with similar terminal conductors to the first, but having a telephone instead of a dynamo, will be able to detect the presence of the other vessel even at a considerable distance; and by suitable modifications the direction of the other vessel may be found.  [A "dynamo" is simply a direct-current (DC) generator.]

This conception Professor Bell has actually tried on the Potomac River with two small boats, and found that at a mile and a quarter [2.0km], the furthest distance experimented upon, the sound due to the action of the interrupter in one boat was distinctly audible in the other.  The experiment did not succeed quite so well in salt water.  Professor Trowbridge then mentioned a method which he had suggested some years ago for telegraphing across the ocean without a cable, the method having been suggested more for its interest than with any idea of its ever being put in practice.

A conductor is supposed to be laid from Labrador to Patagonia, ending in the ocean at those points, and passing through New York, where a dynamo machine is supposed to be included in the circuit.

In Europe a line is to extend from the north of Scotland to the south of Spain, making connections with the ocean at those points, and in this circuit is to be included a telephone.  Then any change in the strength of the current in the American line would produce a corresponding change in current in the European line; and thus signals could be transmitted.

Mr. Preece, of the English postal telegraph, then gave an account of how such a system had actually been put into practice in telegraphing between the Isle of Wight and Southampton during a suspension in the action of the regular cable communication.  The instruments used were a telephone in one circuit, and in the other about twenty-five Leclanche cells and an interrupter.  The sound could then be heard distinctly; and so communication was kept up until the cable was again in working order.  Of the two lines used in this case, one extended from the sea at the end of the island near Hurst Castle, through the length of the island, and entered the sea again at Rye; while the line on the mainland ran from Hurst Castle, where it was connected with the sea, through Southampton to Portsmouth, where it again entered the sea.  The distance between the two terminals at Hurst Castle was about one mile [1.6km], while that between the terminals at Portsmouth and Rye amounted to six miles [10km].

— Source:   Possibilities of the Telephone by A. Graham Bell
Scientific American Supplement, No. 458, 11 October 1884


Heinrich Hertz

Invents a way to produce electromagnetic waves

In the decade 1880-1890, the most important advance in electrical physics was that which originated with the astonishing researches of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.  This illustrious investigator's great discovery was an experimental realization of a suggestion made by G.F. Fitzgerald in 1883 as a method of producing electric waves in space...

Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 191
Electric Waves
page 191

Click on the image for a full size view

Thanks to Merritt and Wilma Gibson
for access to Britannica 1911.


Heinrich Hertz

Proof of the existence of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves)

Heinrich Hertz was the first to demonstrate the existence of radio waves.  In 1888, in a corner of his physics classroom at the Karlsruhe Polytechnic in Berlin, Hertz generated electric waves using an electric circuit.  The circuit contained two metal rods separated by a short gap, and when sparks crossed this gap strong oscillations of high frequency were produced.  Hertz proved that these waves were transmitted through air by detecting them with some distance away with a simple wire loop.  He discovered the progressive propagation of electromagnetic action through space, and measured the length and speed of these electromagnetic waves.  He also showed that like light waves they were reflected and refracted.  Hertz also noted that electrical conductors reflect the waves and that they can be focused by concave reflectors.  He found that nonconductors allow most of the waves to pass through.  These waves, originally called Hertzian waves but now known as radio waves, conclusively confirmed Maxwell's prediction of the existence of electromagnetic waves, both in the form of light and radio waves.  Today, the term "hertz" (short form "Hz") is used as the unit of frequency for an electromagnetic oscillation or wave.
Heinrich Hertz by Pierre Roberge
Heinrich Hertz by Russell Naughton
Heinrich Hertz by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
Heinrich Hertz Wikipedia
Evidence for Electromagnetic Waves by University of Colorado

Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 203 Electric Waves
page 203
Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 204 Electric Waves
page 204
Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 205 Electric Waves
page 205
Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 206 Electric Waves
page 206
Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 207 Electric Waves
page 207
Electric Waves, by J.J. Thomson, page 208 Electric Waves
page 208

Click on thumbnail for full size view

The encyclopedia article "Electric Waves," (above)
by J.J. Thomson, several times refers to "Leyden Jars,"
(the first electric capacitors).
Leyden Jars
Leyden Jars by PV Scientific Instruments
Leyden Jar Wikipedia
Leyden Jar by Roger Curry

The experiments of Heinrich Hertz on electromagnetic waves form
"one of the greatest contributions ever made to experimental physics."
— Sir J.J. Thomson

In 1897, Joseph John Thomson discovered the
first experimentally-proven atomic particle, the electron.


Edouard Branly

Invents a way to detect electromagnetic waves

Credit is due to Edouard (Edward) Branly (1844-1940) of France for inventing the coherer, the first practical instrument for detecting Hertzian waves. It consisted of two small metal plates or cylinders with wires attached, placed inside each end of a glass tube containing loose zinc or silver particles (filings). The instant an electric discharge – a spark or an arc – occurred in the vicinity the coherer's metallic filings became conductive, and then if it was tapped lightly its conductivity vanished and it became an insulator. In practice the tapping was done automatically by a tapper, similar to a small hammer, which acted each time the coherer became conductive. When connected in a low-voltage circuit, in its ordinary state a coherer had a resistance of millions of ohms, but this dropped dramatically to hundreds of ohms when electromagnetic waves were produced in the vicinity.

A Branly coherer consists of a glass tube filled with metal filings which acts as an insulator when placed in a circuit with a low-voltage battery.  However, if an electric spark occurs anywhere in the vicinity, the coherer becomes a conductor and allows current to flow in the circuit.  When the tube is tapped lightly, it becomes an insulator again and interrupts the current.  This phenomenon was described by Branly in 1890.  There has never been a satisfactory explanation of how a coherer works.  Nevertheless, we can describe its behavior, even if we don't fully understand all the details of why it works.

The coherer was a very useful device in the early days of experimentation with electromagnetic waves.  It was widely used from the early 1890s until about 1910, when what we now call vacuum tube rectifiers became available.
Edouard Branly Wikipedia
Eugene Edouard Desire Branly by Russell Naughton
A Radio Receiver Using a Branly Coherer as a Detector
Electrical transport in granular media: the Branly Effect
The Branly Prize 2004

Branley's invention was a big step forward in the development of the science and technology of electromagnetic radiation.  Today we all are immersed continuously in a wash of electromagnetic radiation.  We are surrounded 24/7/365 by electromagnetic radiation coming from all directions, yet – without suitable instruments – we are wholly unaware of it because humans do not have the sensory ability to detect this radiation.  Today we have an amazing variety of cheap everyday devices that are able to detect the presence of electromagnetic radiation, from ordinary radio receivers (formerly AM and now mostly FM) through portable cellular telephones to GPS (global positioning system) receivers, etc.  But whenever we are temporarily without one of these devices, we are unaware of the sea of electromagnetic radiation that exists from the surface of the Earth upward through the atmosphere and outward millions of kilometres into space.  Before Branley's invention of the coherer, the only way to detect the existence of electromagnetic radiation was the primitive arrangement used by Heinrich Hertz, and described in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article Electric Waves:

To detect the electromagnetic waves, Hertz used a piece of copper wire bent into a circle, the ends of the wire being furnished with two metal balls, or a ball and a point attached to a screw, so that the distance between them could be adjusted very finely.  The radius of the circle used by Hertz was about 35cm, so chosen as to be most sensitive to the waves that were produced by his apparatus, a "vibrator".  Hertz found that when he held his detector in the neighbourhood of the vibrator, tiny sparks passed between the balls.  These sparks were not stopped when a large plate of non-conducting substance, such as the wall of a room, was interposed between the vibrator and detector, but a large plate of very thin metal stopped them completely...

Before Branley's coherer became available in 1890, the only way to detect the presence of electromagnetic radiation was to use a wire loop (similar to that used by Hertz) and to look for tiny sparks between the ends of the loop.


Fred Trouton suggests rotating alternator for wireless transmitter

In lecture delivered in 1891, Frederick Thomas Trouton noted that if an electrical alternator could somehow be run fast enough, it would generate electromagnetic radiation.  This approach was later explored by Fessenden and Alexanderson.
United States Early Radio History by Thomas H. White

Frederick Thomas Trouton Wikipedia


Death of Heinrich Hertz

When Heinrich Hertz, who discovered wireless waves, died in 1894, Augustus Righi – professor of physics at Bologna University, a pioneer of work on wireless waves, and a friend of Marconi's family – wrote an obituary that fired Marconi with the idea of deploying these waves for telegraphy without wires between sender and receiver ('wire-less').
Augusto Righi by Russell Naughton
Augusto Righi Wikipedia
Augusto Righi Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

1895 May 7

Alexander Stepanovich Popov

Early radio receiver

In the early 1890s, Alexander Popov was working in Russia on a way to detect thunderstorms. Anyone who has listened to an AM radio receiver while a thunderstorm is active in the vicinity, can understand how a radio receiver works as a lightning detector. In the early 1890s, Popov was working on a way to predict thunderstorms, by using atmospheric radio waves to detect the occurrence of distant lightning strokes. Popov's work focused on lightning detection, but this can also be described as the ability to receive radio waves. In 1894 he built an apparatus that could register electrical disturbances due to lightning, and then suggested that it could be used for receiving man-made signals. It contained a coherer. Developed as a lightning detector, Popov presented it to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society on 7 May 1895. Without question, this was a primitive radio receiver. In 1896, he demonstrated the transmission of radio wave signals between different parts of the University of St. Petersburg.
Alexander Stepanovich Popov Wikipedia
Alexander Stepanovich Popov by Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University
Engineering Hall of Fame: Alexander Popov by IEEE, December 2005
Alexander Stepanovich Popov
Alexander Stepanovich Popov by Russell Naughton
Alexander Popov: Russia's Radio Pioneer by James P. Rybak
Russian Stamps Showing Alexander Popov


Marconi's early wireless experiments in Switzerland

IEEE Historical Milestone

In February 2003, the History Committee of the IEEE acknowledged Marconi's early wireless experiments in Salvan, Switzerland, as a "Historical Milestone".  A commemorative plaque was dedicated on behalf of the IEEE by Raymond Findlay, IEEE Past President, on 26 September 2003, in the presence of both Princess Elettra Marconi-Giovanelli, youngest daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, and Pascal Couchepin, president of Switzerland.  The speakers recalled that Salvan had been the theatre of a major event in the history of electrical engineering and of mankind, as Marconi's discovery brought people closer together.  Through his intelligence and doggedness of purpose, Marconi, father of wireless communications, provided an example of creativity and inventiveness to younger generations.  President Couchepin concluded hoping that this ceremony would prompt us to meditate on the importance of science and technical progress in our civilization...
IEEE: Marconi Milestone in Salvan, 26 September 2003
      On this spot in 1895, with local assistance, Guglielmo Marconi carried out some of the first wireless experiments. This was the beginning of Marconi's critical involvement in wireless radio...
Photograph of the IEEE Marconi Milestone 1895 plaque
Salvan: Cradle of Wireless Microwave Journal, February 2006
      Historical overview of Gugliemo Marconi's early wireless experiments in Salvan, a resort town in the Swiss Alps... Overlooking the village of Salvan is a flat-topped erratic rock called the Shepherdess Stone, on which Marconi set up his transmitter...

1896 June 2

British Patent number 12039

Guglielmo Marconi is awarded British Patent number 12039, the world's first patent for a system of telegraphy using Hertzian waves (radio).

1897 January 29

Bose lectures on electromagnetic radiation

At the Royal Institution in London, England, on Friday 29 January 1897, Jagdish Chandra Bose delivered his famous "Friday Evening Discourse" on "Electromagnetic Radiation and the Polarisation of Electric Rays".  The Friday Evening Discourse tradition had been started in 1826 by Michael Faraday, and in the late 1800s was one of the most prestigious platforms for announcing new scientific discoveries.  Some of the most prominent British scientists were members of the Royal Institution and participated in these discourses.  In this 1897 lecture, Bose demonstrated his devices for the generation and detection of radio waves.  More than five hundred people including Oliver Lodge, James John Thomson and Lord Kelvin had assembled to hear Bose.  The lecture was not only praised but it was considered valuable enough for publication in the Transactions of the Royal Society.  The University of London conferred on him the D.Sc. degree for his work on electric waves.

The date of Bose's "Friday Evening Discourse" has been reported in some sources as Friday 19th January 1897, or as Friday 19th July 1897.  The problem is, in the year 1897, January 19th was a Tuesday, and July 19th was a Monday.  However, the 1897 calendar shows January 29th as a Friday.

Jagadish Chandra Bose by Vigyan Prasar
Department of Science and Technology, Government of India


Braun Invents the Cathode Ray Tube Oscillograph

Essential tool for working with radio waves

Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850-1918) was director of the Physical Institute and a professor of Physics at the University of Strasbourg, in northeastern France, when he found a way to produce a narrow stream of electrons and invented a fluorescent screen that produced visible light when they hit it – the the first cathode ray tube (CRT).  Beginning in the 1920s, and continuing through the rest of the tewntieth century and on to the present day, millions of CRT devices have been manufactured and sold, for oscilloscopes, television receivers, computer monitors, hospital electronic and monitoring devices, etc.  The CRT is still called the "Braun tube" (Braunsche Rohre) in German-speaking countries, and in Japan, Buraun-kan.  Although little remembered today, Braun made several important contributions to wireless technology.  He discovered that rectification occurs at a crystal-to-metal junction, leading to the introduction of crystal receivers.  In 1898 he started to occupy himself with wireless telegraphy by attempting to transmit telegraph signals through water by means of high-frequency currents.  Braun's papers on wireless telegraphy were published in 1901 in the form of a brochure under the title Drahtlose Telegraphie durch Wasser und Luff (Wireless telegraphy through water and air).  In 1902, he demonstrated the first directional (beam) antenna (an important improvement over the early simple antennas that radiated equally in all directions).

In 1909, Braun was awarded the Nobel Prize jointly with Guglielmo Marconi.  Braun had produced four improvements in wireless circuitry that were recognized by the committee awarding the Nobel Prize; it was also noted that Braun's replacement for the Marconi spark-gap circuit was not simply an improvement but an important new advance.

In December 1914, Braun travelled to New York to testify in a patent suit involving the large German wireless telegraph station at Sayville, Long Island, New York – after the two German submarine (underwater) telegraph cables had been cut in August 1914 (see below), the Sayville wireless station was the most important remaining communications link between Germany and the United States at a time of heightened international tension – against legal (patent) attacks by the British controlled Marconi Corporation.  When the United States entered World War One, in April 1917, Braun was interned as an enemy alien and died before the war ended.
Foreword to Friedrich Kurylo's biography of Ferdinand Braun by Bern Dibner
Translated to English by Charles Susskind
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1981

Karl Ferdinand Braun Wikipedia
Karl Ferdinand Braun by James P. Rybak
Karl Ferdinand Braun by Russell Naughton
Karl Ferdinand Braun by NobelPrize.org
Karl Ferdinand Braun by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Karl Ferdinand Braun by Ferdinand-Braun-Institut fur Hochstfrequenztechnik

1897 July 20

The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company

In 1897, with the help of wealthy relatives, Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, with Colonel Jameson Davis, a cousin of Marconi, as the first Managing Director.  The company was registered (incorporated) on 20 July 1897.  On 24 March 1900, the name was changed to Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Limited.

1898 July 20

Kingstown Regatta Reported by Wireless

One of the biggest scoops in Irish newspaper history involved the Kingstown Regatta in the summer of 1898.  The results of the yacht races were not especially interesting, but the technology used to transmit them was revolutionary.  Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy, was commissioned by T.P. Gill, editor of the Dublin Daily Express newspaper, to report the results of the races "direct from the high seas".  The newspaper chartered a yacht, The Huntstress, for Marconi, who set up his equipment and a mast on board.  He followed the regatta 10 miles out into Dublin Bay, to Kish Lighthouse, and, on July 20th, 1898, sent back the first-ever press report by wireless telegraphy to a land station in the harbourmaster's office.  This report was printed on a Morse tape machine, decoded and telegraphed to the newspaper's newsdesk.

Auctioneer George Mealy said that the Kingstown Regatta report "was the first use of wireless telegraph for a commercial, journalistic or sporting purpose; an international first of enormous significance".  It was in the personal collection of T.P. Gill, who died in 1931, and is being sold by a descendant who inherited it.

Marconi, who was born in Bologna in 1825, had strong Irish connections.  His mother was Annie Jameson, a member of the whiskey-distilling family of Daphne Castle, County Wexford, and his first wife was Beatrice O'Brien, daughter of Edward Donough O'Brien, the 14th Baron Inchiquin of County Clare.

Source: Ticker tape of world's first wireless broadcast for auction Irish Times, 13 November 2011

Kingstown Regatta Experiments: Newspaper report by wireless telegraphy column from the Dublin Daily Express describing the second day (July 21) of reporting on the yacht races at Kingstown Regatta

Kingstown Regatta Experiments: Extracts from the diary kept by George Kemp installation of the equipment and reporting of the yacht races at Kingstown Regatta 1898

Marconi (left) with his assistant George Kemp
Marconi (left) with his assistant George Kemp

1899 August 23

First ship-to-shore signal to a United States station

On this day, the first ship-to-shore wireless message in United States history is sent by Lightship No. 70 to a coastal receiving station at the Cliff House in San Francisco.  "Sherman is sighted," the message said, referring to the troopship Sherman, which was returning a San Francisco regiment from the battlefields of the Spanish-American War.  It marked the first use outside of Great Britain of this technology.

1899 September

International Yacht Races of 1899, at New York

In September 1899, Marconi traveled to New York to demonstrate his wireless technology.  His assignment was to give up-to-the-minute reports of the America's Cup yacht race betweene Columbia and Shamrock, being held off Sandy Hook, Long Island.  From the deck of an observation ship, Marconi used his wireless to report the progress of the race to a wireless operator at the New York Herald.  As each update reached the newsroom, editors' awe intensified.  Never in history had an event been tracked in this manner.  The next issue of the Herald proclaimed: "Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Triumphs."

In 1899, during the international yacht race off New York, the Mackay-Bennett reported the race by wireless to the Sandy Hook lightship, which was connected by a short cable to the shore.  The idea of putting it on the lightship was simply to get clear of the tall buildings, electric light wires and other interference in New York habor itself.
Source:— Letter written by Thomas H. Raddall, dated 13 December 1951
Thomas Raddall Selected Correspondence: An Electronic Edition
by Dalhousie University
Raddall sailed with the Mackay-Bennett, then a cable-repair ship, from February 1920 to April 1921 as telegrapher.

1899 November 22

Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America incorporated

While in the United States on a business trip, Marconi and several business associates established the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.  It was incorporated under laws of the State of New Jersey on 22 November 1899 with sole rights to exploit Marconi patents in the United States, its possessions, and Cuba, except a newly established Hawaiian interisland system, which was retained by British Marconi Company.  Of the 2,000,000 shares of $5.00 par value stock authorized in the American affiliate, the British parent firm held 365,000 shares and Marconi was given 600,000 shares for American rights to his patents, present and future.
— Source Chapter 3, footnote 28
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

The ancient terror of silence

Until the dawn of this century (1900) ships great and small sailed
for distant ports and, once they had passed over the horizon,
were lost to the world until weeks or months later when they
were again sighted on shore.  Once out of sight of land those
who went down to the sea in ships belonged to another world
— a world of stark loneliness and utter silence. 

