Just over five kilometers was the distance reached by the first wireless telegraphy transmission in the open sea, carried out on May 14, 1897 by the Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guillermo Marconi. The message read: “Are you ready?”
Some inventions change history and radio communications was one of them. That transmission, which Marconi achieved when he was only 23 years old, crossed the Bristol Channel (United Kingdom), from Flat Holm Island to Penarth.
The Italian won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 for “his contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy”, an invention that began to gain popularity among people after the sinking of the Titanic (1912) -in which Marconi planned to travel- . The distress signal issued by the ocean liner allowed the Carpathia to reach the scene and save some 700 survivors.
The idea of transmitting wireless telegraphic signals began to interest Marconi after reading an article by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz and the first studies were carried out with a transmitter that he had created on the family estate, near Bologna, where he sent signals over two kilometers .
Marconi decided to take his device to England, where in 1896 he was granted the world’s first patent for a wireless telegraphy system and, a year later, made that transmission across the Bristol Channel.
Perfecting his system and trying to expand its range, in 1899 he established communication between France and England, across the English Channel, bridging the 300 kilometers between South Foreland and Wimereux.
In 1901 it transmitted signals across the Atlantic Ocean, from Poldhu (England) to Saint Johns (Canada), more than 3,300 kilometers. With this communication he demonstrated that hertzian waves follow the curvature of the Earth and do not travel in a straight line, recalls the biography dedicated to Marconi on the Nobel Prize website.
A year earlier, he had obtained the famous patent 7,777 for improvements in wireless telegraphy devices, which allowed simultaneous transmissions on different frequencies, so that nearby stations could work without interfering with each other.
A patent that was opposed by the American Nikola Tesla and that in 1943 was annulled by the Supreme Court of the United States on the grounds that part of it was based on previous work by other inventors, such as that of Tesla himself.
For history remains the controversy of whether the radio was invented by Marconi or Tesla. In 1895, the American nationalized inventor planned to transmit a radio signal from New York to West Point, but a fire destroyed his laboratory.
In its early days, wireless telegraphy was of great importance to ships and navigation, as Marconi noted in his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture. Proof of this was the rescue of the victims of the Titanic on her maiden voyage.
A trip that could have marked Marconi’s life or death, because the inventor should have been on that ship, but finally decided to leave three days earlier for the United States on the Lusitania, as his daughter Degna Marconi recalled in her book “My father » (1962).
When the Titanic hit an iceberg one of the telegraph operators sent a distress message that would be heard by the Carpathia, and when it came ashore Marconi was present on the dock. Days later, Degna wrote, survivors “went to his hotel en masse” as thanks for his invention.
Wireless telegraphy – Marconi predicted upon accepting the Nobel – “is destined to occupy an equally important position in providing efficient and economical communication between distant parties” and “there is no doubt” that “it is here to stay, and not only will not stay, but will continue to advance.
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Wireless telegraphy, 125 years of an invention that changed the world – Format Seven