This Day in Tech History

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It Could Have Been Worse


April 14, 1912: Titanic Could Have Been Worse

The RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg four days into its maiden voyage. Over 1,500 passengers drown when the ship sinks early the next morning. The Marconi wireless equipment on board is used to call for help, effectively saving 700 people. It was stated that, “Those who have been saved have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi and his wonderful invention.”

Titanic Life Boat

Titanic Life Boat

[Top Picture: The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. This iceberg was photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, just a few miles south of where the “Titanic” went down. The steward hadn’t yet heard about the Titanic. What caught his attention was the smear of red paint along the base of the berg, indication that it had collided with a ship sometime in the previous twelve hours]


“Wireless” is born in 1894 when Guglielmo Marconi sends a radio wave from one side of his attic to another. Three years later the Marconi Company will successfully communicate “ship to shore” over a distance of twelve miles.





Captain Smith

Captain Smith

Thirty seven minutes after Titanic’s collision with the iceberg, Captain Smith ordered telegraphists, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride to send the international distress message requesting help. In moments Morse Code dit and dah sounds radiated from the Titanic for hundreds of miles across the North Atlantic in a desperate plea for help. Her 5,000 watt Marconi transmitter sent out her position as, 41.44 N, 50.24 W, about 380 miles SSE of Cape Race.

Phillips & Bride

Phillips & Bride










Marconi South Wellfleet Station

In 1901, Marconi built a station near South Wellfleet, Massachusetts and on January 18th, 1903, sent a message of greetings from Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States. This station was one of the first to receive the distress signals coming from the RMS Titanic.

Although Marconi’s radio invention had been on ships since the turn of the century, its use up to 1912 was far from universal. By 1912 all North Atlantic ships carried wireless equipment.

Typical ship's radio equipment

Typical ship’s radio equipment

Marconi’s work lead to the commercialization and proliferation of most of the radio technologies we know today.

Titanic's bow on the sea floor

Titanic’s bow on the sea floor

Titanic wireless warnings April 14:

  • 9:00 am: Message from Captain Barr of the S.S. Caronia, “Captain, Titanic – Westbound steamers report bergs… and field ice at 42 degrees North from 49 degrees to 51 degrees West, April 12. Compliments, Barr.”
  • 1:42 pm, Titanic received another ice warning from the Baltic reporting passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice perilously close to the Titanic’s position. The message was taken instantly to the bridge. Instead of showing it to his officers Captain Smith took it with him to lunch.
  • 1:45 pm: Message was received from the steamer Amerika warning of large icebergs in Titanic’s path. However Titanic’s wireless radio operators, Phillips and Bride, were too busy to relay what they considered “non-essential” ice messages to the bridge. They were paid to relay paid messages to and from the passengers.
  • Later that evening: Another report of numerous large icebergs, this time from the S.S. Mesaba failed to reach the bridge. The Mesaba’s message was the sixth ice warning received by the Titanic that day.




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