Ships burned or foundered in storms with not so much as a
whisper reaching land to tell their fate.  The crew of a sinking
or burning ship fought their battle for life, silently and alone.
Wireless telegraphy with its magic powers was to wrest from
the sea its ancient terror of silence and to give speech to
ships which had been mute since the dawn of navigation.

– Karl Baarslag, SOS to the Rescue,
Oxford University Press, 1935
Quoted by Thomas H. White Radio at Sea (1891-1916)

1900 March 24

Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd.

On this day, the name of the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company is changed to Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited.  Samuel Flood Page became Managing Director on the same day.

1900 April 25

Marconi International Marine Company

The Marconi International Marine Company was incorporated on this day, to handle Marconi's marine (ship communications) business.

1900 June 3

Brazilian broadcast of the human voice

Father Roberto Landell de Moura, a Roman Catholic priest and inventor, is said to have publicly demonstrated a radio broadcast of the human voice on 3 June 1900 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Unfortunately, most of the online information about this event is in the Portugese language, thus is effectively inaccessible.)
Landell de Moura Wikipedia
Father Roberto Landell de Moura

1900 July 4

Big British Navy contract with Marconi

On 4 July 1900 the British Admiralty entered into a contract with Marconi Company for installation of their apparatus on 26 ships and six coast stations, and for maintenance for a period of fourteen years, the life of British patents.  Complete apparatus for each ship and station was to be supplied by the company at a cost of £3,200, plus an annual royalty of the same amount during life of the contract.  The contract stipulated that each set be tested and operate satisfactorily between Portland and Portsmouth, a distance of 65 miles.  Additionally, it required Marconi Company to train naval signalmen in use of the apparatus at that company's expense.  A clause provided for renegotiation of annual royalty in event additional equipments were installed.  This lease was the subject of considerable misunderstanding between the Royal Navy and Marconi Company Under British law, Marconi stood in a somewhat precarious position in attempting to introduce his system into the United Kingdom.  By act of Parliament, enacted in 1863, and amended in 1869, the government was given a monopoly over any telegraph apparatus for transmitting messages or other communication by means of electric signals.  Several attempts were made from time to time to test validity of the government's position, but in every instance it was upheld.  In 1899 Marconi Company applied to the postmaster general for a license to use the system on land in England, but the government refused to grant it.  If postal authorities, exercising the monopoly, had been so disposed, they could have compelled Marconi to close all his experimental stations, since he had not received official sanction for them.  The Marconi firm, being protected by the Patents Act, the government was placed in the same position as a private individual.  Although the government possessed the monopoly, it was unable to adopt the Marconi system without awarding compensation, either by purchasing the system outright, or by payment of royalty.

In a later agreement, dated 24 July 1903, the Admiralty solved the problem by awarding Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company satisfactory compensation for naval installations.  This agreement stipulated, among other things, "That they will pay to the Company on the execution of these presents the sum of £20,000 in consideration for the rights and privileges hereby granted and conferred and will also pay the Company within three months from the 31st day of March 1903 on production by the Company of the Certificates stipulated for in the Agreement of the 20th February 1901 the further sum of £1,600, being the amount of the royalty payable to them in respect of the 32 existing installations calculated up to that date.  That if the Company shall duly perform its obligations under the Indenture they will pay to the Company on or before the 30th day of April in every year during the said period of eleven years the sum £5,000, the first of such payments to be made in April 1903 and to cover the period until 1904."
(Agreement between Admiralty and Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Limited, 24 July 1903, London, files Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

The indenture, from which above excerpts were taken, covers seven pages, which, in brief, spanned a period of eleven years, (expiring in 1914) and granted the Admiralty right to full use of Marconi patents then existing and future, and to exclusive use of a long-distance station for twenty minutes every day, to priority over all other messages, to supply of all apparatus at current prices, and to information concerning any improvement in apparatus or in methods of signaling. 
(British "Report from the Select Committee on Radio Telegraphic Convention, with proceedings of the Committee", dated 8 July 1907, London, files, Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.).
— Source Chapter 2, footnote 29
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

1900 December 23

Fessenden transmits the human voice from Cobb Island

Although best known for his 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast of music and voice from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, Reginald Fessenden actually made the first transmission of voice in 1900 while under contract to the United States Weather Bureau.  His continuous wave theory – whereby a sound wave is combined with a radio wave and transmitted to a receiver where the radio wave is removed so that the listener hears only the original sound – describes how radio works today.  Fessenden proved his theory on 23 December 1900 from an island in the Potomac River, near Washington, D.C.  Speaking to an associate who was a mile away with a receiving unit, Fessenden said:

"One - two - three - four, is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen?  If it is, would you telegraph back to me?"

Thiessen replied (by landline telegraph) in the affirmative and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Ideas that Made Radio Possible by the U.S. FCC Federal Communications Commission
The Start of Radio Broadcasting by Canadian Communications Foundation


A History of Wireless Telegraphy

A History of Wireless Telegraphy (2nd edition, revised) John Joseph Fahie, 1901

1901 March

The Slaby system of Wireless Duplex Telegraphy

From an ill-understood curiosity wireless telegraphy seems at last to have become an important and valuable branch of electrical science. Much of the credit for this evolution is due to Prof. Slaby, of Charlottenburg, Germany, and to his indefatigable collaborator, Count Arco, both of whom have systematically investigated the phenomena of the Hertzian waves and formulated laws by which these phenomena can be explained. As a result of their labors, the uncertainty and whimsicality of wireless telegraphy have disappeared... Not the least interesting feature of Prof. Slaby's invention is the possibility of receiving two messages simultaneously at a single station.
The Slaby system of Wireless Duplex Telegraphy
Scientific American, 9 March 1901

1901 July

Marconi demonstrates two-way radio for automobiles

"...communication can be maintained while the vehicle is traveling..."
Marconi has found that the equipment works "for the transmission of messages over short distances, up to about 30 miles [50km]"
Military Automobile for Wireless Telegraphy Western Electrician, 27 July 1901

1901 October

International Yacht Races of 1901, at New York

radio fiasco

In 1901, Lee De Forest and Edward Smythe obtained a contract with the Publisher's Press Association to provide radio reports of the 1901 international yacht races.  De Forest proceeded to New York and worked feverishly in preparing the equipment to report the races. In addition to the De Forest contract with the Publishers' Press Association for the reporting of international yacht races, Marconi was reporting for the Associated Press, as was another company, the American Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company  De Forest's contract provided for the payment of $800 if the results proved satisfactory.  So unprepared was he for the competition that, had it not been for the long postponement of the races caused by the assassination of President McKinley, he would not have had his apparatus ready.

During the contest both the Marconi and De Forest mobile stations noticed their shore units signaling frantically with flags asking, "What is the matter?  Signals confused.  Cannot read." De Forest tried to improve his transmissions, and, seeing no more signaling, gained the impression he was getting through satisfactorily.  When his tug docked he expected to be overwhelmed with congratulations, feeling he had made a great showing against his competitors.  However, the event had produced three losers, Lipton's Shamrock II, Marconi, and De Forest.  The American Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company, having no sponsor, had nothing to lose and everything to gain by preventing the reception of their competitors' transmissions.  The simultaneous broadband transmissions of the spark sets simply jumbled each other into both illegibility and incoherency.  The failures of the race-reporting efforts of the Marconi and De Forest interests proved of great value to others and, by experience, even to the losers.  Shoemaker, who had developed the American Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company equipment, was catapulted into prominence in the radio world...
— Excerpted from: The International Yacht Races Create a Radio Fiasco
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

1901 December

Slaby-Arco Portable Field Equipment for Wireless Telegraphy

Striking results are reported to have been achieved by Dr. Slaby and his collaborator, Count d'Arco, of Germany... The system these physicists have developed has received a tremendous impetus by the success of the inventors on occasion of an audience recently granted them by the German Emperor, when they received simultaneously two messages sent from different points. In this particular instance one of the transmitters was located at a distance of seven miles and the other two and one-half from the dual receiver where the exhibition took place. And this wonderful accomplishment has been the result of only five years of labor, for it was on the 11th of May, 1897, when the crucial tests of Mr. Marconi's then new wireless system were being made in England, that the Italian inventor was assisted by Prof. Slaby, who saw and believed in the ultimate useful future of spark telegraphy. To-day both he and Marconi are the inventors of improvements of the highest type, and these improvements are for the greater part specifically for the purpose of enabling messages to be sent and received by a number of operators in the same vicinity at one and the same time. Prof. Slaby terms this method of selectiveness multiple wireless telegraphy, and Mr. Marconi designates his means to this end under the caption of syntonic wireless telegraphy... The weight of one station complete, including transmitters, batteries, receivers, auxiliary apparatus, etc., is 30 kilogrammes, and the greatest distance intelligible signals can be transmitted is 20 kilometers.
The Slaby-Arco Portable Field Equipment for Wireless Telegraphy by Fred Collins
Scientific American, 28 December 1901

The Complete Works of Frederick Collins, 1900 - 1909 by John D. Jenkins

1901 December 12

First transatlantic radio signal

On this day, Marconi and his assistants were able to hear the three short bursts of the Morse code 'S' at the receiving station set up in a hospital in Signal Hill, St. John's Newfoundland. This first transatlantic telegraph transmission originated in Poldhu in Cornwall, England, 2100 miles [3400km] across the Atlantic Ocean.

1902 January 13

Seventy ships equipped with Marconi's wireless telegraph

...I will give you a brief description of what my system has at present accomplished, especially in reference to use on ships, and what I hope it will accomplish in the future.  Wireless telegraphy is now attracting very great attention all over the world, and its progress is not slow.  Five years ago, the system with which my name is identified was working over a distance of about two miles [about 3km], but its range has been rapidly increased until a few months ago it was quite possible to communicate by means of an improved and attuned system over a distance of 200 miles [about 300km].  The commercial application of the system has been given serious consideration, and improvements of importance have been made.  It may interest you to know that the commercial application of the system has been tried in Great Britain, its chief base being in England.  It may interest you, also, to know that there are over seventy ships carrying permanent installations for wireless telegraphy.  Of these thirty-seven are in the British Navy, twelve in the Italian Navy and the remainder are on the large liners, such as the vessels of the Cunard Line, the North German Lloyd and the Beaver Line.  There are over twenty land stations equipped in Great Britain and on the Continent of Europe, which work in connection with the ships, and several on this side of the water, and a certain number of Lloyd's signal stations are now being equipped....
— Guglielmo Marconi, speaking at the
Annual Dinner of the AIEE at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York 13 January 1902

1902 February

Wireless telegraph tests with steamship Philadelphia

In February 1902, a Marconi receiving station was installed on the steamship Philadelphia, proceeding from Southampton to New York.  The receiving aerial was rigged to the mainmast, the top of which was 197 feet above the level of the sea, and a syntonic receiver was employed, enabling the signals to be recorded on the tape of an ordinary telegraph recorder.  On this voyage readable messages were received from Poldhu (in Cornwall, England) up to a distance of 1550 miles, and test letters were received as far as 2100 miles.

1550 nautical miles = 2900km
2100 nautical miles = 3900km

It was on this voyage that Marconi made the interesting discovery of the effect of sunlight on the propagation of electric waves over great distances.  He found that the waves were absorbed during the daytime much more than at night and he eventually reached the conclusion that the ultraviolet light from the sun ionized the gaseous molecules of the air, and ionized air absorbs the energy of the electric waves, so that the fact was established that clear sunlight and blue skies, though transparent to light, serve as a fog to the powerful Hertzian waves of wireless telegraphy.  For that reason the transmission of messages works better between England and Newfoundland across the North Atlantic, than in the clearer atmosphere of lower latitudes.
— Excerpted from: The Story Of Electricity by John Munro, 1915

Marconi's 1902 experiments on the Philadelphia were performed at 366 metres wavelength (820 kilohertz).  These effects are very frequency dependent, as Marconi and others gradually appreciated in the following years.

1902 March 22

Spanish Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Corporation

On 22 March 1902, Julio Cervera Baviera founded the Spanish Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Corporation in the presence of the Madrid notary Antonio Turón y Boscá.  Julio brought to the Spanish Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Corporation the patents he had obtained in Spain, Belgium, Germany and England and established the second and third regular radiotelegraph service in the history of the world in 1901 and 1902 by maintaining regular transmissions between Tarifa and Ceuta for three consecutive months, and between Javea (Cabo de la Nao) and Ibiza (Cabo Pelado).  This was after Marconi established the radiotelegraphic service between the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth in 1898.

Julio Cervera Baviera by Highfields Amateur Radio Club, Cardiff
Julio Cervera Baviera by Wikipedia (English)
Julio Cervera Baviera by Wikipedia (Spanish)

1902 April 06

German “Official” Wireless Telegraphy System

A recent Berlin cable dispatch brought the information that the Kaiser had published an order to the effect that the Slaby-Arco telegraphic system should be exclusively employed on all vessels of the imperial navy and in all coast signal ststions.  The Post of Berlin declares that the imperial order is of wider significance than is at first apparent, since the commercial marine will also of necessity adopt the system which has been rendered obligatory for the navy.

The Berlin paper also states that thirty-two German ships of war already possess the necessary apparatus and that the Hamburg-American Line has at Duhner and the North German Lloyd at Bremerhaven experimental stations with which telegrams have been exchamged at a distance of 150 kilometers.  In engineering circles it is stated that the German Government is preparing a law regarding wireless telegraphy the object of which is to protect German engineers.  The erection of stations after the Marconi system, it is declared, will not be authorized on the German coasts.  It is declared that Mr. Marconi is endeavoring to establish a world monopoly, and that the attempt must be frustrated, a task which will present the less difficulty, inasmuch as experts are fully agreed that the Slaby-Arco system is in all respects equal to that of Marconi.

Eighteen months ago, as a result of investigations made by the German Postmaster General as to which was the best system of wireless telegraphy, it was found, in a report made, that the "Schäfer system of spark telegraphy" was the best.  But the report concluded: "From the present state of spark telegraphy in Germany it may be said that the Gernan systems can completely replace the Marconi one, but the incompleteness of practical experiments prevents any real decision as to the best German system."
The New York Times, 06 April 1902

1902 December 15

First transatlantic radio press report

1902 Dec 15, the first transatlantic radio press report
The first transatlantic radio press report, 15 December 1902

"On This Day" (in history), The National Post, 15 December 2006


New Zealand Wireless Telegraphy Act

1903 May 27

Telefunken Gesellschaft is incorporated

In the late 1890s, the Slaby-Arco wireless system of wireless telegraphy was developed in Germany by Adolf Karl Heinrich Slaby (1849-1913) and Graf George von Arco (1869-1940).  Germany's first antenna installation was erected by Professor Slaby and Count Arco on the tower of the Heiland Church in Sacrow in August 1897, their first successful transmitting experiments having covered half a kilometre in June of that year, only three months after Slaby had witnessed a series of demonstrations by Marconi on Salisbury Plain in England.  This should be compared with Marconi's demonstrations on Salisbury Plain only one year previously, in September 1896, which covered 2.8 km.  In May 1903, pressure from the German government resulted in a three-way merger of the work of Professor Ferdinand Braun, with the firm of Siemens Brothers and Halske, and Slaby-Arco AEG wireless firms, to form the Telefunken company, with von Arco as chief engineer.
Adolf Slaby Wikipedia
Georg von Arco Wikipedia
Telefunken Wikipedia
Beginning of wireless in Germany
      First German transmitter and receiver tests by Professor Slaby and Count Arco

The German Kaiser, in 1903, decreed the amalgamation of the Slaby-Arco and Braun-Siemens-Halske Companies.  The new company, Gesellschaft fur Drathtlose Telegraphie, became commonly known as Telefunken.
— Source Chapter 8, footnote 6
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

When interviewed to-day, Professor Slaby uttered an emphatic denial of the charge made by Mr. Marconi that he had adopted his principles in the development of the Slaby-Arco wireless system.  Professor Slaby not only parries the blow but thrusts back by asserting that Mr. Marconi made use of receiving apparatus invented by the Russian M. Popoff, and of tubes invented by the Frenchman Mr. Branly, in making the test in 1897 in the Bristol Channel for the benefit of the British Postal Department.
International Herald Tribune, 10 April 1902

"...Prof. Slaby's splendid and path-breaking experiment in establishing perfect wireless telephone connection between Naum and Berlin, Germany, a distance of twenty miles..."
Tuned Lightning by Nikola Tesla
English Mechanic and World of Science, 8 March 1907


United States Navy's radio tests

In 1903 seven manufactured systems were tested aboard two warships, the USS Topeka and USS Prairie. Reception distances ranged up to 62 miles [120km] for Slaby-Arco (Germany) to only 13 nautical miles [25km] for Rochefort.  Lack of equipment and trained operators hindered the testing.  By September the Navy had acquired 37 Slaby-Arco devices and 18 by other manufacturers.  Naturally American manufacturers began to complain about the purchases from the German outfit.
A Short History of the Beginnings of U. S. Navy Radio Communications...
by Norman Rozeff, Cameron County Historical Commission, Texas

1903 August 4-14

First International Radio Telegraphic Conference, Berlin

Current status of the Wireless Telegraph technology

...The Marconi Company has established posts at various points in the United States, in Canada and in the United Kingdom, also at a few Continental points, and at several of Lloyds stations throughout the world. Various steamers have bought their apparatus, and travellers are now frequently able to keep in touch with the world during the whole passage across the Atlantic, by means of the Marconi apparatus on board other ships and at the shore stations. When Prince Henry visited the United States, he travelled on board a German steamer having a Marconi apparatus, and his approaching arrival was duly notified to the world. When he returned to Germany, he was on board another German steamer furnished with the German Slaby-Arco apparatus. On approaching the isle of Wight, the Marconi station at first communicated, and then, finding the apparatus of a rival on board, refused to take a message. Emperor William of Germany thereupon called a preliminary conference of the Powers to consider the matter... (This was 1903 International Radio Telegraphic Conference, Berlin.)

...Marconi was the first to discover the fact that the most satisfactory way of collecting the waves caused by the spark and transmitting them through space, and of receiving them and conveying them to the Branly tube, was to have two upright wires, one at each station.  Marconi's discovery gave the clue to practical and useful ranges; he was the first to see the commercial value of Wireless Telegraphy, and the Marconi Company was the first company in the field to exploit the new discovery.  There is no question, in this resume, of reflecting in any way on the claims of rival inventors.  Lodge, Fleming, Muirhead, Fessenden, De Forest, Tesla, Ducretet, Rochefort, Guarini, Popoff, Arco, Braun, Slaby, etc., have all contributed in most material fashion to the present imperfect solution of the problem; and in many cases the patents show that there have been independent discoveries of exactly the same thing in different countries at practically the same time.  It is the old story over again that is found in the history of so many inventions: the world being ripe for the idea, the minds of many men in many countries were turned to it at the same instant.  Consequently, the future battle of patents is one which is likely to be severe.

