Marconi and the first transatlantic radio signal

12 December 2014

On the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month exactly 113 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal – the Morse Code for the letter S – on Signal Hill in St John’s, Newfoundland. Transmitted from Poldhu, Cornwall, the signal had travelled around 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) and was heralded by some as a ‘great scientific advance’ though many people were skeptical about his claim.

Marconi was born to an Irish mother and Italian father in 1874 in Bologna, Italy. states that Marconi was ‘first educated in Bologna and later in Florence … then went to the technical school in Leghorn.’ He studied physics and began his own experiments in Bologna in 1894, quickly succeeding in sending a radio signal over a distance of 1.5 miles. His experiments were not encouraged in Italy and so, he came to England in 1896 when he formed a wireless telegraph company.

Transmissions over a distance greater than ten miles were quickly achieved and in 1899, Marconi sent a transmission across the Channel. The attempt in 1901 to transmit a signal across the Atlantic Ocean was audacious as it was generally believed that the curvature of the earth made this impossible as waves were expected to travel in straight lines and not pass through the earth.

The signal produced on the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month was too weak to be printed on tape in the way telegraphic messages were usually recorded at the time and it was this which led to problems in convincing everyone that the trial had succeeded. However, in early 1902, signals were transmitted over 2,000 miles to Marconi on board the ship Philadelphia, leaving no room for the doubting Thomas’!

Haven’t communication systems developed a lot in the last 113 years? Can you imagine sending messages like this nowadays!?

[Don’t forget to keep an eye out over the course of December for the hidden message in the titles of FWL blogs…. When you think you know, email us so as not to spoil it for others!]

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