The Wizard of Wireless: Cape to Mark 100 Years Since Marconi Feat

W1AA LogoK1RB wrote:

Patriot Ledger Story – Today – TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2003 !

The Wizard of Wireless: Cape to mark 100 years since Marconi feat

[Dave Newman of Kingston speaks to another HAM radio operator in Oldham, England as other club members listen in. (Jeff Loughlin/The Patriot Ledger) ]

The Patriot Ledger

These days, just about everything electronic comes with literally no strings attached. And, it is difficult to imagine a time when the fastest way to send a message to Grandma in Florida would have been to tap-tap-tap it onto telegraph wires. Of course, if the wires had fallen down in a storm or the operator at the other end was napping, the next best option was courier pigeon. Thankfully, a man named Guglielmo Marconi came along and changed everything.Exactly 100 years ago Saturday, right here in Massachusetts, Marconi made wireless history and forever changed the way we communicate. On Jan. 18, 1903 Marconi sent a message from President Theodore Roosevelt from a station Marconi had constructed in South Wellfleet (now known as Marconi Beach) to a station in England. A reply from King Edward VII soon came back.

Marconi was born in 1874 in the Italian university city of Bologna. Although his formal education was inconsistent and he never attended college himself, he was friends with some of the foremost scientists and scholars of the day who eventually taught him a bit about physics, which would become his passion.

While he was not responsible for discovering wireless waves, Marconi was fascinated by the possibility of using electricity to communicate across distances without the help of what was then the latest communications technology, telegraphy over cables. Few others were interested in such experimentation at the time, and Marconi became the lone trailblazer of wireless telegraphy, what we now know as radio. He alone sought to communicate with wireless waves beyond visible distance and across the curvature of the globe.

Using contraptions of tin and wood first set up in the attic and the garden at his house in Italy, Marconi gradually increased the distance over which he could transmit waves. By 1895 he had transmitted the Morse code letter ”S” over two kilometers. By 1898 he had formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in England, and had set up a wireless factory. Signals were sent from ships on the ocean to lighthouses on shore, and the Royal family of England was entertained by messages sent from palace to palace.

In 1899, Marconi had sent the first international wireless transmission across the English Channel, and his next goal became bridging the Atlantic with wireless waves. He sent up three stations in Poldhu, England, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and Wellfleet. While the first transmission across the Atlantic was received at Glace Bay – another letter ”S” – the first ever trans-Atlantic communication from the United States via wireless telegraph took place on January 18, 1903 between the four 210-foot-tall transmitters at Wellfleet and those in Poldhu, England. Marconi sent a message from President Theodore Roosevelt to Britain’s King Edward VII.

”In taking advantage of the most wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American people most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and all the people of the British Empire,” read Roosevelt’s message. Within a few hours King Edward sent a reply, and Marconi and others continued to develop the phenomenon of radio.

Marconi won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1909 for his achievements.

”The thing about him is that he did this all alone,” says Bob Doherty of Lakeville, president of Southeastern Massachusetts’ Marconi Radio Club. ”It was pretty tough to convince people that he’d actually done it.”

Doherty compares Marconi’s task of convincing the public of the reality of wireless transmission to convincing someone today that they could teleport from one coast to another.

Today, wireless radio communication via Morse code is much the same as it was 100 years ago. ”Every time a HAM operator sits down at his radio he does the same thing as Marconi did,” says Doherty, adding that amateur radio communication requires a great deal of technical ability.

”Anybody can talk over the radio, but not everybody can receive code and convert it in their head to the written word,” says Doherty, emphasizing the startling power of just 100 watts of electricity transmitting signals around the world.

Among the events planned to mark the anniversary on January 18 are a display of Marconi-related artifacts by the Wellfleet Historical Society, an illustrated discussion of Marconi’s achievements by Michael Whatley, author of ”Marconi – Wireless on Cape Cod,” and a presentation on family space education by a NASA aerospace education specialist.

According to Betsy Cole, a member of the board of trustees of the Wellfleet Historical Society Museum, artifacts that the historical society will put on display include letters from Marconi, many of which mention the difficulties involved in setting up his transmitters in the blustery Cape winds, and also photographs of Marconi and his team. NASA will show models of satellites and teach participants about the space shuttle.

The festivities will culminate in the transmission of the original message from President Roosevelt to King Edward, as well a special message from President George W. Bush to Queen Elizabeth meant to mark the occasion.

The message will be sent in code and in voice. According to Barbara Dougan, educational coordinator for the Cape Cod National Seashore, The Marconi Cape Cod Memorial Radio Club and the Marconi Radio Club of the South Shore cooperated to construct a tower and transmitter on Coast Guard Beach in Eastham to relay the messages. Marconi’s original transmission equipment was dismantled in 1920, and years of erosion have left only remnants of the original base towers standing.

On the 75th Anniversary of Marconi’s wireless transmission from the Cape in 1978, messages from President Jimmy Carter, President Giovanni Leone of Italy, and Marconi’s daughter Gioia were also transmitted from the Cape.

Also to commemorate the centennial, Cape Cod high school students will communicate via radio with astronauts orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station.

From January 11-19, the Coast Guard Station in Eastham will be open to the public, and members of the Marconi Radio Club and the Marconi Cape Cod Memorial Radio Club will communicate with other amateur radio operators
around the world.

The Salt Pond Visitor’s Center in Eastham will have a Marconi exhibit on display during that week as well.

Angela Salvucci may be reached at

Copyright 2003 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Robert F. Burns
Whitman, MA 02382-2510 USA
ARRL (Life Member) * Diamond Club * DXCC
Marconi Radio Club (W1AA) * Marshfield Fair Radio Club (NN1MF)

Leave a Reply