The possibility of practical Wireless Telegraphy being established, three questions immediately presented themselves:
          (1) how to secure secrecy;
          (2) how to prevent interference;
          (3) how to obtain range.
It may be stated that to-day the practical working range, used between ship and ship at sea and between ship and shore, varies from thirty to forty nautical miles [about 60 to 80km], though the apparatus of the various makers is scheduled (claimed) to range from 100 to 125 nautical miles [about 200 to 250km].  This is because there are so many misstudied phenomena whose effect is not yet thoroughly understood.  For example, electric disturbances of the atmosphere such as thunder storms, near or distant, have a marked effect.  Sunlight has also a marked effect... In order to obtain secrecy, two methods are now being studied.  By the first method the sending and receiving apparatus are tuned to a similar wave-length.  This matter of electric waves is a very odd one.  It is usual to compare these waves to the circles produced in water by throwing in a stone; but the water-wave looks as if it advanced whether it does or not.  A better comparison is that to the vibrations of a rope secured at one end and shaken at the other; the waves can be made to vary by the amount of force exerted, and the rope obviously does not advance.  Ether waves can be made to vary in the same way by suitable electrical appliances, and laboratory experiments can be made to prove the actual length by arranging a long wire, through which a wave is passing, about the walls and ceiling, and drawing sparks from it at every foot or so.  A regular wave of intensity will be shown to exist by the length of sparks extracted; it varies from nothing at the nodal points to, say, three-quarters of an inch [about 2cm] at the point of maximum swell.  Theoretically, of course, if two sets of apparatus are using different wave-lengths, their signals will not interfere and careful experiments will show this to be true.  At an exhibition before the Conference at Berlin, Count Arco showed two signals being received on different apparatus, and recorded at the same receiver...

To reach the extreme ranges obtained by Marconi, it has been found necessary to erect huge wire-cages at Poldhu, Glace Bay and Cape Cod, so often shown in the illustrated papers.  An apparatus of one hundred and fifty horse-power is said to be employed; but the Marconi Company are naturally jealous of their business interests and nothing is known of their exact methods of procedure by any one except the experts of the company...

The present manufacturers of Wireless Telegraphic apparatus for sale are:
          In the United States, Fessenden, De Forest and The American Marconi Company.
          In England there are The Marconi Company, Lodge, Muirhead, and Armstrong & Orling; there are a few others, as in the United States, who make small parts, but no others able to name a price for a complete set.
          In France, there are Ducretet-Popoff and Rochefort.
          In Germany there were formerly Slaby, Arco, and Braun-Siemens; but they have now combined into one firm, Telefunken.
          In Russia, Popoff is associated with Ducretet in Paris, who does the manufacturing... In Russia, the navy uses Ducretet-Popoff in large numbers; but the post-office and army have a few Telefunken stations for long-distance signalling and army field-work.
          In Austria, competitive trials are now being made between French and German manufacturers, the Marconi Company having declined to compete.
          In Germany, all departments are supplied with Telefunken apparatus, but not to the same degree; the navy has large numbers; the army a less number for field-service and the Post-Office Department a few; the apparatus is modified by government officials.
          In France, the government divides its orders between Ducretet-Popoff and Rochefort, and the relative quantity ordered by the different departments is about the same as in Germany; the apparatus is perfected by government officials.
          In Spain, some few experiments have been made with French and German material, but the apparatus preferred is that of de Cervera, a Spanish army officer of distinguished ability.
          The Italian Government has a firm contract for all departments with the Marconi Company for fourteen years; the navy has been a very active purchaser for ships and a large number of shore stations are being erected; next to the navy, the post-office has been the most active; and the army is experimenting with Marconi field-stations.
          In England, which is the only country, besides Italy and Canada, that has paid money for the Marconi patents before they were tested in the courts, the Admiralty has adopted the Marconi system and given large orders; the apparatus is afterwards perfected by the officials; they have also experimented with French apparatus, and the Post-Office Department and the army are experimenting with Telefunken apparatus, both for stations and field-service.
          The smaller European Powers, as well as Mexico and the South American States, have patronized both French and German manufacturers to a moderate degree for experimental purposes, and Sweden has adopted Telefunken for her navy and bought quite a large quantity of apparatus.
          In the United States, the army has experimented with indifferent success with De Forest, Marconi, and Fessenden, and a small quantity of Lodge-Muirhead and Braun-Siemens apparatus has lately been bought for experimental purposes, partly for station and partly, for field-work.  The navy has bought Ducretet-Popoff, Rochefort, Braun-Siemens, Slaby-Arco, Lodge-Muirhead and De Forest for competitive test.  The Marconi Company would not compete.  Slaby-Arco has so far proved the best as regards general practical character and range, and forty-five more sets have been ordered for service.
The International Preliminary Conference to Formulate Regulations Governing Wireless Telegraphy
North American Review, November 1903
Made available online in Thomas H. White's marvellous United States Early Radio History


International Yacht Races of 1903

Another fiasco, an early example of deliberate "jamming"

How the Newcomers Made the Old Companies Look Ridiculous
The rival wireless companies again came in conflict in the international yacht races of 1903, when Sir Thomas Lipton brought his Shamrock II over from England, to win the America's Cup.  For fast reporting of the race, one of the press associations used the Marconi system, and another had the De Forest apparatus on its tug boat.  The Gehring people, who had merged five of their companies in the $25,000,000 International Wireless Telegraph Company (IWT), failing in their effort to get the press associations to use their system, set up a very powerful station on the Navesink Highlands.  Throughout the yacht races, the IWT operators ran their transmitter continuously, producing such powerful electrical interference that neither the Marconi nor the De Forest signals could be read by the onshore listeners.  The IWT operators on the shore, when they tired of sending "A-A-A," and "B-B-B," amused themselves by calling the Marconi and De Forest operators bad names.  Some of the etheric language sent out from Navesink Highlands during those races was not fit to print.  The Marconi and De Forest people tore their hair, but the IWT promoters truthfully said that there was no law to prevent a man from sending all the wireless messages he desired out into the great unknown.
Fools and Their Money by Frank Fayant...The story of the Wireless Telegraph bubble...
Success Magazine, January 1907, pages 9-11, 49-52

There is an account that the true culprit in this fiasco was American Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company, which, upon failing in its efforts to get the press associations to make use of their apparatus in the 1901 yacht races, set up a very powerful station near the Navesink Highlands.  Throughout the races they sent out so powerful a stream of electric disturbances that they produced the results previously noted in the Marconi and De Forest reception.  Pickard maintains that the Gehring interests did report these races, saying "And when I say 'reported,' I mean reported and not what the Marconi and De Forest people call reporting; namely, manufactured news that had no basis of fact whatever." He stated that the Gehring group used a plain aerial, 20-inch Queens coil, and a tulip interrupter minus all weights, so that spark frequency was quite high.  They put as much current in the primary as their interrupter would stand and, in so doing, radiated considerable energy.  Their receiving station was located at Galilee and used aural reception as did De Forest.  That, incidentally, gave them an advantage over Marconi with his coherer and inker.  Pickard claimed that on the trip down to the race area a bright idea came to him as a way to prevent Marconi and De Forest from receiving the transmissions.  He happened to have a newspaper at hand, in which one page had been folded over in printing, so that a large-type headline was superimposed over the fine print of the text.  He noted that the small type was almost unreadable but that the headline was undamaged.  This gave birth to his idea.  Why not use large type – namely long dashes many seconds in duration to smear the small-type ordinary dots and dashes of the competitors?  Pickard proceeded to work up a code, which, he said, "was simplicity itself." As an example, one long dash of ten seconds would mean Columbia was ahead; two such dashes would indicate Shamrock was in the lead; three, they were neck and neck.  Following the first series would come other long dashes from one to nine, identified in the code as conveying common actions taking place.  Thus equipped, they were able both to get their signals through and interfere with the others.  "Marconi and De Forest didn't have a ghost of a chance and our clever rewrite men made up a nice long story from our coded simple instructions." Strange as it may seem, they received instructions from Galilee sometime later to split time with Marconi, an order considered cowardly by Pickard.  Contacting the Mindora, the Associated Press boat, with the Marconi so-called apparatus on board as Pickard put it, a liaison was arranged.  In relating this incident, the professor tells of his encounter with the president of the Associated Press, "When some hundred feet away, none other than Melville Stone came on deck with a megaphone and began to berate us.  For fully ten minutes he cussed us, not repeating one word twice, and would probably be cussing us yet if I had not gone below, gotten an egg, and by a lucky throw applied it to him via his megaphone.  Incidentally, he stopped cussing, and at the same time the negotiation stopped."  In relating what he called "The final incident of the race 'reporting,' " Pickard said, "When the yachts crossed the finish line, we held down the key and then continued to hold it down, by the simple method of putting a weight on it.  Thus, radiating waves, far from practically continuous, though continuous in our sense of the word, we sailed for our home port, and the batteries lasted for the entire hour and a quarter that we utilized to send the longest dash ever sent by wireless." Following the races, Pickard returned home via Navesink, where the lighthousekeeper showed him around and said, "Oh, by the way, we had wireless telegraphy here the other day.  The Marconi men were here with a little black box like a stock ticker, and paper came out of it with long black lines running down the middle of it.  Every few minutes the operator would pick up this tape, look at a few feet of it, swear unholily, tear the tape off, and jump on it." Of this Pickard stated, "This was the best appreciation of efforts that I ever received."
— Source Chapter 4, footnote 5
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

1904 February

Wireless telegraph on ships at sea

• Messages are sent and received by ships at sea...
• The amount of electric power available aboard an ordinary passenger liner is sufficient to send wireless messages 150 miles [280km] under favorable circumstances.  Knowing the sailing-days and speeds of the ships that they are likely to meet or overtake, the navigating officers of a liner can calculate roughly when they are likely to come within the required radius of another floating telegraph office...
• Sometimes a vessel has been in almost daily communication with others all the way across the North Atlantic.  Such was a recent experience of the Ivernia...
• To borrow money while at sea, from a ship 100 miles [190km] away, would have been an impossible feat a year or so ago, but recently it was accomplished by telegraph...
• The Marconi service to and from the Nantucket South Shoals lightship is so reliable "that during a whole year there was but one interruption".
The Work of a Wireless Telegraph Man The World's Work, February 1904

1904 February 1

CQD Distress Call

Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Circular No. 57:

It has been brought to our notice that the call "C.Q." (All Stations), while being satisfactory for general purposes, does not sufficiently express the urgency required in a signal of distress.

Therefore, on and after the 1st February, 1904, the call to be given by ships in distress or in any way requiring assistance shall be "C.Q.D."

This signal must on no account be used except by order of the Captain of the ship in distress, or other vessels or stations retransmitting the signal on account of the ship in distress.

All stations must recognise the urgency of this call and make every effort to establish satisfactory communication with the least possible delay.

Any misuse of the call will result in the instant dismissal of the person improperly employing it.

(CQ still means, literally, "attention" but in amateur radio its meaning is perhaps more accurately described by Thomas Raddall who compared it to yelling "Hey, Mac!" down a drain pipe.)

1904 April

United States Wireless Telegraph Board tests

...In its endeavor to secure equipment manufactured in the United States, the Navy Department on 2 April 1904 revitalized its Wireless Telegraph Board which had practically ceased to function after September 1903... Beginning in 1904, the companies participating in tests were required to furnish, operate, and bear all expense except for electrical power.  However, the tests were to be under the complete control of the Bureau of Equipment, with representatives of the companies privileged to be present at all times when their apparatus was being operated.  Manufacturers were advised to inform the Bureau of Equipment should they desire to participate.  The following firms or individuals expressed their desires to submit equipment:
          Messrs. Anders Bull,
          Charles S. Piggott,
          James F. King,
          Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America,
          National Electric Signaling Company (Fessenden),
          International Wireless Company (Shoemaker),
          De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company,
          Telefunken Company (Slaby-Arco and Braun-Siemens-Halske)...

Following these tests, radio equipment was needed for fitting the U.S.S. Alabama, Illinois, and Dolphin.  Three sets of equipment were purchased from the National Electric Signaling Company (Fessenden) to meet this requirement.  These were guaranteed to cover distances up to 250 miles [480km].  During the trials of the Alabama installation, conducted during January 1905, considerable difficulty was experienced.  The maximum distance that signals were received was 70 miles [135km].  The transmitted and receiver were both reported inefficient... The Commanding Officer of the Alabama, in reporting to the Commander in Chief, North Atlantic Fleet, included the following statement regarding the Fessenden distance trials: "In my opinion, it will be impossible to get any more satisfactory results until the installation is put in better shape."  Finally, Admiral Henry Manney, the new Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, informed the National Electric Signaling Company that he had directed the Commander in Chief, North Atlantic Fleet, to permit their representatives to install the firm's latest type condensers on the Alabama and the Illinois.  If the guarantee, to successfully exchange messages up to 250 nautical miles [480km] between these two ships, was not fulfilled before the end of the present fiscal year, the removal of the apparatus would be requested.  The equipment was improved and retained by the Navy but was never entirely satisfactory and no further purchases were made from that company for several years.

The testing, which continued through 1904 and a portion of 1905, culminated with a final report, which stated that Telefunken equipment was the most desirable from the point of view of the Wireless Telegraph Board.  While such may have been the expressed opinion at the time, following purchases of Slaby-Arco equipments, in 1903, most of the Navy's radio devices were purchased from American manufacturers...
— Source Chapter 8
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)


Australia Wireless Telegraphy Act

1905 May 27

Japanese use radio in major naval battle

Wireless telegraph contributes to Japanese victory at Tsushima Strait

The Japanese navy uses radio communication to scout the Russian fleet during the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, a crushing Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War.

On the night of 26-27 May 1905, as they approach Japan's Tsushima Strait – the body of water eastwards of the Tsushima Island group located midway between the Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula – the Russian fleet, wanting to sail undetected into Vladivostok, steer outside regular shipping channels to reduce the chance of detection, but by chance a Japanese ship sees their lights.  At 4:55am, Captain Narukawa of the Shinano Maru radios a message to Admiral Togo in Masampo that "Enemy is in square 203.  He seems to be steering for the east channel."  By 5am, intercepted radio (wireless telegraph) signals tell the Russians that they have been discovered and that Japanese scouting cruisers are closing in.  Admiral Togo receives the message at 5:05am, and immediately he begins to prepare his battle fleet for a sortie.  Throughout the day, the Japanese Navy uses frequent radio messages to convey intelligence reports and battle orders.  By sundown the Russians are decisively defeated.  Overnight, Japan becomes one of the world's greatest nations, in part because of effective use of the new wireless telegraph technology – the first significant use of radio in war.
Battle of Tsushima Wikipedia
The Battle of Tsushima
Togo of Tsushima Time, 11 June 1934
Admiral Togo's Report of the Battle of Tsushima as published by the Imperial Naval Headquarters Staff

1905 December 19

New distance record for wireless telegraph transmission

In 1905, the American De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company built a wireless telegraph station at Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, which was to be "the daddy of them all."  This giant, America's first 50kW radio station, with its two 210-foot wooden towers, was located in a salt-water swamp which was considered to be a perfect location for oversea operations.  On the night of 19 December 1905, this station was heard by the Navy's newly completed Canal Zone station.  This was considered a remarkable feat and provided sufficient encouragement to cause Admiral Henry Manney, the new Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, to permit an official statement to be issued which read, in part:

The distance between Colon (Panama Canal Zone) and Manhattan Beach (Coney Island, New York), the extreme range of the message, is 2,150 miles.  So extraordinary was this feat that the Bureau hesitated about making it public, and has only done so after receiving corroborative evidence from several points...

2,150 nautical miles = 4,120 kilometres

— Source Chapter 8
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)


First Alexanderson alternator

Alexanderson alternator Wikipedia
Ernst Alexanderson Wikipedia
Ernst Alexanderson, Pioneer Inventor by Barry Mishkind, 1998
Ernst Alexanderson by Mary Bellis
Transoceanic Radio Communication by Ernst F.W. Alexanderson, 1920
The Power that Made Radio Realistic by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission
Historical Review of Continuous Wave Radio Frequency Power Generators by Frank Lotito, 2002

1906 October 3

Berlin Wireless Telegraphy Conference

The conference on wireless telegraphy, which opened in Berlin yesterday [Oct. 2], is called together with a view to bringing about an international agreement in regard to the use of the new means of communication.  Twenty-three states are taking part, the total number of delegates being 100.  Of these Germany has eleven, France nine, Great Britain seven, Italy five and Belgium two.  The conference is really called together to try to bring about an arrangement between the Slaby-Arco system used by Germany, and the Marconi system, employed in England.  Great Britain and its colonies have given a monopoly to the Marconi Company, which already possesses 74 stations in England and America.  In addition, 660 British war vessels and 85 large steamships are fitted with Marconi apparatus.  The Marconi Company refuses to hold communication with vessels equipped with the apparatus of other companies.
International Herald Tribune, 3 October 1906

1906 November 3

International Wireless Telegraph Convention, Berlin

An international radio agreement was signed at Berlin, Germany on 3 November 1906, by Germany, The United States of America, Argentina, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Monaco, Norway, The Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay.
• Article 6: The High Contracting Parties shall notify one another of the names of coastal stations and stations on shipboard referred to in Article 1, and also of all data, necessary to facilitate and accelerate the exchange of wireless telegrams, as specified in the Regulations.
• Article 9: Wireless telegraph stations are bound to give absolute priority to calls of distress from ships, to similarly answer such calls and to take such action with regard thereto as may be required.
This international agreement (treaty) went into effect on 1 July 1908.

1906 December 24

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden

First radio broadcast of music

The early development of radio waves for communication, by Popov, Marconi and others, depended on generating and broadcasting short bursts of electromegnetic energy, that could imitate the dots and dashes of telegraph communication through wires.  Fessenden had many ideas about communication by radio – his most important was the idea that information could be transmitted by continuous radio waves.  Fessenden thought that this could be done by modulating (varying) the amplitude (power) of the broadcast radio wave.  At the receiving end, the modulated wave could be converted to audible sound, making possible the broadcasting by radio of speech and music.  On 24 December 1906, Fessenden used his own equipment set up at to broadcast music
The Start of Radio Broadcasting Canadian Communications Foundation
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden Wikipedia
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden by Hammond Museum of Radio
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden by Dave Riley
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden by Fred Seitz
The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden by Fred Seitz
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society v89, 1999

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was the first person to prove that voices and music could be heard over the air without wires, but he is widely ignored even in his native country.  At age 20, he was hired for Thomas Edison's machine shop where he so impressed his employer that Edison invited him to work in the labs.  At 24 he was chief chemist, but financial difficulties forced Edison to lay him off.  He was hired almost at once by George Westinghouse, and two of his inventions helped Westinghouse fulfil his contract to light the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Fessenden then became professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University, and a year later Westinghouse arranged that he become chief of electrical engineering at Western University of Pennsylvania and conduct research for him.
Radio's First Voice by Mervyn C. Fry
The Cat's Whisker, Canadian Vintage Wireless Association v3 n1, March 1973

1907 August 14

Marconi Plant Ready

Company prepared to take transatlantic business by Oct. 1

LONDON, Aug. 13:— William Marconi will leave England on Aug. 22 to inaugurate a transatlantic wireless telegraph service.  The officials of the company anticipate that all preparations will be completed before the middle of September, and say that satisfactory exchanges of messages between the Irish station at Clifton and the Canadian station at Cape Breton have been going on for weeks past...
The New York Times, 14 August 1907

1907 September 23

Wireless Across the Atlantic Soon

Marconi says a commercial service will begin in three weeks

All obstacles overcome

Inventor now at Glace Bay

GLACE BAY, N.S., Sept. 23:— William Marconi arrived here last night and declared to-day that he intended to stay in Glace Bay until wireless communication with Europe had been placed on a commercial basis.  "And when will that be?" was asked.  "In three weeks.  We have some little testing to do and then we shall get down to actual work."  "Have you overcome all obstacles and are you now sure of success?"  "Yes, we have surmounted all the difficulties and we are sure of success."  "How many men have you working at the plant?"  "About a dozen, not counting the engine men."  "How many men will you employ as operators?"  "Just now we have three, but as business increases we shall employ more men."  "You use Coninental Morse in sending your messages, do you not?"  "Yes, but if I find that the ordinary Morse code suits us better we shall adopt it.  We are able to send space letters by wireless."  "How many words can you send per minute, Mr. Marconi?"  "Well, we have not tried for speed, but we usually send twenty words a minute.  We could send faster than that."  Mr. Marconi stated that bad weather would not affect the service, provided the masts and poles used in wireless system remained undamaged, and that the rates would be ten cents a word for ordinary commercial messages and five cents a word for press dispatches.  These rates, he said, would be cut in two later.

