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The First Two-Way Transatlantic Wireless Message

This Day in World History

January 19, 1903

Marconi Sends—and Receives—First Two-Way
Transatlantic Wireless Message


As you look for wireless hot-spots to connect to the Internet, thank Guglielmo Marconi. The Italian inventor championed wireless communication at the turn of the twentieth century—and demonstrated it on January 19, 1903, when he sent and received the first transatlantic wireless messages.

Marconi was inspired to investigate wireless communication by Heinrich Hertz’s studies of electrical and magnetic waves. He began experimenting in 1894, when he was twenty years old. His first successful signal traveled only 30 feet, but over time he built more and more powerful transmitters. By 1901, he could send a signal 200 miles.

Marconi dreamed of sending signals across the ocean. To transmit a signal, he built large antennas supported by four 210-foot high wooden towers. He built three of these transmission stations, one each in England, Nova Scotia, and Cape Cod. To send the long-wave radio signals he used, he needed powerful generators that produced 2,200-volts of electricity that a transformer increased to 25,000 volts. The noise of the generators could be heard 4 miles away.

After a successful test in December of 1902, Marconi demonstrated the equipment the next month. A telegraph operative tapped out a Morse Code message from President Theodore Roosevelt to British King Edward VII. “Taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity,” Roosevelt said, he sent greetings to the king and his people. Soon after, the king returned the president’s good wishes. The wireless age was born.

Wireless communication was quickly adopted by shipping companies. The importance of wireless messages was underscored less than a decade after Marconi’s demonstration. When the Titanic was sinking in 1912, its wireless distress calls reached the Carpathia, which steamed to the scene and rescued more than 700 people.

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