This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

The Birth of Wireless

MarconiatdeskMay 10, 1894:  The Birth of Wireless

“Wireless” is born when Guglielmo Marconi sends a radio wave from one side of his room to another.  Three years later the Marconi Company will successfully communicate “ship to shore” over a distance of twelve miles. Marconi’s work leads to the commercialization and proliferation of most of the radio technologies we know today.

Marconi began to conduct experiments, building much of his own equipment in the attic of his home at the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio, Italy, with the help of his butler Mignani.  His goal was to use radio waves to create a practical system of “wireless telegraphy”—i.e. the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as used by the electric telegraph.  This was not a new idea—numerous investigators had been exploring wireless telegraph technologies for over 50 years, but none had proven technically and commercially successful.

Marconi's first transmitting set constructed at Bologna (his father's home) in 1894. It consists of a morse key, a coil, and a large spark gap, one side of which was earthed, the other connected to the tin plate aerial supported above by bamboo canes. The demonstrator shown in this photo is Mr. G.S. Kemp, Marconi's first assistant who was transfered to him from the G.P.O staff 1897.

Marconi’s first transmitting set constructed at Bologna (his father’s home) in 1894. It consists of a morse key, a coil, and a large spark gap, one side of which was earthed, the other connected to the tin plate aerial supported above by bamboo canes. The demonstrator shown in this photo is Mr. G.S. Kemp, Marconi’s first assistant who was transfered to him from the G.P.O staff 1897.

Marconi, just twenty years old, began his first experiments working on his own with the help of his butler Mignani.  In the summer of 1894, he built a storm alarm made up of a battery, a coherer, and an electric bell, which went off if there was lightning.  Soon after he was able to make a bell ring on the other side of the room by pushing a telegraphic button on a bench.  And . . .

Ta Da wireless!!

MARC

One night in December, Guglielmo woke his mother up and invited her into his secret workshop and showed her the experiment he had created. The next day he also showed his father, who, when he was certain there were no wires, gave his son all of the money he had in his wallet so Guglielmo could buy more materials.

In the summer of 1895 Marconi moved his experimentation outdoors. After increasing the length of the transmitter and receiver antennas, and arranging them vertically, and positioning the antenna so that it touched the ground, the range increased significantly.

Marconi watches as associates are raising the kite (a "Levitor" by B.F.S. Baden-Powell) used to lift an antenna

Marconi watches as associates are raising the kite (a “Levitor” by B.F.S. Baden-Powell) used to lift an antenna

Soon he was able to transmit signals over a hill, a distance of approximately 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi).   By this point he concluded that with additional funding and research, a device could become capable of spanning greater distances and would prove valuable both commercially and militarily.

Marconi wrote to the ministry of Post and Telegraphs explaining his wireless telegraph machine and asking for funding.  He never received a response to his letter which was eventually dismissed by the minister who wrote “to the Longara” on the document, referring to the insane asylum in Rome . . . the minister thought he was crazy.

Guglielmo_Marconi_1901_wireless_signal

After many successful experiments and demonstrations Marconi began to receive international attention.

  • In July 1897, he carried out a series of tests at La Spezia in his home country, for the Italian government.
  • A test for Lloyds between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, Ireland, was conducted on 6 July 1898.
  • The English channel was crossed on 27 March 1899, from Wimereux, France to South Foreland Lighthouse, England.
  • In autumn of 1899 the first demonstrations in the United States took place, with the reporting of the America’s Cup international yacht races at New York.

On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the first radio message to cross the Atlantic from North America.

Glace Bay Station

Glace Bay Station

In 1901, Marconi built a station near South Wellfleet, Massachusetts that on 18 January 1903 sent a message of greetings from Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States, to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States.

This station also was one of the first to receive the distress signals coming from the RMS Titanic.

Typical ship’s wireless setup

Typical ship’s wireless setup

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