The messages sent from the station at Glace Bay will be received on the other side of the Atlantic at Clifden, Ireland, where, Mr. Marconi said, a new plant had been established, fitted out with the latest machinery, much more powerful than that of the older station at Poldhu, Cornwall.  The Cornwall Station, however, would be utilized as a secondary plant.

Connecting with the wireless stations, Mr. Marconi said, the Government lines in Great Britain would handle the messages for land transmission, as the Marconi Company had a contract with the British Government to collect and distribute all its dispatches.  On this side of the ocean the company had a contract with the Canadian Government, which, he believed, would place the Government Intercolonial Railway wires at its disposal, while the Canadian Pacific and Western Union Companies both had their lines connected with the Glace Bay station, and Mr. Marconi said he hoped to do business with them.  The method of transmission, Mr. Marconi said, could easily be learned by an ordinary cable operator, and three months' practice would enable such an operator to handle the wireless messages properly.  In regard to the effect of storms or lightning on the wireless system, Mr. Marconi said: "Bad weather will have no effect on our system, provided it does not damage our masts and poles.  Lightning storms will do us no harm.  We have overcome the bad weather difficulties, and I do not expect any further trouble on account of weather."  Mr Marconi said that the Cape Cod station would not be used at present, as it was not ready for active work.  During the next two or three weeks final tests will be made and then the stations on both sides of the Atlantic will be thrown open to the public for tho regular transmission of commercial wireless messages.  "We are sure of success,"  said Mr. Marconi.  "In connection with the beginning of business there will be no formal ceremony.  We shall just have a present.  We sent messages to the Kings of England and Italy some time ago, when we first started, and when we begin commercial work we shall do so by sending two or three messages to some of the more influential newspapers.  The press people have been good to us, and we shall now be good to them."  "We shall not work with Poldhu," said Mr. Marconi, "as Clifden is much the more modern station.  It is filled with new and much more powerful machinery than the one at Poldhu.  However, we shall use the Cornwall station as a second string to help out Clifden.  The station at Clifden is now in good working order for the opening of our business.  The Government lines will take hold of our messages when they reach Clifden.  We have a contract with the British Government, and it will collect and distribute all our work.  We may have a land station of our own there, too."  "How are you getting on now with the Canadian Government?"  "Very well.  There was some difference of opinion over the interpretation of a contract, but the trouble is settled.  The Government has been very kind to me personally."  "How long will you remain here after you get the station in good working order?"  "About one week, when I expect to return home."  "Who will send the first wireless commercial message?"  "I have not chosen anyone, and very likely it will be myself who will do so."  "Have you yet chosen a name for your message?"  "No not yet.  'Marconigram' seems to stick on the tongue, and so far we have no other."  Mr. Marconi discussed rates, saying that the commercial schedule across the ocean would be ten cents a word at first and five cents a word for press messages.  Later this scale would be cut in two...
The New York Times, 24 September 1907

Marconi transmitter condenser at Clifden, under construction Marconi transmitter condenser at Glace Bay

(Left) Marconi transmitter condenser at Clifden, under construction
(Right) Marconi transmitter condenser at Glace Bay

Electric charge for the transmitter spark was stored in a very large condenser (capacitor is the modern name).  At Glace Bay it consisted of 288 metal sheets, each measuring sixty feet [18.3m] by twenty feet [6.1m], that were suspended by white porcelain insulators from the rafters of the transmitter building and extended down almost to ground level.  While the transmitter was in operation, the electric potential between any two adjacent sheets was 15,000 volts.  These sheets filled most of the building, which consequently was called the "condenser building".
The Clifden condenser was similar (probably identical).

1907 October

Radio telephones for British Navy

The British Admirality has made arrangements for installing wireless telephones in some of the vessels of the fleet.  The work is being carried out by the Radio Telegraph Company.  It is said that by these wireless telephones conversation can be carried on between two vessels that are thirty miles apart.  The voices heard on these wireless telephones are clear and distinct, and telephoning is in many respects easier at sea than on land...
Sea Telephones by Wireless for British Fleet 29 October 1907

This newspaper clipping mentions the Radio Telegraph Company as the supplier of these radio telephones to the British Navy.  This may refer to the Amalgamated Radio Telegraph Company Limited, formed in 1906 in Denmark.
The Arc Transmitter...Development...of the Poulsen System in Denmark, England...United States by Hans Buhl

1907 October 17

New York Times Message First Over Sea

Wireless Dispatch from London Correspondent Will Open Marconi Service

All Ready at Nova Scotian and Irish Stations for Handling Commercial Business

GLACE BAY, Nova Scotia, Oct. 16:— Everything is in readiness for the opening at 8 A.M. to-morrow of the Marconi wireless service from Clifden, Ireland, to the station here for regular commercial business.  Recognizing the great interest in this epoch-making event shown by The New York Times, the Marconi Company has arranged that the first message transmitted westward across the Ocean shall be one for that newspaper from its London correspondent.  The first eastward has already been filed.  It is from Sir Wilfred Laurier, Premier of the Dominion of Canada, to The London Standard. In it Sir Wilfred will congratulate the English people upon the establishment of this new means of communication between Great Britain and Canada.  It has been a busy day here for the staff of operators at the wireless station, which has been all day in perfect connection with Clifden, in Ireland.  Further tests across the Atlantic have been in every respect as satisfactory as those of the previous days.  The staff has perfected arrangements its New York, London, and Montreal offices for the division of the patronage of the world's press.  The indications are that many thousands of words will be handled.  Every one concerned here with the opening of the actual commercial service toward which Marconi has worked so confidently and so hard for the last six years is keyed up to-night for tomorrow's event...
The New York Times, 17 October 1907

1907 October 17

Marconi's transatlantic telegraph begins commercial operation

On this day, Marconi's new transatlantic wireless telegraph service is officially opened for regular commercial operation.  The eastern station is located at Clifden, Ireland, and the western station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

Interior Description...Operator's Room...Marconi Wireless Sydney, 16 Oct 1907

Marconi Says Continuous Wireless Within Week Halifax, 16 Oct 1907

Trans-Atlantic Wireless Today Halifax, 17 Oct 1907

Wireless Message Across the Atlantic Halifax, 18 Oct 1907

Marconi...Sent 10,000 Across the Atlantic Halifax, 18 Oct 1907

Wireless Joins Two Worlds New York, 18 Oct 1907

Wireless from King Edward Halifax, 19 Oct 1907

Congratulations for Marconi Halifax, 21 Oct 1907

Marconi's Achievement Halifax, 21 Oct 1907

Wireless Station in Constant Operation Halifax, 24 Oct 1907

Post Reporter Sent Message to Clifden...Short Answer Sydney, 23 Oct 1907

Second Test of the Marconi Over-Ocean Wireless System... Sydney, 24 Oct 1907

On 17 October 1907, the commercial transatlantic wireless telegraph service was officially inaugurated.  The first westbound message was sent by English statesman Lord Avebury (John Lubbock) to the New York Times.  The first eastbound message was sent from Canadian Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier to the London Standard.  For the first few days, the system was dedicated to transmitting messages to the press, as well as communications from dignitaries and notables.  Among the eminent scientists and inventors involved in the first day's excitement was Hiram Maxim, the father of the machine gun.  He sent a message from London to American inventor Peter Cooper Hewitt, concluding with this remark: "All honor to Marconi!  Perhaps the next step will be to harness the whole energy of Niagara to make an attempt to communicate with the planet Mars."  The messages were supposed to be limited to just fifty words each, but that rule was broken several times on the first day.  One reporter estimated that about 10,000 words were transmitted, both ways, by 7:30pm on the first day.

Source:— Today (Oct 17th) in Technology History
Centre for the Study of Technology and Society

Transatlantic wireless telegraph service opened for business, 17 Oct 1907
Transatlantic wireless telegraph service opened for business
Telegram from Lord Avebury to the New York Times, 17 Oct 1907
Transmitted from Ireland across the Atlantic Ocean by Marconi Wireless Telegraph
to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and from there to New York by Western Union landline
by electricity, then printed on paper (above) and delivered to the Times newspaper

Source:— Today (Oct 17th) in Technology History
Centre for the Study of Technology and Society

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of this document:
Today (Oct 17th) in Technology History
Centre for the Study of Technology and Society

Archived: 2003 August 31

Archived: 2004 July 01

Archived: 2005 March 19

The first message sent eastward to England on October 17th [the original 1907 article mistakenly gives the date as Oct. 18th, the true date was the 17th] was from Sir Wilfred Laurier (Prime Minister of Canada), and was addressed to the London Standard (newspaper).  British greetings came back.  Then the line was formally declared open for press business, and 10,000 words of press dispatches came back and went forth that day.  The charge was five cents a word, with telegraph tolls on land added, making a rate of about eight cents a word from New York to London.  These are what are called "press rates."  When the world at large can use the line – not today nor, perhaps, this year – the rate will be at least double that amount.  Meantime, the transatlantic wireless is the servant of the newspapers.
Transatlantic Marconigrams Now and Hereafter The World's Work, December 1907

The  telegraph  companies  carefully  defined a "word" to be
exactly  five letters.  The telegraph company agent accepting
a message  for transmission  would count the individual letters
in the  whole  message  and then  divide  by five; the result was
the number of "words" for the purpose of calculating the charge.
Any  fractional  remainder  was  counted  as an  additional  word.
The  letter  count  included  the address  to  which  the telegram
was to be delivered, all  numbers  had to be  spelled  out in full,
and no abbreviations were allowed.

On 17 October 1907, the inaugural message was sent at 11:30am from Lord Avebury to the New York Times. It was the first regular public radiotelegraphy for news and commercial purposes between Europe and North America.
Marconi in Connemara (Ireland) Clifden Chamber of Commerce

The first message sent westward from England on October 17th:
When Marconi opened his regular transatlantic wireless service between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on October 17, 1907, the first message sent westward was to The New York Times from its London office.  Later on that evening, The Times's Paris bureau sent a message of greeting from Clemenceau, the French premier.

1907 October 18

Regular Telegraph Companies Accepting Messages for Transmission

General Manager John Bottomley of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America received the following telegram yesterday morning at 10:42 from an aide in charge of the transatlantic wireless sending station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia: "Everything going splendidly.  Have handled a couple of thousand words already.  Shall be busy all day."  Messages to be sent across the Atlantic by the wireless system are filed at the local Western Union and Postal telegraph offices, just as if they were to be sent by cable.  They are then sent to Glace Bay over the wires of these companies.  There the Marconi people take up the message and send it across the sea.  Mr. Bottomley estimated that the Glace Bay office must have handled between 4,000 and 5,000 words yesterday.  Few except congratulatory and press messages are to be sent thus for the first two or three days.
The New York Times, 18 October 1907

1907 October 18

Big Reduction in Cost of Communication

Telegram rates cut in half

Will bring less misunderstanding, confusion between nations

The striking and really very important fact in connection with the opening of the Marconi system to commercial messages, the first of which to cross the ocean was directed to The New York Times, is the great reduction in their cost to the senders as compared with the cable rates that have so long prevailed.  There is not necessarily any advantage in the promptness or accuracy with which messages will be delivered.  The real advantage, and it is an enormous one, lies in the cheapness and in the ability to extend the means of doing increased business at far less cost than is required with the cables.  Practically with the Marconi system the rule of manufacturing prevails; the greater the volume of business, the lower the cost per unit, and, consequenty, the lower the possible charge to customers.

For years there has been no advance in the utility of the cables, as measured by lower rates.  To all appearances they were as incapable of improvement as the Martian canals, and were managed with about as much reference to the needs and wishes of the population of the earth.  There had been earlier in their history a notable series of reductions, from $5 a word to 75 cents.  At one time rivalry for a while brought the commercial charge to ten cents a word.  But with the adjustment of contending interests (agreements between the competing cable companies) the rate went up to 25 cents a word, and has remained there for nearly a score of years.  The limit of compression had been reached with any forces that is was practicable to bring to bear on the refractory and resistant organization that controlled the business.

We do not pretend to say exactly how much or how little truth there is in the contention of the cable companies that accomodations for the increase of business that would follow a decrease in charges would not be recompensed by the lower rates.  With the Marconi system cutting the rates from 25 cents to ten cents, and the press rates from ten cents to five, a reduction of 60 per cent in one case and 50 per cent in the other, the question of what the cable companies can or cannot do became academic.  That reduction is in itself in the nature of a revolution, and Mr. Marconi promises, within a measurable time, to cut those rates again in half.  Such a change comes home, in the quaint phrase of Lord Bacon, not only to the business but to the bosoms of men.  For the gain in the ease, in the economy of doing business across the oceans is not merely a matter of buying and selling and the profits therefrom, it is a matter of intimate human intercourse, of multiplying mutual interests, of stimulating co-operation, of making men in far distant lands know each other better, trust each other more, and, consciously or unconsciously, aid each other.  To multiply business relations is on the whole to multiply and strengthen friendly relations, for though our protectionist friends do not see it, most good bargains are good for both parties to them.  Men will not so readily quarrel with those with whom they have had profitable dealings, and misunderstandings will get corrected where intercommunication is easy, prompt, cheap, and habitual.

There is another phase of this important evolution, less directly, but very substantially interesting.  It is the international exchange of news, the circulation of information through all the arteries of the whole human system.  Of the value of this no accurate estimate can easily be made, not even one as near as is possible for purely business communication.  But the least imaginative mind can see that the value is very great.  The essential element in the process is familiarity in the minds of the nations with the affairs and sentiments of other nations.  Mr. Marconi's invention, in its fullest development, is not going to bring the millennium very much nearer, but it is going appreciably to contribute to the removal of some of the causes of contention, confusion, and waste.
The New York Times, 18 October 1907

1907 November 4

Our Marconi Wireless Service

The New York Times

Already the great value of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph as a means of transmitting news dispatches across the Atlantic has been thoroughly demonstrated.  In less than a month from the completion of the stations at Glace Bay and Clifden the Marconi Company has become an active and potent competitor with the cable companies in the quick and accurate service of foreign news...
The New York Times, 4 November 1907

1907 December 19

Telephone Across the Atlantic Soon

Poulsen expects to transmit telephone messages next February

COPENHAGEN, December 18:— The American minister, Dr. Maurice F. Egan, and others from the American legation as well as several representatives from the French legation, visited the laboratory of Professor Poulsen, who recently developed a new system of wireless transmission and he demonstrated the power of his equipment to transmit messages clearly and accurately.  He said that he hoped to communicate with America via Ireland by wireless telephone in February next.
Halifax Herald, 19 December 1907

1908 January 22

Wireless System to Open

Private Messages will be taken by the Marconi Co. after Feb. 2

Only between London and Montreal

LONDON, Jan. 21:— Before his departure for Ireland tonight William Marconi told The New York Times correspondent that the Marconi transatlantic wireless system will be opened to the public on Feb. 1 or 2, and that in the beginning the service will be between London and Montreal only via Clifden, Ireland, and Poldhu, Cornwall, on the eastern shore of the Atlantic, and Glace Bay, on the western shore.  Montreal was chosen as the beginning point for the transmission of business and private messages because Canada has subsidized the wireless system to the extent of $80,000.  In the effort of the American telegraph companies to stifle the company, through fear of its competition, Mr. Marconi said: "The telegraph companies placed a grave obstacle in the way of our success by refusing to accept at press rates messages filed in New York for transmission via Glace Bay, thus adding from 8 to 4 cents a word to the cost of an east-bound message, while the regular press rates from New York to Glace Bay were only 1 cent a word..." The rate on private messages between London and Montreal will be only twelve cents a word, seven cents less than the rate charged by the cable companies.
The New York Times, 22 January 1908

1908 April 25

Marconi Service has Singular Mishap

Aerial wires at Glace Bay broken in big Nova Scotian storm

Restoration delayed by fierce cold and icy condition of poles from which wires are strung

LONDON, April 25:— The Marconi Transatlantic Telegraph service is having its first serious interruption since its inauguration last October.  This interruption accounts for the fact that the European correspondents of The New York Times to-day are transmitting their dispatches for The Sunday Times by cable instead of by wireless telegraph...
The New York Times, 26 April 1908

1908 August

William Dubilier predicts wireless telephones for automobiles

"...every auto will be provided with a portable wireless telephone..."
In case of accident or breakdown, the phone can be used to call for help.
The Collins Wireless Telephone Modern Electrics, August 1908

(Brief) Reminiscences of Old-Timers: William Dubilier
Radio-Craft, March 1938
(Complete) Reminiscences of Old-Timers: William Dubilier (.pdf)
Gold Country Nuggets, Newsletter of the Nevada County Amateur Radio Club
Nov-Dec 2000

1909 February 11

Sinking of the Republic

The SS Republic, a Royal Mail Ship (RMS) authorized to carry both the British and United States mails, was flagship of the White Star Line steamship company's Boston-European Service, and one of the largest and most luxurious passenger liners in the world.  On the morning of 23 January 1909, the Republic, outbound from New York, was rammed by the Florida, in heavy fog off the coast of Massachusetts. Republic immediately began sending distress signals by Marconi wireless.  (This is reportedly the first practical application of the then recently invented wireless in an open sea rescue effort.)  Although the Republic eventually sank, it stayed afloat long enough to transfer all of its surviving crew and passengers to safety, and also radioed for assistance from other ships, most importantly the Baltic.  The Republic's initial "CQD" distress signal, sent by Marconi operator Jack Binns, was picked up by the Marconi land station "MSC" at Siasconsett, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  In this incident, probably 1,500 lives were saved by means of radio.
Operator Binns' Wireless Log Modern Electrics, February 1909

Within minutes of the collision, the Republic's Marconiman sent the "CQD" ("CQ" meaning "[Attention] All Stations", and "D" meaning "Distress"), the predecessor to today's "SOS" distress signal, over the airwaves to the world at large.  No less than seven ships, including several major liners, responded.  This was the first practical demonstration of this new technology's ability to aid victims of disasters at sea, and this "miracle" captured the wide attention.  It was one of the world's earliest "breaking-news" "live" mass-media event.  The Republic's passengers were transferred twice, first to the less damaged Florida, then to the called-to-the-rescue White Star liner Baltic.  This double-transfer open-sea rescue maneuver remains the largest on record.
RMS Republic

1909 December 10

Nobel Prize awarded to Marconi

The 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded jointly to Guglielmo Marconi and Carl Ferdinand Braun, in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.
Presentation Speech, Nobel Prize in Physics, 10 December 1909
      Nobel Foundation Official Web Site
Guglielmo Marconi - Banquet Speech, 10 December 1909
      Nobel Foundation Official Web Site
Guglielmo Marconi - Biography
      Nobel Foundation Official Web Site
Swedish stamps 1969: the winners of the Nobel Prizes in 1909 including Marconi

There cannot be many people who screwed up at school, failed to get into university, and then went on to win a Nobel Prize for Physics.  But at least one did, and with good reason: he made radio happen.  In a few years of manic activity, Guglielmo Marconi managed to transform an obscure piece of maths into a social upheaval that makes the dot.com phenomenon look about as radical as a new bike for your postman... No intellectual, Marconi earned his Nobel prize the hard way by dragging a great chunk of physics out of the lab and holding it up for the world to see, approve and, more importantly, buy...
Guglielmo Marconi: radio star by Physics World


Fessenden and Marconi

During the First Decade of the Twentieth Century

...Marconi kept building larger antenna systems, larger since he was striving for greater transmission distance and improved signal reception, which lowered the operating frequency.  At Poldhu in England the frequency of his station in October 1902 was 272 kHz.  His initial station at Table Head, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, in December 1902 was a massive structure comprising 400 wires suspended from four 61 metre wooden towers, with down leads brought together in an inverted cone at the point of entry into the building.  The frequency was 182 kHz.  By 1904 his English antenna had become a pyramidal monopole with umbrella wires, and the frequency was 70 kHz.  In 1905 his Canadian antenna, moved to Marconi Towers, Glace Bay, was a capacitive top-loaded structure, with 200 horizontal radial wires each 305 metres long, at a height of 55 metres, and the frequency was 82 kHz.  By late in 1907 he was using a frequency of 45 kHz...
Fessenden and Marconi: Their Differing Technologies and Transatlantic Experiments During the First Decade of the Twentieth Century
by John S. Belrose, International Conference on 100 Years of Radio, 5-7 September 1995

1910 January 9

Marconi to install New Equipment at Glace Bay

Will replace transatlantic equipment destroyed by fire

LONDON, Jan. 8:— William Marconi has arranged to sail for America on Jan. 20 to supervise a new installation of his transatlantic wireless apparatus at Glace Bay, in place of that destroyed by fire.  The station at Clifden, on the Irish coast, has been re-equipped, and Marconi is confidently looking forward to a resumption of transatlantic wireless service in the course of the next month.  Experience in the actual working of his system before the destruction of the Glace Bay apparatus had given occasion for valuable observations which will be utilized in the re-equipment of both the Irish and Newfoundland stations...
The New York Times, 9 January 1910

1910 April 24

Wireless Renewed Across Atlantic

Glace Bay Station Ready, Open for Business in a Few Days

The Old Station Was Burned – Equipment of the New

The Marconi wireless station at Glace Bay will be ready for transatlantic business in a few days, the installation of the apparatus having been practically completed under the direct supervision of Mr. Marconi, who is assured of speed and reliability in the service.

      A telegram sent to The New York Times last night by Mr. Marconi told of the exchange yesterday by wireless of these messages between the Postmasters General of Canada and Great Britain, via Glace Bay:
      Ottawa, April 23.  Have much pleasure in falling in with suggestion of Mr. Marconi and sending you this message of greeting on re-establishment of transatlantic wireless service, which I hope will increase and improve the facilities of communication between the United Kingdom and Canada.  LEMIEUX, Postmaster General.
      London, April 23.  Cordially reciprocate your friendly greetings, and share your hopes that the intangible bonds of wireless may unite even more closely than now the mother country and the Canadian dominion.  HERBERT SAMUEL.  Postmaster General.

Everything at the new station, Mr. Marconi said, was proceeding satisfactorily.  The original station was destroyed by fire in August of last year.  The new station occupies a picturesque site on Glace Bay, about three miles from the town of Glace Bay, in Cape Breton, an island, which is a part of Nova Scotia and is separated from the peninsular portion of the province by the Strait of Carso.  The aerial system of the station is supported by four great towers built of wood and each 212 feet high.  They form a square, the sides of which are 220 feet.  In this space were contained the original station buildings which were destroyed in the fire.  Supporting the aerial wires, in conjunction with the towers, are a number of masts, each 150 feet tall, which are so arranged that the wires spread out in the shape of a gigantic fan, the "handle" of which points toward Clifden on the west coast of Ireland, where the corresponding station is situated.  The location of the entire station is on rising ground about eighty feet above sea level and within sight of the waters of Big Glace Bay.  The station is a landmark for miles around.  The three buildings which contain the machinery for the generation of electrical energy and the transmission and reception of messages are placed almost in a straight line.  To the west of this line is the power house, which contains machinery recently installed, and which is not duplicated on this side of the Atlantic.  The second building houses the more specialized portion of the apparatus which is used exclusively for wireless working.  This building has a steel frame, a corregated iron roof, and is 130 feet long and 75 feet wide.  In the centre of this building are the high-tension transformers, revolving spark dischargers, and the excitaion transformers for the production of the powerful electric oscillations necessary for transatlantic wireless telegraphy.  This also contains a large condenser, signaling switches, and a high voltage battery of accumulators, one of the two highest-voltage batteries in the world, the other being in the Clifden station.  Here the aerial wires, by means of which the electrical energy radiates into space, are led and are joined to the circuit in which the electrical oscillations of the particular wave length required are produced.  The operating building, an unpretentious wooden structure of one story, has nothing to distinguish it from an ordinary wooden cottage, except the wires which lead down from the lofty masts to special insulators inserted in its walls and the double line of telegraph poles leading to it, carrying the lines of the Western Union and Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph Companies, by means of which the transatlantic traffic is received for transmission to England or forwarded on this Continent.  The transmission of a message across the Atlantic, as seen in the operating room, is in no way different from that of the ordinary telegraph, but in reality the operator, with every motion of his hand, is controling several hundred horsepower at a point nearly half a mile away where the signaling switches are situated.  These switches connect the condenser and spark discharger and its associated apparatus with the source of power, and there results from the condenser discharging a very powerful electrical oscillation into the aerial system, which radiates into space and affects the receivers at Clifden.  The discharge of the condenser which produces the electrical oscillations takes place at regular intervals, so that the resulting electrical disturbances are heard in the receiver as a musical note, and it is a succession of musical sounds of longer or shorter duration by means of th receiving operator reads what is being transmitted.
The New York Times, 24 April 1910


Valdemar Poulsen

The Federal Telegraph Company
Production of the Poulsen arc transmitter

In 1903, Valdemar Poulsen began development of an arc transmitter which increased the frequency range of Duddell's Singing Arc (1900) from 10 kHz to 100 kHz, enabling speech to be transmitted up to a radius of 150 miles.  By 1920 the Poulsen Arc transmitter was as powerful as 1000kW with ranges of up to 2500 miles.  The Poulsen Arc Transmitter was extensively used in radio before the advent of vacuum tube technology in the mid-1920s.

In 1909, the Poulsen Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company was founded in San Franscisco.  The associated Poulsen Wireless Corporation of Arizona was incorporated in 1910, and then the Federal Telegraph Company.  The Federal Telegraph Company, specializing in manufacturing arc transmitters, brought Poulsen's arc transmitter to the United States.  When NAA, the United States naval spark station at Arlington, Virginia, went into commission in 1912, an arc transmitter also was installed; thus two rivals, Fessenden with the spark, Poulsen with the arc met on a common proving ground.  Arc transmitters up to 500 kilowatts were tested by the U.S. Navy.  One main disadvantage was found in that the arc emitted harmonics and arc mush.  The arc produced so much heat that a water cooling system was required.

Nevertheless, during the First World War a number of United States Navy battleships carried arc transmitters.  The U.S.S. George Washington, which took President Wilson to the Peace Conference in France in 1919, was equipped with an arc transmitter in hopes that communication might be maintained all the way across the North Atlantic.  It was a triumph for radio when the Washington entering the harbor at Brest, France, sent radio signals from its arc transmitter which were picked up at Otter Cliffs, Bar Harbor, Maine, and a 600-word message (sent in Morse code) was received without the loss of a word.

First Complete Arc Transmitter and receiver built by Poulsen Wireless in 1910 in Palo Alto
The First Complete Arc Transmitter and receiver
built by Poulsen Wireless in 1910 in Palo Alto

L to R: Doug Perham, F. Albertus, and Peter V. Jensen.
Jensen left shortly after this photo was taken
to start the Magnavox [loudspeaker] Company

Image source:

Valdemar Poulsen by Russell Naughton
Valdemar Poulsen Wikipedia
Ocean Beach Wireless Transmitting Station by Virtual Museum of San Francisco
100 Years of Magnetic Recording 1898-1998: Poulsen's Patent

The Arc Transmitter...Development...of the Poulsen System in Denmark, England...United States by Hans Buhl

1910 July 31

Capture of Dr. Crippen

A dramatic demonstration of the value of wireless telegraphy in police work – the capture of Dr. Crippen and Miss Le Neve off Father Point, Quebec, Canada.  Crippen has gone down in history as the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.
Hawley Harvey Crippen Wikipedia

Race Over Ocean to Catch Crippen; Wireless Reports Him on Way to Canada – Detective on Fast Boat in Pursuit.
The New York Times, 24 July 1910

1910 September 18

Action Again Urged for Cheaper Cables

Institute of Journalists in London: Cable Rates are Intolerable

Electrical girdle of cheap cables is needed
Wireless alternative delayed by landline telegraph companies

LONDON, Sept. 17, (by landline telegraph to Clifden, Ireland; thence by Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.) — Cable rates came up for discussion at the conference of the Institute of Journalists which was held this week, and a resolution was passed to the effect "that the time has arrived for binding the Empire together with an electrical girdle of cheap cables."  This was voted by acclamation.  The Hon. Harry Lawson, editor of The Daily Telegraph and a son of Lord Burnham, in a speech on the resolution said that further progress in the reduction of cable rates depended on dealing with the Atlantic cable companies.  Last year, he had reason to know, the Government of Canada was moving in that direction, and he should fancy that the mission of the Postmaster General of Canada to this country now would also help somewhat in it.  The difficulty of the Imperial Government was that they were tied up by contract obligations to one cable company, and it was only fair to say that they would probably move more quickly if it were not for this convention.  This, however, had to be dealt with in a broad and statesmanlike manner, and he could not believe that the Imperial Government would long obstruct the way. 

There was, of course, the speaker added, the alternative of wireless communication.  They all recognized the genius with which Mr. Marconi had extended the sphere of wireless telegraphy.  At the same time, while it was possible to use it for press purposes under certain conditions, it did not fulfill all requirements.  One of the great New York newspapers, he believed, was at this moment using the press telegraphic service, and one of the great London papers, The Times, had used it also; but at present, owing to the difficulties that Marconi had had with the land lines, and owing also to the fact that, up to the present, the service had not been sufficiently regular and certain for press purposes, they were still dependent upon cable communication.  So far as regarded the Cable Committee of the Empire Press Union, of which he was Chairman, he would say that they would most willingly cooperate with the Institute of Journalists in making a further representation to His Majesty's Government and doing all they could to bring down the cost of cable communication...

Mr. Henniker Heaton delivered an address in support of the resolution in which he urged that the cables of the world be bought out at the market price of the day by the Governments of the civilized world.  The British and Colonial Governments, he said, now paid nearly $1,250,000 every year for official cable messages.  This sum would go far toward the purchasing of the cables from the companies.  It was advisable, at all costs, to put an immediate end to all cable monopolies.  The first step was to call a conference of the Postmasters General of the world and establish a penny-a-word telegraph rate throughout Europe.  The next step was to hold a conference with the postal authorities of America.  The present high rate of one shilling a word yielded $5,000,000 per year.  The carrying capacity of the cables to America was twelve times greater than their present work.  They would hardly believe that while the carrying capacity of the cables to America and Canada was 300,000,000 words per annum, we sent only 21,000,000 words.  There were about sixteen lines to America – thirteen from this country, and he had, without contradiction, published tho fact that ten of these lines were kept idle by the "ring".  Every effort had been to reduce the cable rate to America, with determined opposition by the cable monopolies.  He was bound to say that, if he were in tho position of tho cable companies, he would offer the same opposition, but it was intolerable that 120,000,000 persons should be reduced to this small volume of communication as the result of such cable charges.

The movement for a reduction in cable rates is steadily growing in England.  Papers which only a few months ago considered the question outside the rango of practical politics now discuss it as a matter must be dealt with.  The Globe for instance, has an editorial article, in which it says: ...Whether we buy the cables outright or not, it is politically expedient for the State to establish a maximum rate, just as it established the maximum third-class railway fare... A bill actually passed the Canadian Parliament authorizing such action, but the cable companies secured the insertion of a clause providing that Canada should only interfere on condition that the British Government would take corresponding measures.  That was reasonable enough, but why does the British Government take no notice?  It is stated that their hands are tied by a convention with one of the companies.  But that may be denounced at any time.  In any case it does not last forever.  Surely the Post Office should give some official explanation of its attitude and policy.  The control of the is cables is as much a matter of State in the modern world as the conrol of roads, and if the Post Office has good reason for neglecting what is really a part of its duty, those reasons be stated without delay.
The New York Times, 18 September 1910

In 1864, the cable companies set up a pool (agreed among themselves) to protect telegram (cablegram) rates, which remained at two shillings per word until December 1884, when it was reduced to 1s. 8d. (one shilling eight pence) per word to fight a newly-opened service of the Commercial Cable Company.  In June, 1886, the pool companies reduced their rates to 6d. (six pence) per word in an attempt to force the Commercial Company out of business.  Commercial also reduced its rate to 6d.  The 6d. rate was not profitable so, in September 1888, all the companies agreed to increase their rates to 1s. (one shilling) per word and they remained at this level for thirty-five years (until 1923)...
5. Second case study - the birth of electronics
by H.M. Treasury, London, England
Recommended.  This article is a good presentation of the history of radio.

1910 November 14

Wireless to Italy Now

Marconi's Coltano Station in Communication with Clifden and Glace Bay

PISA, Italy, Nov. 13:—William Marconi to-day personally directed an exchange of communications between the wireless station at Coltano (near Pisa, in Italy) and the stations at Clifden, Ireland, and Glace Bay. Nova Scotia, thus inaugurating a new service by which it is expected that the rates of wireless dispatches to America will be greatly reduced...
The New York Times, 14 November 1910

1910 November 20

First Wireless from Italy

New Station at Coltano, the Most Powerful in the World

Marconi Sends Greetings to The Times Across 4,000 Miles of Space

New distance record for wireless telegraph transmission
Covers Tenth of the Earth
Planned to Reach the Argentine

Four thousand miles from Coltano, Italy, to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, was covered in the greeting sent by wireless to The New York Times last night.  This is the greatest distance a wireless message has ever traveled.  It exceeds by 2,250 miles the news Marconigrams regularly sent to The Times from Clifden, Ireland.

The brief message, which was signed by Cavalier Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless, marks the opening of the new station at Coltano, near Pisa, the most powerful in the world. The message was transmitted over the land lines from Glace Bay to The Times office in New York.  In transmitting the Coltano message to Glace Bay the electric impulses traveled 4,000 miles in every direction from the station, so that at the minimum the extreme distance between the furthest points at which the impulses were effective was 8,000 miles, or approximately one-third of the way around the earth.  The area of the circle with Coltano as the centre over which the message could have been received was equivalent to more than one-tenth of the earth's surface.

2,250 nautical miles = 4,310km
4,000 nautical miles = 7,500km
8,000 nautical miles = 15,000km

On Oct. 7th, 1907, The Times received the first message transmitted across the Atlantic between the Marconi station at Clifden. Ireland, and that at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.  Since then The Times has made use regularly of the wireless system for its news dispatches from Europe.  This system was put into commercial operation in 1907.  Marconi then expected to have a service in operation from Italy.  John Bottomley, manager here for the Marconi company, got his first news of the successful transmission of a message from the new station from The Times.  He said he had been confident that the distance would be bridged as soon as the new Coltano Station was ready for operation.  "Cavaliere Marconi always does what he starts out to do," he said.  "He was positive that the new station would do the work; therefore, I knew it would."  Mr. Bottomley explained that the Coltano Station, which is a short distance from Pisa, had been planned to connect Italy with the Argentine.  A large proportion of the population of the South American republic is Italian, and it has been the inventor's hope to connect Italy with Buenos Aires.  Mr. Bottomley said last night that a new station was being built at Buenos Aires for this purpose.  The distance in an air line from Coltano to Buenos Aires is approximately 7,000 miles.  The new station at Coltano will transmit messages in all directions for 4,000 miles, corresponding to the 4,000 miles from Coltano to Glace Bay, but as yet, said Mr. Bottomley, there are few long distance stations ready to receive them.  The English Marconi Company has recently taken over the Russian operations and is contemplating a number of large wireless stations in the interior of the empire which would be in touch with Coltano and Clifden...
The New York Times, 20 November 1910


The wireless telegraph has revolutionized communication

(The following was published in 1911:)
Electric wave telegraphy (the wireless telegraph) has revolutionized our means of communication from place to place on the surface of the earth, making it possible to communicate instantly and certainly between places separated by several thousand miles, whilst at the same time it has taken a position of the greatest importance in connection with naval strategy and communication between ships and ships and the shore in time of peace.  It is now generally recognized that Hertzian wave telegraphy, or radio-telegraphy, as it is sometimes called, has a special field of operations of its own, and that the anticipations which were at one time excited by uninformed persons that it would speedily annihilate all telegraphy conducted with wires have been dispersed by experience.  Nevertheless, transoceanic wireless telegraphy over long distances, such as those across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is a matter to be reckoned with in the future...
Instruments and Appliances for making Measurements in Connexion with Wireless Telegraphy by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
Space or Radio-Telegraphy by Hertzian Waves by Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

1911 April

First issue of The Marconigraph

Became Wireless World in April 1913

Continues publication today (2008)

In April 1911 the Marconi Company published the first issue of the journal The Marconigraph.  It was the first journal written especially for wireless communication and circulated largely among engineers and operators.  In 1913 the Marconi Company wanted a broader audience, so in April 1913 the name was changed to Wireless World.
Sixty Years of Wireless World by Hugh S. Pocock, F.I.E.E.
Wireless World Wikipedia

1912 January 28

Marconi long distance wireless telegraph station at Aranjuez

MADRID, Jan. 29:— The Marconi long distance wireless telegraph station at Aranjuez, twenty-five miles from Madrid, was formally opened yesterday by the King of Spain, who was accompanied by the Queen and her two brothers.  There were present also the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of War, and the Minister of Marine, the British Ambassador, the Italian Ambassador, and many civil and military authorities.
The New York Times, 29 January 1912

1912 March 8

Accepts Wireless for British Empire

British Government agrees to Marconi Company's terms for inter-imperial communication

LONDON, March 7:— After many delays the British Postmaster General, acting on behalf of his Majesty's Government and the Governments of the dominions and colonies, today formally notified the Marconi Company of the acceptance of the terms submitted by that company for the construction of all the long-distance wireless stations which are required for the imperial wireless scheme...
The New York Times, 8 March 1912

1912 March 16

The Marconi Banquet at New York

New speed records for transmission of transatlantic messages

Ten minutes from London to New York by Marconi wireless telegraph

...The enemies of Sir Rufus Isaacs (the British Attorney General) and of the Asquith Ministry, for it is manifest that the investigation has been turned into an attack on the government, have had a great deal to say about the wireless dispatches sent to The New York Times by the British Attorney General and others upon the occasion of the banquet given to Mr. Marconi and Godfrey Isaacs, General Manager of the Marconi Company, in the tower of The Times Building on the evening of March 16, 1912.  The ignoble pettiness of the attack and the disposition to convert wholly baseless suspicion into the substance of scandal are clearly revealed in the use made of these dispatches.  The managers of what we may call the prosecution in the Committee of Inquiry would have the public believe that these wireless dispatches were a aprt of a stock market intrigue to "boom!" the Marconi shares.  Inasmuch as these gentlemen have sought to bring The Times into the affair, this newspaper will take the stand as a volunteer witness for a statement of facts.

During the three months preceeding the evening of the banquet on March 16, The Times had been receiving nearly all its daily foreign service by wireless telegraphy.  It tendered its hospitality and its greeting to Mr. Marconi in recognition of his priceless service to the commerce of the world and to humanity by his invention.  Up to that time the best time of transmission of dispatches from London to The Times office in New York was 55 minutes.  On that evening The Times made a special effort to improve on this record.  To that end it appealed to the British Postmaster General for more rapid transmission over the land lines from London to Clifden.  The result was that a remarkable series of new records was established, two of the messages of congratulation to Mr. Marconi being transmitted from London to The Times office in 10 minutes, while our regular news dispatches came through that night in from 20 to 27 minutes each...

Sir Rufus Isaacs has testified that he knew nothing of the banquet, of Mr. Marconi's presence in New York, or of the presence here of his brother Geoffrey Isaacs, until The Times correspondent in London by telephone asked him to send a message of congratulation to Mr. Marconi...

The tone of these messages, the words in which some of the chief men of England congratulated Mr. Marconi upon his great invention, ought to satisfy even the meanest mind that the banquet tendered to Mr. Marconi and the messages transmitted by his system of telegraphy from London to New York, so far from being affected with any commercial interest or purpose, were intended as a tribute of appreciation to a man who had earned the gratitude of the world and made his own name imperishable by a discovery that enlists the forces of nature in the useful service of humanity.  The Times has never made any concealment of its deep interest in the advance of an art which reduced the cost of transmitting its foreign news dispatches by one-half.  Nor does it think that motives of private interest alone can be imputed to whatever recognition and encouragement it has given to Mr. Marconi, since as a direct result of the introduction of wireless telegraphy ocean cable rates to Europe have been reduced 50 per cent.  Not only The Times and all American newspapers, but all the American people share in that benefit.

So far as we have observed, nobody has been at pains to point out to the Committee of Inquiry that the position of the American Marconi Company was bettered, not by anything the British Attorney General did or could do, but largely by two facts, the absorption of the United Wireless Company and the agreement of the Western Union Company to open all its offices and land lines for the reception and delivery of wireless messages...
The New York Times, 28 March 1913

1912 March 18

Fast Wireless Message Amazes

London to New York in 22 minutes

LONDON, March 17:— Lord Avebury expressed great appreciation when The New York Times correspondent informed him to-day that the wireless message he sent from here reached New York on Saturday night (March 16th) in twenty-two minutes. For a moment he appeared almost unable to speak, merely saying, "Great! Great!"
The New York Times, 18 March 1912

1912 April 14-15

Sinking of Titanic

The story of the the crucial role of the Marconi wireless telegraph, and its two operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, during the sinking of White Star liner Titanic, off Cape Race, Newfoundland, has been told many times.  It is not necessary to repeat it here.  For those who want to refresh their memories, any Internet search service will find many sources.


International Radiotelegraph Convention, London

• Article 11 requires some ships to have emergency radiotelegraph installations.
• Article 21 dictates a distress signal for ships, and requires ships to suspend correspondence and reply when distress signals are heard.
• Article 45, requires countries to supply their coast stations with meteorological telegrams, and requires them to facilitate the communication of the information regarding wrecks and casualties at sea.


Charles Herrold begins regular radio broadcasts

Beginning in 1912, ten years before officially-licensed radio broadcasting began in the United States, Charles David Herrold transmitted weekly entertainment radio programs from his Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose, California, to a small but loyal audience fron San Jose to San Francisco.  This was before vacuum tubes, and his broadcasts were received by homemade crystal sets.  He continued his weekly broadcasts until 1917 – when the United States entered World War One, the government shut down all private radio stations.

Note, by Mike Adams: – In our research, my co-author Gordon Greb and I traveled to the Clark Papers Collection at the Smithsonian to determine if there were any other individuals in the world who had a radio station on the air as early as Charles Herrold did in 1909.  We found a few one-time experimenters, but none who, as Herrold did:
(1) were broadcasting entertainment programming,
(2) on a regular basis,
(3) pre-announced,
(4) to a known audience...

Charles "Doc" Herrold by Russell Naughton
Doc Herrold's San Jose Broadcasting Station by John Schneider
Charles Herrold Wikipedia
Charles Herrold by Mike Adams and Gordon Greb
      Charles Herrold of San Jose California was on the air every day between 1909 and 1917 broadcasting music and information to an audience of experimenters who listened on home made crystal radios...
Official Proclamation, 12 September 1994 by the Mayor of Oakland, California


Wireless Telegraphy Much Cheaper Than Cable

It is interesting to view some of the financial projections from 1912.  The cost of an underwater cable to cover a distance of 3,000 miles [5,000 km] is anywhere from $7,000,000 to $10,000,000, while the total cost of a pair of wireless stations to do the same work is but $600,000.  The cable must handle $500,000 worth of business in order to earn enough to keep it in repair while two percent of this amount would take care of the same item for the wireless.  Two million words at 25 cents a word will earn only a sufficient sum to cover depreciation of the cable, while the same number of words at half rate by wireless will produce enough to pay depreciation charge and 35% on the investment besides.
Source:— Marconigraph, 1912 by Frederick Minturn Sammis

1912 September

Around-the-World Wireless

To the layman, a wireless station consists of a small and insignificant hut containing the wireless equipment and one or two masts or towers supporting the aerial wires, but it is probable that comparatively few readers have seen any of the really large Marconi transatlantic stations.  These monuments of the inventive mind and untiring zeal of Guglielmo Marconi covers tracts of land over a mile in length upon which are erected a large number of huge steel masts which, in some instances, are 400 feet [120m] high.  The masts support a network of copper wires...
Source:— Popular Mechanics, September 1912 by Frederick Minturn Sammis, Chief Engineer, Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America

1913 January 14

A chain of Imperial Wireless stations Urgently Needed

Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company Limited agreement

Special Report from the House of Commons Select Committee

British House of Commons Select Committee on Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company Limited Agreement
      Chairman: Sir Albert Spicer
      Report total pages: xxxviii, 977
Purpose:— "To investigate the circumstances connected with the negotiation and completion of the Agreement between Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited, and the Postmaster-General of Great Britain, with regard to the establishment of a chain of Imperial (Britsih Empire) wireless stations, and to report thereupon.

Special Report, 14th January 1913. It is a matter of urgency that a chain of Imperial Wireless stations should be established, and that whatever system was finally adopted and whether or not the Agreement was modified or confirmed, the first six stations should be in the places named in the second article of the Agreement.

The Government of Great Britain should be free to accept or reject any system of wireless telegraphy from time to time; it should appoint a highly qualified scientific Committee to report on existing systems of wireless telegraphy, within three months...
Special Report from the Select Committee on Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company Limited agreement
by BOPCRIS, British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service
Post Office, Telecommunication – Cables, Telephones, Wireless Telegraphy: 1900-1916


More than 1500 ships are equipped with Marconi wireless telegraph

A special section of Lloyd's Register is devoted to ships fitted with wireless apparatus, and rates of insurance on such ships are considerably lower than on vessels not so equipped... The advance of maritime wireless telegraphy to the indispensable part it now plays in the daily round of a ship at sea has been extraordinarily rapid.  At the beginning of 1909, after eight years of development work, there were 125 ships of the mercantile marine fitted with Marconi apparatus.  By the end of that year the number had risen to nearly 300; today the total is well over 1500.  On the North Atlantic route – where, owing largely to the establishment by the Marconi Companies of shore stations in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, wireless telegraphy has seen its greatest development – 182 vessels, comprising the principal vessels on all the leading lines, are equipped, and many others are in course of being fitted.  On the South Atlantic route the figures are also remarkable, and the number of ships fitted during the past two years has increased almost threefold.  On South African routes similar rates of increase are to be noted...
Wireless Telegraphy and the Mercantile Marine
The Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, 1913

1913 March

Testing of Marconi Transatlantic Service

Report on the March 1913 test, by the Advisory Committee on Wireless Telegraphy, of the Marconi trans-Atlantic service between Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, and Clifden, Ireland

Test Report, March 1913
Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7
page 8 page 9 page 10 page 11 page 12 page 13 page 14

The Advisory Committee on Wireless Telegraphy was appointed in January 1913, by the Postmaster General of Great Britain, on the recommendation of the Select Committee on the Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company Agreement.  Its report was delivered in April 1913.  Purpose:— "To consider and report on the merits of the existing systems of long distance wireless telegraphy and in particular as to their capacity for continuous communication over the distances required by the Imperial chain."

There were five systems then in existence – the Marconi, Telefunken, Poulsen, Goldsmidt and Galletti.

From its enquiries and experiments the Committee concluded that the Marconi system was the only one capable of fulfilling the requirements for the Imperial chain, but this did not imply that the Company should be employed as contractors for all the work required.  It might be better for the Government themselves to undertake the work, with the scientific advice, using contractors, though the Marconi Company alone had practical experience of putting down stations and organizing traffic, etc.  In view of the rapid developments taking place the Post Office should not pledge itself to the continued use of any apparatus or be subject to any penalty for the disuse of apparatus installed.  Two stations should be used also for experimental work.  As existing patents might hinder development by preventing the combination of the best devices, the Committee laid stress on the fact that the Government was not fettered by considerations arising out of patent rights, but could use any patent on fair terms under section 29 of the Patents and Designs Act, 1907.  The Post Office should have a special staff to test new invention.
Report of the Committee appointed by the Postmaster General to consider and report on the merits of the existing systems of long distance wireless telegraphy and in particular as to their capacity for continuous communication over the distances required by the imperial chain
by BOPCRIS, British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service
Post Office, Telecommunication – Cables, Telephones, Wireless Telegraphy: 1900-1916


Germany's World-Wide Wireless Communications System

Locations of Germany's world-wide wireless communications system 1913
Locations of Germany's world-wide wireless communications system 1913

Map of Germany's world-wide wireless communications system 1913
Map showing of Germany's world-wide wireless communications system 1913
Full-size map online by Gorm Helt-Hansen
Large enough (5380 × 2969 pixels) that all text is legible

1913 June 12

Marconi speeds up wireless messages

Inventor says new station at Belmar will handle sixty words a minute

NEW YORK, June 12:— Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, arrived here yesterday on the White Star liner Olympic to inspect the new transatlantic wireless station being constructed at Belmar, New Jersey, and also to give evidence in the suit of the Marconi Company against the National Electric Signaling Company for infringing upon its patents.
The New York Times, 12 June 1913

1913 October 9-10

The Volturno Disaster

Fire at sea, extraordinary marine tragedy

135 lost in fire on liner on mid ocean
521 saved by ten rescue ships during raging gale

On October 9, 1913 in the early morning, a fire broke out on the Volturno, en route from Rotterdam to New York, then in the mid Atlantic in a heavy storm and high seas.  There were 654 persons aboard, 561 passengers and 93 crew, the passengers mainly being emigrants from European countries, heading to the New World.  Volturno's cargo included quantities of oil, rags, burlap and chemicals, all highly inflammable.  The fire spread through the ship.  Four crewmen died in the flames.  Three great explosions occurred.  A distress call was sent out by the then relatively new wireless.  Lifeboats were lowered into the high seas and capsized or were crushed.  Eleven ships responded and raced to the scene, the first to arrive being the Carmania.  Rescue was attempted but boats sent out at great risk were unable to pick up passengers due to the rough sea.  The ship continued to burn and, as night fell, the desperate passengers assembled at the stern of the vessel, as far from the fire as they could get.  Next morning, the gale had subsided and the sea was calmer, calmed no doubt in part by heavy oil spread on the sea by the tanker Narragansett.  The rescue fleet took off a total of 520 survivors, with the Grosser Kurfürst taking 106, the most survivors rescued by a single ship.  Captain Inch was the last person to leave the stricken vessel with the ship's papers in hand and with his dog in his arms.  134 people died.  The incident was witnessed by all of that assembled fleet of eleven ships, unable to help for many many hours until the weather and sea conditions improved...
The Burning of the Volturno by Peter Searle
The Volturno Ship Disaster by Jan Daamen

The one supreme fact and lesson in this lurid catastrophe is that the great majority were saved because an Italian student thousands of miles away had discovered how to send messages for aid anywhere thru air and ether, and had fitted seagoing vessels with his wireless apparatus.  The operator on the Carmania, two hundred miles away, caught the signal cry of danger, "S.O.S.," and he swept the seas to send the warning wherever it might find a vessel... The La Touraine caught it, the Kroonland heard it; the Seydlitz found it, it reached the oil ship Narragansett; in a few hours the doomed ship was surrounded with a fleet of vessels... But for him (the Italian student) the fate of the Volturno would have been one of the mysteries of the sea – sailed, never heard from – all buried in flame and wave, out of all knowledge and memory, except in the tears of those who vainly waited for their unreturning kin.  We crowd our crypts and valhallas with effigies of men who have won renown in deadly war; one of these days we will give place in parks or capitols to those who have saved life and made life worth the saving...
The Triumph of Wireless The Independent, 23 October 1913
Made available online by Jan Daamen and Henning Pfeifer

1914 July 28 – August 4

World War One Begins

• 28 July 1914: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
• 1 August 1914: Germany declares war on Russia
• 3 August 1914: Germany declares war on France
• 4 August 1914: Great Britain declares war on Germany
• 5 August 1914: The British cut the German transatlantic cables, thus forcing Germany to use insecure radio circuits for its overseas communications.  The direct cable connections from New York to Germany are not restored until 1919, after the end of the war.  Telegraph communication between the United States, neutral for 33 months until April 1917 (and doing a lot of business with Germany during that time) was almost entirely by long-distance wireless, with a small amount of message traffic carried by roundabout cable routes that were both slow and unreliable.

Electronic Warfare in WW1

The Telegraph War  1914-1918

...Britain with her vast empire and trading interests was particularly vulnerable to damage to the cable network; she was, however, well placed to protect her cables and wreak havoc on those of her enemies.  Germany had a problem as, for geographical reasons, most of her international cables left Europe via the English Channel...

On August 4, 1914 Britain opened the telegraph war by cutting the German submarine (underwater) cable that ran from Borkum in the North Sea to the Spanish island of Tenerife in the South Atlantic.  There was a substantial German research station on the coast of Tenerife and there were fears... that this was being used as a cover for espionage and potentially for U-boat support.  As Tenerife lay close to the sea routes that British ships would take to Britain's West African colonies and South Africa, Winston Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty) ordered the cutting of the communications link.

The next step was the remaining German cables running through the English Channel.  Many of these were simply grappled, raised and cut but some (linking to neutral countries) were patched into the British cable network this providing the Allies with additional capacity (and in the short term probably intercepting incoming messages for Germany from the remote terminus of the cable).  Much of Germany's telegraph connection to the world beyond the Central Powers was destroyed.

Germany struck back, on 7th September 1914 the German cruiser SMS Nurnberg, accompanied by SMS Leipzig under cover of the French flag approached the tiny Pacific territory of Fanning Island.  Fanning Island's only importance was that a submarine (underwater) cable from Canada came ashore to a cable station providing the switching equipment to route messages to and from two connecting cables, one to Australia and the other to New Zealand.  A landing party from the Nurnberg wrecked the station and cut the cables...

In November 1914 the crew of the German commerce raider Emden were ordered to destroy the cable station on Direction Island in the Coccos.  This station provided a link between Australia and South Africa.  On the morning of the 9th the cable station staff saw a warship approaching.  Having been warned about SMS Emden the station's wireless operator sent out a message.  "Strange warship approaching" and shortly afterwards "SOS! Emden here" before a German landing party took the station.  These radio messages were picked up by a passing troop convoy and one of the cruisers escorting it peeled off making full speed towards Direction.  The cruiser was the HMAS Sidney; within an hour and a half of battle being joined the burning Emden was beached on the nearby North Keeling Island.  The landing party managed to cut one cable and wreck some instrumentation before fleeing (they made it back to Germany after 7 months via the Dutch East Indies and Turkey)...

—  Source: The Telegraph War PatriotFiles.com

—  Also see: Capture of SMS Emden, 9 Nov 1914 Timelines.com

—  Also see: SMS Emden (launched 1908) Wikipedia

—  Also see: Karl von Müller: Defeat and captivity Wikipedia

—  Also see: Battle of Cocos Wikipedia

—  Also see: HMAS Sydney (launched 1912) Wikipedia

Electronic Warfare in WW1

Wireless Replaces Cut Telegraph Cables

Many Important Radio Developments

...In the United States, civilian radio activities were suspended during the war, as the radio industry was taken over by the government.  Numerous military applications were developed, including direct communication with airplanes.  The war also exposed thousands of service personnel to the on-going advances in radio technology, and even saw a few experiments with broadcasting entertainment to the troops...

The introduction of vacuum-tube equipment promised to revolutionize radio.  However, all amateur and commercial use of radio in the United States came to an abrupt halt on April 7, 1917 when, with the entrance of the United States into World War One, most private U.S. radio stations were ordered by the President to either shut down or be taken over by the government, and for the duration of the war it became illegal for private U.S. citizens to even possess an operational radio transmitter or receiver.  Radio in the U.S. had become a government monopoly, reserved for the war effort...

With the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, the United States had initially declared its neutrality in the conflict.  In order to enforce this neutrality, on August 5, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued an Executive Order instructing the Navy Department to censor international telegraph messages sent and received by radio firms, as reported in Wilson's Proclamation, from the September 1914 The Wireless Age.  The Marconi Wireless Company of America – the dominant radio company in the U.S. at this time – immediately and vigorously challenged the legality of this order, with their arguments spelled out in The Censorship of Messages, from the September 1914 issue of The Wireless Age.  (Although American Marconi was a U.S. corporation, its parent company had very close ties to two of the countries, Great Britain and Italy, allied against Germany).  A short time later, the U.S. government complained that the American Marconi station at Siasconsett, Massachusetts had handled an unneutral message from the British cruiser Suffolk, but the Marconi company once again disputed the right of the U.S. Navy to monitor its operations, as detailed in The Censorship Situation, which appeared in the October 1914 The Wireless Age.  Dissatisfied by American Marconi's response to the Suffolk incident, the Navy shut down the Siasconsett operations for three and a half months, while the Marconi company unsuccessfully contested the action in the courts.  The station reopened in January 1915, with American Marconi now agreeing to follow the Navy regulations.  On January 20, 1916, the U.S. Secretary of State sent a letter to Congress explaining the current censorship policy toward U.S. radio communications, and how it differed from cable restrictions.  A New York Times article including the text of the letter was reprinted in Wireless Censorship, from the February 1917 issue of QST.  The Navy's expanding roles during this period are reviewed in the Operations and Organization of United States Naval Radio Service During Neutrality Period chapter of Linwood S. Howeth's 1963 History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy...

The military importance of radio was immediately apparent.  In August 1914, the Belgians had to completely destroy a major international communications station located near Brussels, in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the advancing German army, as reported in Destruction of the Brussels Radio Station, by Henry M. De Gallaix, from the November 1919 Radio Amateur News.  Directing the War by Wireless, written by George F. Worts and appearing in the May 1915 Popular Mechanics, reviewed the multiple applications of radio in both short and ling distance wartime communication.  A British overview of various uses by Great Britain and its primary foe, Germany, Wireless Waves in the World's War by H.J.B. Ward, appeared in the 1916 edition of the annual The Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony.  In the May 1917 Popular Science Monthly, Capt. A.P. Corcoran's Wireless in the Trenches reviewed radiotelegraph operations at the British front lines, where operators with portable transmitters proved invaluable, for "If a gas attack is coming, it is he who sends the warning to the men behind to put their gas helmets on."  During the war, the Germans used radio transmissions to help airships navigate to their bombing run targets, reviewed by How the Zeppelin Raiders Are Guided by Radio Signals, which appeared in the April 1918 Popular Science Monthly.  However, the French would employ counter measures, as an article in the November 1919 Electrical Experimenter reported how a special station had been used to confuse a group of enemy airships by transmitting phony signals, which put "another dent in Fritz's wild war dream" when Seven Zeppelins Were Lured to Death by Radio.

In the July 15, 1917 issue of Journal of Electricity, Wireless Telephone Will be Used by The Navy in War outlined research efforts by AT&T, including one key development, two-way voice communication with airplanes, which would be quickly achieved, meaning that "squadron formations of all sorts could be maintained in the air as easily as infantry units on the ground", according to American-Developed Radio Telephone Success in Airplanes, from the November 23, 1918 Telephony.  The September 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics reported on a nightly news summary transmission, broadcast from the Navy's station NAA near Washington, DC, to ships in the Atlantic Ocean in Jackies Get News Daily by Wireless.  Although before the war ocean-going radio had generally been limited to passenger vessels, submarine warfare spurred merchant ships to add radio operators.  In 1919, David W. Bone reviewed British World War One maritime activities in his book Merchantmen-at-Arms, and noted in the On Signals and Wireless chapter that "If to one man we seaman owe a debt unpayable, Marconi holds the bond"...

—  Source: Radio During World War One (1914-1919) Thomas H. White

—  Also see: Wireless Waves in the World's War: A General Survey of War-Happenings affecting Radiotelegraphy

—  Also see: Wireless in the Trenches

1914 August 5

German Cables Cut at the Azores

Severed by the British to isolate Germany

Since 1:30 o'clock yesterday morning (1:30am Aug. 5th) the German Empire has been isolated, so far as communication with America is concerned. At that hour the telegraph cables leading from the United States to Emden, Germany, were cut and since then no messages have been received here (in the United States) from that country unless they have come through German wireless (radio) stations in this country. But officials of these plants asserted yesterday that while it had been possible to exchange signals with stations in Germany, anything like a regular wireless message service between this country (the United States) and Germany was out of the question.

Early yesterday morning, the German Atlantic Telegraph Company announced that no messages would be accepted for for delivery to points in the German Empire until further notice, and all other cable companies declined messages for that country.

The cable lines between England and Germany may still be intact, but they are in the control of the British Government, which is not permitting their use for either public or private purposes.  Messages filed here with the English lines to persons in Germany were returned to the senders, whose money was refunded, with the information that the British censors refused to pass the communications.

The German Atlantic Cable Company, which is represented in America by the Commercial Cable Company, controls two cables to Europe, terminating at Emden, Germany.  Officials of the company in this country say that the British cut the cables at the Azores.  "The United States, so far as communication with Germany is concerned," sid an official of a cable company last night, "is isolated absolutely.  From this on until direct cable service is restored, all word of happenings in Germany must pass through hostile countries – Russia on the east, France on the west, and England on the north."

It was suggested that it might be possible to reach Germany through the Mediterranean and thence through Austria-Hungary, but the Eastern Telegraph Company, a British concern, owns the cable system traversing the Mediterranean.

The last message to The Associated Press to arrive here from Berlin was received between 12 and one o'clock yesterday morning.  It was the official account of the British Ambassador's formal announcement to the German Foreign Office of the declaration of war and the Ambassador's request for his passports.  Up to that time, direct communication over the lines that were severed yesterday had been maintained, although messages were delayed as the result of the strict censorship in Germany.

Charles C. Adams, Second Vice President of the Commercial Cable Company, said there was no trouble with the Commercial Cable Company's telegraph lines which run from New York to Nova Scotia and thence to points on the coast of England.  Mr. Adams said that he did not expect that the cables of his company would be cut on this side.

"But I understand," he said, "that there are a couple of German cruisers off the American coast, and if they decide to grapple for cables and cut them we can't stop them.  I suppose that England will see to it that the cables leading to the British Isles are not tampered with over there."

Dr. Charles Winter, Acting Consul General of Austria-Hungary in this city (New York) inquired anxiously yesterday afternoon if the report that the German cable had been cut was true. When told that it was, he said: "I cannot tell you how much I regret the cutting of the cable. It is with great apprehension that I look forward to the next two or three weeks. Besides the human aspect of the thing – I have two brothers on the other side – the cutting of that cable may do us great injury. If only one side of the case is given, as may happen if only the English cable is left, prejudice against us will be created here."

The French Cable Company said that its lines were working satisfactorily.

Among the submarine (underwater) transatlantic cable systems, one of the largest owned by a corporation is that of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which has twenty-seven cables with an aggregate length of 23,508 nautical miles [43,560 km].  These are operated from Penzance, England, to Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, and Canso, Nova Scotia, thence to Coney Island, New York.  A subsidiary of Western Union, the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, has a cable from Valentia, Ireland, to Heart's Content, Newfoundland.  Another subsidiary, the Direct United States Cable Company, operates a cable from Ballinskellig's bay, Ireland, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, thence to Rye Beach, New York. The Compagnie Francaise des Cables Telegraphiques has twenty-four cables with a total length of 11,430 nautical miles [21,180 km] operating between Brest, France, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to New York, and from Brest, to St. Pierre island (south of Newfoundland) to Cape Cod.

According to the latest report relating to the ownership of telegraph cables by nations, Norway has the greater number, being possessed of 770 lines covering 1,400 miles [2,600 km], while the French republic has the greatest length, its cables having an aggregate length of 11,343 nautical miles [21,019 km].  Great Britain and Ireland have a combined 2,721 miles [5,042 km] in 223 cables, while Germany has 100 cables of 2,827 miles [5,238 km].  Russia has 32 cables over 739 miles [1,370 km]; Spain maintains 24 cables having a length of 2,128 miles [3,943 km]; Italy has 50 cables; Austria has 50, and Turkey 25.
The New York Times, 6 August 1914

1914 August 6

German Government Turns to Wireless

German telegraph cables cut, wireless alternative activated

German Government believed to be using
warships to keep up communication

While Gernmany and Austria, through their military organizations, had surrounded themselves with a wall through which no dispatches were allowed to pass unless the Governments wanted them to, these countries were keeping in touch with the outside world, it was learned yesterday, independent of the telegraph cable lines, by using wireless (radio).

According to information which came to The New York Times last night, the German Government has worked out a plan of radio communication more extensive than any ever used in a commercial way. The big German Navy has been pressed into service with its wireless apparatus, and if the Kaiser wishes to communicate with a German Government agency in the Far East, for instance, he can do so by using his warships. While his enemies are trying to shut him out by obstructing and cutting cables he can send his code messages wherever he pleases over the very heads of his enemies.

Sends Message to Hong Kong

It was said that the German Government had sent an inportant message from Berlin to Hong Kong late yesterday afternoon.  The message was relayed from Buenos Aires.  How it passed from Germany to Argentina puzzled cable officials who were interviewed here last night.  There are several cable lines from France and Spain to South America, but they all belong to companies hostile to Germany.  The only guess that the cable company officials made was that the Kaiser's message had been relayed from the coast of Germany to Buenos Aires, more than 8,000 miles [13,000 km], through the wireless apparatus on German warships.  This means that German warships are scattered from the North Sea and Mediterranean through he North Atlantic and South Atlantic Oceans.

The close censorship maintained by the German and Austrian Governments excluded all personal messages to friends in Germany and Austria yesterday.  At the Western Union office in this city (New York) messages to these countries were refused.  All messages touching London and addressed to countries at war with England, it was explained, would be turned back by English censors.  On the other hand, all messages from Germany and Austria were likewise rejected by the German and Austrian censors.

Except for official German code messages that floated out over the Atlantic through the German warships' wireless apparatuses, only a few other messages left Berlin.  These came to London and were addressed to the Associated Press.  They contained news which the German Government was anxious to have printed.  Telegraph officials here said last night that the ban on these dispatches was lifted by the German censors, and that without this privilege thay could never have found their way to New York or London.

Germany Isolated by War

Many inquiries were made at the cable companies' offices yesterday as to whether messages could not be sent out of Germany by indirect routes.  All inquirers were told that while in ordinary times it would be possible to send messages indirectly, that possibility had been eliminated by the war.

The stranded Americans in Berlin desiring to communicate with friends here might in normal times select one of two routes to the north of Berlin, one route to the east, one to the south, all in addition to the regular service maintained by The German Government.  The German Government's cable was cut on Tuesday, supposedly at or near the Azores.  Advices received yesterday indicatec that no attempt had been made to repair the cable.

One of the two northern cable routes out of Berlin is by way of the Great Northern Telegraph Company, which maintains a line directly from Berlin to London.  This company is allied with the Eastern Telegraph Company, an English concern, and transmission by this route, of course, is out of the question now.  The second route, very indirect, is by way of the GreatNorthern to St. Petersburg, thence over the Trans-Siberian Railroad telegraph lines to Vladivostock, and then by way of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company to San Francisco, and thence to New York overland.  This route, like the former, is impossible because of Russian interference.

An eastern route out of Berlin in normal times would be by way of Constantinople, but there also the Eastern Telegraph Company is subject to censorship now.

The southern route from Berlin to naples and thence to Gibraltar and Havre is also impossible because it is controlled by the French Government.  There is also a Spanish company operating to southern ports, but this connects with the German Government cable lines at the Azores and cannot be used westward because of the cut cable.

German Cable Cut Near Fayal

There was much speculation here yesterday as to just where the German Government cable was cut.  It was considered most likely that it was cut west of Fayal, the cable terminal in the Azores, for that would cut Germany off from Communication to all points west.  One cable company official, however, expressed the view that the British men-of-war had cut the cable on both sides, so as to cut off communication also from the Azores to the Continent.

"There are three direct lines leading eastward and northward from Fayal," he said.  "One goes to Valentia in Ireland, another to Emden, the line which is now cut, and a third directly to Lisbon.  So if the cable is cut between Fayal and Emden, and also west of Fayal, Germany will be unable to communicate with the world.  I think that is what the Englishmen wanted to accomplish when they set out to cripple Germany."

When asked about the independent system of wireless communication which the German Government had set up to offset the damage done by the English, the same official said that such a coup might be expected of the Germans.  It showed, he said, the vast resources of the German military system.  He expressed the belief that the cutting of the cable would not harass officail Germany in the least.

The French Telegraph Cable Company issued this notice yesterday:

The French Telegraph Cable Company has received the following from the French Givernment.  Private messages from and to France or those passing through France, its colonies, or French Protectorares must be written in plain French or English and bear a signature.  These telegrams are only accepted st sender's risk and no complaints can be entertained.

The French Company issued another notice to the effect that deferred or half-rate messages would not be accepted.  The Commercial Cable Company issued this notice yesterday:

The Eastern and Western Telegraph Companies have suspended deferred and weekend telegram services until further notice.  This affects all of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, via the Atlantic cables.

Later the Commercial issued this notice:

British administration confirms that telegrams and radiograms should be written in English or French and under the condition that they be accepted at risk of the sender and subject to censorship by the British authorities, to wit, that they may be stopped, delayed, or treated in any manner or shape at the will of those authorities and without advice to the senders.  No reclamation concerning the reimbursement of the money paid for the transmission or other service will be considered by the British Government in any case.  Furthermore, it is very important that these telegrams and radiograms bear the name of the sender at the end of the text, otherwsie they will be stopped until the name be advised by paid service message.

Deliveries in Europe are not guaranteed by any of the companies, and all messages are accepted subject to delay.
The New York Times, 7 August 1914


War Stimulates Innovation in Wireless Technology

Long telegraph cables notoriously vulnerable to hostile attack

War provided increased focus and direction for innovation.  In the British Empire, because there was a highly developed cable communications network which was not considered vulnerable due to the strength of the Royal Navy, little effort was expended on radio.  German cables, on the other hand, were constantly cut, so great strides were made there in transmitter and receiver design to improve long distance wireless communications.  War also encouraged long uniform production runs and standardisation.  To this end there was exchange of know-how between manufacturers and suspension of patent monopolies...
Roger Cullis 6 October 2006

Every time a telegraph cable is cut
(either on purpose or accidentally)
attention is drawn to the relative
security of wireless (radio) in not
having thousands of km of cable just
lying there and impossible to guard.

1914 September 7

Germany cuts the British Empire's Pacific Telegraph Cable

On 7 September 1914, barely five weeks after the outbreak of World War One, German admiral Graf von Spee, while leading a small squadron of four cruisers across the Pacific towards South America, stopped at Fanning Island.  Fanning Island's only importance was that a submarine (underwater) cable from Canada – an important link in the All Red Line – came ashore to a cable station that contained switching equipment to route telegraph messages to and from two connecting cables, one to Australia and the other to New Zealand.  A landing party from the German cruiser SMS Nurnberg wrecked the station's equipment and cut the cables.

1914 September 5

U.S. Takes Over High-Power Radio Station

Taking Over High-Power Radio Station for Use of the Government.
...it is ordered that one or more of the high powered radio stations within the jurisdiction of the United States and capable of trans-Atlantic communication shall be taken over by the Government of the United States and used or controlled by it to the exclusion of any other control or use for the purpose of carrying on communication with land stations in Europe, including code and cipher messages. The enforcement of this order and the preparation of regulations therefor is hereby delegated to the Secretary of the Navy, who is authorized and directed to take such action in the premises as to him may appear necessary....
Executive Order No. 2042 5 September 1914

Transatlantic High-Power Station

Following the outbreak of World War One in Europe in August 1914, the United States President, by Executive order (above), directed the Secretary of the Navy to take over "one or more high-powered radio stations within the jurisdiction of the United States and capable of transatlantic communication."  In compliance with this order, the high-powered station at Tuckerton, New Jersey, was taken over on 9 September 1914.  This station, completed just prior to the beginning of the war, was constructed by the German firm Hochfrequenz-Machinen Aktiengesellschaft fur Drahtlose Telegraphie, commonly known as the Homag Company, for the Compagnie Universelle de Telegraphie et Telephonie of France.  The Homag Company, on one pretext or another, had withheld the station from the French.  (Germany and France were on opposite sides in World War One.)  The American subsidiaries of both companies had applied for licenses to operate, but, with ownership in dispute, these applications had been denied.  The station was equipped with a Goldschmidt 100 kW, high-frequency, reflection-type alternator and utilized an umbrella antenna.  Shortly after the Navy assumed control some of the armature coils burned out.  A court of inquiry was convened which held the accident not due to the fault of negligence of any person in the naval service.  The Navy Department took immediate steps to install a 30 kW Federal (Poulsen) arc transmitter.  This installation was completed by 27 October and, by crowding, it could, under normal conditions, be heard by the German station at Eilvese, distance 3,382 nautical miles [6476km].  This transmitter was replaced shortly thereafter by a 60 kW arc, powered by a General Electric Co. 500-volt, direct-current, railroad-type (heavy duty) generator.  Its transmissions were received by Eilvese continuously except during the heavy static season.  In the meantime the Homag Company procured another Goldschmidt alternator from Germany which was placed in service early in 1915.  After the installation of this second alternator it was used in rotation with the arc. Confirmation of messages indicated the arc to be slightly more reliable...
— Source Chapter 18
History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy
by Captain Linwood S. Howeth, United States Navy (Retired)

Before World War One, Germany, using the Telefunken Company's wireless technology, had build up a world-wide radio communication network.&160; The centre of this system was the Nauen transmitting station, at the time one of the most powerful transmitting sites in the world.
— Reference Großstation Nauen by Gorm Helt-Hansen

1915 September 16

British Admiralty's Mount Pearl Wireless Station

30 kW Poulsen Arc Continuous Wave Transmitter

Major British Navy Station during World War One

The wireless telegraphy station at Mount Pearl in Newfoundland (a suburb of St. John's), was first proposed by the British Admiralty on 27 June 1914, just six weeks before the outbreak of World War One (1914-1918).  It became fully operational on 16 September 1915.  This facility was one of thirteen wireless stations erected at the same time by the Marconi Company for the British Navy to improve its war time intelligence gathering and weather reporting capabilities.  With its need to control intelligence information in the North Atlantic, the Admiralty designated H.M. Wireless Station at Mount Pearl as its North Atlantic Intelligence Centre.  The crew at Mount Pearl consisted of 22 men; 11 of which were wireless operators recruited into the British Navy from the Marconi Company.  The telegraphy equipment used in this station was the most up-to-date at its time.  Its 30 kilowatt Poulsen Arc Continuous Wave transmitter succeeded the older spark technology originally invented by Marconi.  This new technology required a lot of electric power, which was supplied by two large six cylinder Gardiner engines coupled to generators and supplemented by an emergency battery backup system.  In comparison with other Newfoundland stations, such as the 5 kilowatt rebuilt station at Cape Race, the Mount Pearl station was extremely powerful.  Radio signals generated or received at the station were transmitted by an antenna supported by three 305 foot towers and had a range of over 1000 miles...
— Source H.M. Wireless Station, A Chronological History
Admiralty House Museum, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland

On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany.

1917 April 6

United States Takes Over or Closes All Radio Stations

Taking over necessary and closing unnecessary radio stations
...such radio stations within the jurisdiction of the United States as are required for naval communications shall be taken over by the Government of the United States and used and controlled by it, to the exclusion of any other control or use; and furthermore that all radio stations not necessary to the Government of the United States for naval communications, may be closed for radio communication.  The enforcement of this order is hereby delegated to the Secretary of the Navy, who is authorized and directed to take such action in the premises as to him may appear necessary...
Executive Order No. 2585 6 April 1917

1917 April 28

U.S. Censorship of Cables, Telegraph and Telephone Lines

Censorship of submarine (underwater) cables, telegraph and telephone lines.
...it is ordered that all companies or other persons, owning, controlling or operating telegraph and telephone lines or submarine (underwater) cables, are hereby prohibited from transmitting messages to points without the United States, and from delivering messages received from such points, except those permitted under rules and regulations to be established by the Secretary of War for telegraph and telephone lines, and by the Secretary of the Navy for submarine (underwater) cables.  To these Departments, respectively, is delegated the duty of preparing and enforcing rules and regulations under this order to accomplish the purpose mentioned...
Executive Order No. 2604 28 April 1917

1917 June 15

United States Patent System Suspended

The patent system of the United States was suspended when the Americans entered World War One.  It remained suspended until the war ended in November 1918. The Trading with the Enemy Act, 6 October 1917, allowed American firms to produce products that were patent protected by enemy companies.  For example, all patents owned by German wireless companies immediately became available to American firms, which could then manufacture any previously-protected equipment they wanted to, in any quantity they chose, for use or sale as they saw fit.  They could also use the German patents as a base, to develop technological improvements that could then be patented by the American firm.  This had the effect of transferring the latest German technology to any American firm that was interested, for a very low price.  Under the terms of the bill any citizen or corporation of the United States could obtain a license to exercise the rights covered by any patent owned by an enemy.  For the use of the patent the licensee was to pay to the Alien Property Custodian five per cent of the gross sales or five per cent of the value of the use of such invention to the licensee, as determined by the Federal Trade Commission.  Under one of the terms of this legislation, President Wilson created a Censorship Board with full powers to censor cable, telegraph, radio and mail communications of every sort passing between the United States and any foreign nation.  Another feature of this legislation was used to set up the War Trade Board to supervise exports and imports and with the power to approve or refuse licenses to trade with enemy firms, a provision that had wide-ranging effects – for example, making it possible to stop exports of American coal sold as fuel to South American electric utilities owned by German companies.
Executive Order No. 2729A 15 June 1917

1917 August 5

England Suspends All Transatlantic Wireless

military necessity

LONDON, Aug. 4:— The Marconi Company announces that from midnight tonight its transatlantic service, both eastbound and westbound, will be discontinued, this action being taken upon instructions from the Government...
The New York Times, 5 August 1917

1917 August 28

Otter Cliffs Radio Station begins operation

The Otter Cliffs Naval Radio Station, located on Mount Desert Island, Maine, was commissioned on 28 August 1917, under the command of then-Ensign Alessandro Fabbri.  Fabbri, in patriotic fervor after the declaration of war against Germany, cleared the land, and built and equipped the station.  He then offered it to the government as a Navy radio station to support the war effort, in exchange for a commission in the Naval Reserve and assignment as officer in charge.

Fabbri sought to make Otter Cliffs the best radio station on the east coast of the United States.  Eventually, his efforts were recognized in promotions to lieutenant junior grade in 1918, and lieutenant the following year.  Fabbri, who was released from active duty in 1919, was eventually awarded the Navy Cross for developing the "most important and most efficient station in the world," according to U.S. Navy documents that detailed Fabbri's contributions.

Otter Cliffs Radio Station continued to function long after Fabbri left.  Because of the lack of man-made electromagnetic interference within many miles, and the unobstructed span of ocean water between there and Europe, Otter Cliffs was among the best radio sites along the east coast of the United States, and could receive signals from Europe when no other station in the United States could.  It had been valuable in World War One, when radio receivers were rather primitive.

By 1930, the station was handling weather reports from Iceland and Newfoundland, and emergency traffic from Europe, when atmospheric conditions were so bad that Portsmouth, Maine; Boston, Massachusetts; and Washington D.C., could not copy the overseas transmissions.

On 28 February 1935, the U.S. Navy Radio and Direction Finding Station Winter Harbor was officially commissioned, as a replacement for Otter Cliffs.  The new radio receiving station was located on Big Moose Island, Maine, at the tip of Schoodic Peninsula about five miles across the mouth of Frenchman Bay from Otter Cliffs.  This station continued to operate until June 2002.
End of an Era: NSGA Winter Harbor to Close Its Doors
      NSGA: Naval Security Group Activity
Chapter XXV: Operation of the World's Largest Radio System
History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy
Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963


Heavy Wartime Telegraph Traffic

During the later stages of World War One, the Pacific cable was ten days behind with its messages, and at least one of the Atlantic cables was eight days behind.
5. Second case study - the birth of electronics
by H.M. Treasury, London, England


Radio Corporation of America

• Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was incorporated to control US communications patents of General Electric, AT&T, Westinghouse, and United Fruit Companies.
• RCA acquires the assets of wireless radio company American Marconi from British Marconi.
• David Sarnoff becomes General Manager of RCA.

1919 January 3

Daily broadcasts of Wisconsin weather forecasts

Earle Melvin Terry helped found 9XM Madison, Wisconsin, now WHA, still calling itself "the nation's oldest broadcast station."  Earle Terry, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, inspired C.J. Jansky Jr., a student, to design and construct three-element power vacuum tubes to be used in an already established experimental radio-telegraph station (started in 1914 with 2000 watts of power on 475 metres), in operation in Wisconsin's old Science Hall and licensed under the call letters 9XM.  The station achieved its first transmissions of voice and music in 1917 under the direction of Professor Terry and with the devoted efforts of such university students as Mr. Jansky, Malcolm Hanson and Grover Greenslade.  On January 3, 1919, daily radio-telephone broadcasts of weather reports were started.  C.M. Jansky Jr., the son of a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, went on to become an international authority on radio engineering and still is associated with Jansky and Bailey Inc., Washington, consulting engineers.  Malcolm Hanson, another of Professor Terry's precocious students, was later chief radio operator on Admiral Richard E. Byrd's first expedition of Antarctica. Professor Terry died May 1, 1929, less than four months beyond his 50th birthday.
— Source: History of Wisconsin AM stations

1920 June 5   7:10pm

Dame Nellie Melba broadcasts live from Marconi's London studio

This was the first ever advertised public broadcast program.  A song recital by famous soprano Dame Nellie Melba was broadcast live, using a Marconi 15 kW telephone transmitter, from the Marconi works in Chelmsford, England.


Formation of the BBC

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is formed by Marconi and five other companies.

1922 May 11

First radio broadcast from Marconi station 2LO in London, England

1922 August 28

The first radio commercial

The first commercial message on radio in the United States was broadcast on this day, by station WEAF in New York.
Source: IEEE History Center

1922 November 14

The BBC opens its first broadcasting station

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) officially began daily domestic radio service broadcasting with the 6:00pm news read by Arthur Burrows from 2LO, Marconi House, London, England.  Manchester and Birmingham stations began operation the next day.

1926 October

The Imperial Wireless Chain Begins Regular Operation

Another revolution in world-wide communication

Formidable competition for the Cable Telegraph companies

As early as 1906, the British Government began serious consideration of a change – from cable to the new wireless – in the technology used to communicate with the various parts of the British Empire around the world.  By 1911, it had been decided to use very high powered long-wave (low frequency) stations situated in England and the other countries to communicate directly, without intermediate repeater stations.

In March 1912, the British Postmaster General formally notified the Marconi Company of the acceptance of the terms submitted by that company for the construction of all of the long-distance wireless stations which were required for the Imperial wireless scheme.

In January 1913, the Advisory Committee on Wireless Telegraphy was appointed by the Postmaster General of Great Britain.  Its report was delivered in April 1913.  Purpose: "To consider and report on the merits of the existing systems of long distance wireless telegraphy and in particular as to their capacity for continuous communication over the distances required by the Imperial chain."

In 1913, a contract was signed with Marconi to design, manufacture and install this system.  By the summer of 1914, three of the system's stations were being constructed, but this work was stopped by the outbreak in August 1914 of what we now call World War One. 

A New Start

After WW1 ended in November 1918, the British Government decided to go ahead with an Imperial Wireless system, but the intervening war years had seen great advances in wireless communications technology, and the existing plan had to be discarded.  A new plan was developed, based on wireless transmission of messages to a maximum distance of about 2000 miles, the greatest distance that could then be reached with reasonable reliability.  This plan included repeater stations at intervals of about 2000 miles to reach places, such as Australia and India, that were located more than 2000 miles from England.  Contracts were signed, for construction of several of these stations, but in 1923, Marconi discovered to his great surprise that short-wave (higher frequency) radio waves, of relatively low power, could be beamed in a particular direction and reach out to very great distances.  Experiments confirmed that a short-wave beam wireless service was possible between Britain and Australia, at greatly reduced cost compared to the proposed long-wave service.  The great advantages of the short-wave beam system were that smaller aerials and reflectors could be used and much less power was needed to achieve the same results.  The capital cost of beam stations was a tenth of that of cable and the operating costs were lower too.  Agreement by the governments of Canada, South Africa, Australia and India to adopt the system put considerable pressure on the British government, who then agreed to the adoption of what was known as the Beam System.  The contracts were changed.  This was the beginning of the Imperial Wireless Chain – a revolution in world-wide communication.  The new system's first station was the Canadian Beam which was opened at midnight 5-6 October 1926.  The other stations followed quickly.  Marconi Wireless Beam communication with Australia began at 6am on 8 April 1927 and with India at midnight 5-6 September of 1927.
More by Paul Hewitt, Tetney County Primary School

Australian Beam Wireless - 75th Anniversary Historical Site Visit
Dorchester Beam Radio Station

1926 December 31

British Broadcasting Corporation is incorporated

The British Government decides to control all broadcasting.

1928 January

Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference, 1928

Marconi Wireless pushing Cable Companies into bankruptcy

The new Marconi beam services, built in 1925 and 1926 and put into regular operation in 1927, were successful immediately.  Traffic speeds of up to 160 words per minute were possible, and even with rates well below that charged by the cable telegraph companies, the new beam wireless services were highly profitable.  In a few months, so much business was taken from the underwater cables that the cable companies' income was markedly reduced, and there was a serious risk that some of the largest cable companies could be driven into liquidation, or could be taken over by foreign companies.  For example, within six months the Beam service had taken 65% of Eastern Telegraph Company traffic and more than 50% of Pacific Cable Company traffic.

When the Marconi Beam radio links were established, they had a drastic effect on the revenue of the cable companies.  For example, the net sales of the Eastern Telegraph Company, which were £1,321,126 in 1925, had fallen to £947,926 in 1927 due to the opening of the Marconi Imperial beam services.  The cable companies had built up large financial reserves and could have survived a cost-cutting war for several years, but the low costs of beam transmission meant that radio would have been the ultimate victor.  Additionally, governments within the Empire had a financial interest in two transatlantic cables, and in the Pacific cable.  For strategic reasons, they did not want the cable companies to be ruined, giving rise to the possibility that the world-wide network of British-owned cables would pass to foreign companies such as the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (of the United States) which was reported to be interested in acquiring them...
5. Second case study - the birth of electronics
by H.M. Treasury, London, England

As a direct result of the increasing effect of radio competition on the cable services, in January 1928 the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference was convened in London to:

"examine the situation which has arisen as a result of the competition of the Beam Wireless with the cable services, to report thereon, and to make recommendations with a view to a common policy being adopted by the various governments concerned".

After many meetings a final report was produced, recommending the formation of a single communications company to take over and operate all the communications systems of all wireless and cable companies throughout the Commonwealth and Empire, including the British Post Office and the Pacific Cable Board.  This proposal was approved by the British Government, and was carried out by forming a new company, Imperial and International Communications Limited, which became the owner of the numerous companies that had previously been owners and operators of the competing cable and wireless communications systems.  Henceforth, British Commonwealth cable and wireless communications systems would be controlled and developed by a single management.  The 1928 conference also led to the creation of the Imperial Communications Advisory Committee, which the new company was required to consult on any questions of policy, including alterations in rates.  Australia, Britain, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, New Zealand and South Africa were represented on this committee.  British committee members were usually drawn from British Dominion Office personnel and Dominion officials came from the respective high commissions in London.  A Colonial Office official represented the British Colonies and Protectorates.  In making these arrangements the 1928 Conference was particularly concerned to ensure that the competing technologies of wireless and cable transmission was integrated and harmonised to maximise the benefits to the Commonwealth as a whole.

In 1934, the company name, Imperial and International Communications Limited, was changed to Cable & Wireless Limited.

1928 July

Report of the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference, 1928

Amalgamation of Marconi Wireless with Cable Companies

"To examine the situation which has arisen as a result of the competition of the Beam Wireless with the Cable Services, to report thereon and to make recommendations with a view to a common policy being adopted by the various Governments concerned."

As a result of competition by the Government-owned Beam Wireless system, there has been a fall in the traffic and receipts of the cable companies.  The companies could not continue, some might go into voluntary liquidation and be bought up by foreign interests, and beam wireless was not yet secret enough to supersede cables for strategic purposes.  The Committee rejected the courses of non-intervention, subsidy, minimum revenue guarantee and pooling, in favour of a fusion of all cable and wireless interests communicating within the British Empire.  A merger company should acquire the assets of the companies, a separate Communications Company being formed with a capital not exceeding £30 million.  The Government's cable assets should be transferred to the new company and the beam services leased to it for 25 years at a rental.  One-half of any excess over the standard net revenue of £1,865,000 should go to the Company, and one-half to the reduction of rates.  All increases of rates should require the approval of an Advisory Committee or representatives of the Governments participating in the conference.  British control of all companies must be guaranteed, two directors being approved by H.M. Government.  The Fighting Services may maintain wireless stations for their own purposes, and the Post Office reserved the right to conduct the external telephone system of Great Britain.
Report of the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference, 1928
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by BOPCRIS, British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service
Post Office, Telecommunications, Broadcasting, Telephones, Telegraphy: 1917-1939

1937 July 20

Death of Guglielmo Marconi


Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company taken over by English Electric Company


Wireless Telegraphy Act 1998

Wireless Telegraphy Act 1998 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
An Act to make provision about the grant of, and sums payable in respect of, licences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 other than television licences, and about the promotion of the efficient use and management of the electro-magnetic spectrum for wireless telegraphy; and for connected purposes. [18th March 1998]


Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006

Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
(4)(a)...the demands for use of the electromagnetic spectrum for wireless telegraphy in the United Kingdom;   (b) the effects, in the United Kingdom, of any such use of the spectrum;   (c) likely future developments in relation to those matters...  (5)(a)...the efficient use in the United Kingdom of the electromagnetic spectrum for wireless telegraphy; or (b) the efficient management of that use... [8th November 2006]

2007 October 17

Celebration of 100th Anniversary

Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph service

Marconi Towers, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph service, Celebration of 100th Anniversary, 17 Oct 2007

Marconi Milestone Marked Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, 17 October 2007
Marconi 100th anniversary celebration, report by Cape Breton Post, 18 Oct 2007

The Marconi station on Glace Bay by Gorm Helt-Hansen

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of these documents:
Marconi Centenary
by the General Electric Company PLC (England), 1997

Archived: 1998 Jan 23     Marconi Centenary: Chain of Events

Archived: 1998 Jan 23     Marconi Centenary: 1896-1897

Archived: 1998 Jun 14     Marconi Centenary: Chain of Events

Archived: 1998 Jun 14     Marconi Centenary: 1894-1895

Archived: 1998 Jun 14     1897 The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited

Archived: 1999 Feb 18     Marconi Centenary: Chain of Events

Archived: 1999 Feb 18     Marconi Centenary: 1896-1897

Archived: 1999 Apr 21     Marconi Centenary: Chain of Events

Archived: 1999 Apr 21     Marconi Centenary: 1894-1895

Archived: 1999 Apr 21     1897 The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited

Wireless — Yesterday and Today

Wireless communication, as the term implies, enables information
to be exchanged between two devices without the use of wire or cable.
In most such cases, information is being transmitted and received using
electromagnetic energy, also known as electromagnetic radiation.

In this timeline (above), the words "wireless" and "radio" are used
interchangeably, to mean communication without wires by means of
radio waves.  This was the common usage before the 1960s, when
ultrasonic technology appeared in mass-market wireless devices,
followed by infrared in the 1980s.

Infrared waves and radio waves both are electromagnetic radiation, but
infrared's frequency range is far higher than that at which radio operates.
Beginning in the 1960s, the term "wireless" has expanded to include
infrared, radio, and ultrasound technology, all of which operate without a
connection by wire (hence "wireless").  Most wireless devices use
electromagnetic waves, but there is an exception – some monitoring
devices, such as "silent" intrusion alarms, employ acoustic waves at
frequencies above the range of human hearing; these are genuine
wireless devices although acoustic waves are not electromagnetic.

Through much of the twentieth century, "wireless" meant "radio"
– electromagnetic radiation generally in the frequency range then
produced by radio transmitters or detected by radio receivers,
roughly between 100kHz and 50-500MHz, more or less.

The upper frequency limit has always been uncertain to some degree
– and has always been fluid, continually being pushed as technology

Today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the frequency
range included in the term "wireless" has extended upward to
perhaps 50-100GHz for radio.  Also, wireless devices using infrared
radiation have become common in remote-control units for television
sets, CD and DVD players, garage doors, etc.  There are infrared
wireless keyboards and wireless mouses (mice?) for computers.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Imagining the Internet
A look back over the last 150 years
of communications history

The printing press was the big innovation in communications until the electric telegraph was developed.  Printing remained the key format for mass messages for many years afterward, but the telegraph allowed instant communication over vast distances for the first time in human history.  Telegraph usage faded as radio became easy to use and popularized; as radio was being developed, the telephone quickly became the fastest way to communicate person-to-person; after television was perfected and content for it was well developed, it became the dominant form of communication technology; the internet came next, and newspapers, radio, telephones and television are being rolled into this far-reaching information medium...

History and forecast of mass communication
Future survey

  Hits per calendar month
       2015 Jan   936

       2014 Dec   938
       2014 Nov  1058
       2014 Oct  1176
       2014 Sep  1208
       2014 Aug   955
       2014 Jul  1080
       2014 Jun  1543
       2014 May  1672
       2014 Apr   537
       2014 Mar   801
       2014 Feb  1076
       2014 Jan   722

       2013 Dec   844
       2013 Nov   832
       2013 Oct   771
       2013 Sep   730
       2013 Aug   463
       2013 Jul   461
       2013 Jun   288
       2013 May   397
       2013 Apr   451
       2013 Mar   352
       2013 Feb   371
       2013 Jan   583

       2012 Dec   619
       2012 Nov   678
       2012 Oct   620
       2012 Sep   687
       2012 Aug   457
       2012 Jul   378
       2012 Jun   378
       2012 May   493
       2012 Apr   437
       2012 Mar   480
       2012 Feb   375
       2012 Jan   410

       2011 Dec   267
       2011 Nov   498
       2011 Oct   352
       2011 Sep   326
       2011 Aug   291
       2011 Jul   212
       2011 Jun   204
       2011 May   393
       2011 Apr   277
       2011 Mar   331
       2011 Feb   311
       2011 Jan   302

       2010 Dec   293
       2010 Nov   438
       2010 Oct   407
       2010 Sep   347
       2010 Aug   245
       2010 Jul   177
       2010 Jun   440
       2010 May    -
       2010 Apr    -
       2010 Mar   811
       2010 Feb   760
       2010 Jan   732

       2009 Dec   609
       2009 Nov   700
       2009 Oct   726
       2009 Sep   685
       2009 Aug   286
       2009 Jul   386
       2009 Jun   542
       2009 May   699
       2009 Apr   664
       2009 Mar   859
       2009 Feb   747
       2009 Jan   744

       2008 Dec   475
       2008 Nov   888
       2008 Oct   889
       2008 Sep   851
       2008 Aug   512
       2008 Jul   531
       2008 Jun   731
       2008 May   394
       2008 Apr   411
       2008 Mar   451
       2008 Feb   418
       2008 Jan   322

       2007 Dec   324
       2007 Nov   347
       2007 Oct   565
       2007 Sep   397
       2007 Aug   260
       2007 Jul   218
       2007 Jun   244
       2007 May   305
       2007 Apr   321
       2007 Mar   233
       2007 Feb   269
       2007 Jan   282

       2006 Dec   179
       2006 Nov   153
       2006 Oct   100

The traffic spike in Oct 2007 was due to the extra attention generated
by the centennial of Marconi's transatlantic wireless telegraph service
that began regular commercial operation on 17 October 1907.

Go to:   Timeline of radio Wikipedia

Go to:   Marconi's Three Transatlantic Radio Stations in Cape Breton

Go to:   Marconi Wireless Telegraph in Nova Scotia

Go to:   Cape Breton Wireless Heritage Society

Go to:   The 1901 Transatlantic Radio Experiment Marconi in Newfoundland

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