is a fortuitous discovery. While perusing a 1930 edition of Radio News
magazine, I ran across an article written by none other than Senatore
Guglielmo Marconi himself - 28 years after the first transatlantic radio
communication had occurred. It's hard to imagine having lived in an
era when radio was looked upon with awe - and even fear - by most of
humankind. Its seemingly magical operation was matched at the time only
with the fledgling air travel revolution. Mr. Marconi here provides
a brief history of his work in making that first radio contact between
Poldhu, England, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with the assistance of
the BBC and NBC, respectively. This is the type of resource that credible
historians love since it is a first-hand account of an event directly
from the person who was responsible for it. A photo of Marconi's log
book records the event - in English!
See all available
vintage Radio News
A Radio Dream Come True
By Senatore Guglielmo Marconi
International program on short
waves from England celebrates the twenty-eighth anniversary of the first
successful transoceanic tests
|On December 12, 1929, Senatore Guglielmo Marconi, who sent
the first wireless message across the Atlantic twenty-eight
years ago, spoke into a microphone in London and his voice was
heard throughout the United States. Graham McNamee, in New York,
introduced Marconi to American listeners.
of the National Broadcasting Company and the Radio Corporation
of America were successful in picking up a short-wave broadcast
from Station G-5SW, at Chelmsford, England, of Marconi's voice,
and it was rebroadcast through a chain of forty-six stations
extending as far west as Denver. The short-wave signals were
picked up at Riverhead, Long Island, and then routed to the
New York NBC studios and the network. The rebroadcast was the
sixth successful attempt of this organization to rebroadcast
a program from abroad. WEAF and WJZ were the New York outlets.
Following is Senatore Marconi's address delivered from the London
studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation and rebroadcast in the
United States by the National Broadcasting Company.
It gives me very great pleasure to recount to Americans through
the courtesy of the National Broadcasting Company of America and the
British Broadcasting Corporation my experiences at the time when I first
attempted and, indeed, successfully, to send radio signals across the
Atlantic Ocean twenty-eight years ago, almost to the very hour.
From the time of my earliest experiments I had always held the belief,
almost amounting to an intuition, that radio signals would some day
be regularly sent across the greatest distances on earth, and I felt
convinced that trans-Atlantic radio telegraphy would be feasible.
A scene at St. John's, Newfoundland, showing Senatore Marconi's
arrangement for using a kite to support the antenna which he
used in his first experiments.
The kite itself.
A group of engineers at St. John's who witnessed the first tests.
Senatore Marconi broadcasting from the English broadcasting
station G-5SW at Chelmsford.
Photo of Marconi's log-book.
Marconi and his two assistants, Mr. G. S. Kemp and Mr. P. W.
Very naturally I realized that my first endeavor must be directed to
prove that an electric wave could be sent right across the Atlantic
and detected on the other side.
What was at that time a most
powerful wireless station was built at Poldhu England for this purpose
and an antenna system was constructed, supported by a ring of twenty
masts, each about two hundred feet high. In the design and construction
of the Poldhu station I was assisted by Sir Ambrose Fleming, Mr. R.
N. Vyvyan and Mr. W. S. Entwisle.
Another similar station was
erected at Cape Cod in Massachusetts. By the end of August, 1901, the
erection of the masts was nearly completed when a terrific gale swept
the English coasts, with the result that the masts were blown down and
the whole construction wrecked. I was naturally extremely disappointed
at this unforeseen accident, and for some days had visions of my test
having to be postponed for several months or longer, but eventually
decided that it might be possible to make a preliminary trial with a
simpler aerial attached to a stay stretched between two masts 170 feet
high and consisting of sixty almost vertical wires. By the time this
aerial was erected another unfortunate accident, also caused by a gale,
occurred in America, destroying the antenna system of the Cape Cod station.
I then decided, notwithstanding this further setback, to carry
out experiments to Newfoundland with an aerial supported by balloon
or kite, as it was clearly impossible at that time of the year, owing
to the wintry conditions and the shortness of the time at our disposal,
to erect high masts to support the receiving aerial. On the twenty-sixth
of November, 1900, I sailed from Liverpool accompanied by my two technical
assistants, Mr. G. S. Kemp and Mr. P. W. Paget.
We landed at
St. Johns, Newfoundland, on Friday. December the sixth, and before beginning
operations I visited the Governor, Sir Cavendish Boyle, and the Prime
Minister. Sir Robert Bond, and other members of the Newfoundland government,
who promised me their heartiest cooperation in order to facilitate my
work. After taking a look round at the various sites, I considered that
the best one was to be found on Signal Hill, a lofty eminence overlooking
the harbor. On the top of this hill was a small plateau which I thought
suitable for flying either balloons or kites. On a crag of this plateau
rose the Cabot Memorial Tower and close to it was an old military barracks.
It was in a room of this building that I set up my receiving apparatus
in preparation for the great experiment.
On Monday, December
9th, barely three days after my arrival, I and my assistants began work
on Signal Hill. The weather was very bad and very cold. On the Tuesday
we flew a kite with 600 feet of antenna wire as a preliminary test,
and on the Wednesday we had inflated one of our small balloons, which
made its first ascent during the morning. Owing, however, to the strength
of the wind, the balloon soon broke away and disappeared in the mist.
I then concluded that perhaps kites would answer better, and decided
to use them for the crucial test.
I had arranged with my assistants
in Cornwall to send a series of "S's" at a prearranged speed during
certain hours of the day. I chose the letter "S" because it was easy
to transmit, and with the very primitive apparatus used at Poldhu I
was afraid that the transmission of other Morse signals, which included
dashes, might perhaps cause too much strain on it and break it down.
Mr. Entwisle, Mr. George and Mr. Taylor were in charge of the English
station at Poldhu during the transmission of signals to Newfoundland.
On the morning of Thursday, the twelfth of December, the critical
moment for which I had been working for so long at last arrived, and,
in spite of the gale raging, we managed to fly a kite carrying an antenna
wire some 400 feet long. I was at last on the point of putting the correctness
of my belief to the test! Up to then I had nearly always used a receiving
arrangement including a coherer, which recorded automatically signals
through a relay and a Morse instrument. I decided in this instance to
use also a telephone connected to a self-restoring coherer, the human
ear being far more sensitive than the recorder.
about half-past twelve, a succession of three faint clicks on the telephone,
corresponding to the three dots of the letter S, sounded several times
in my ear, beyond the possibility of a doubt.
I asked my assistant,
Mr. Kemp, for corroboration if he had heard anything. He had, in fact,
heard the same signals that I had.
I then knew that I had been
justified in my anticipations. The electric waves which were being sent
out into space from Poldhu had traversed the Atlantic, unimpeded by
the curvature of the earth which so many considered to be a fatal obstacle,
and they were now audible in my receiver in Newfoundland!
then felt for the first time absolutely certain that the day when I
should be able to send messages without wires or cables across the Atlantic
and across other oceans and, perhaps, continents, was not far distant.
The then enormous distance, for radio, of 1,700 miles had been successfully
On the following day the signals were again heard,
though not quite as distinctly. However, there was no further doubt
possible that the experiment had succeeded.
The result was much
more than the mere successful realization of an experiment. It was a
discovery which proved that, contrary to the general belief, radio signals
could travel over such great distance a those separating Europe from
America and it constituted, as Sir Oliver Lodge has stated, an epoch
It must be remembered that at that time there was
no suggestion of the existence of the Heaviside-Kennelly layer, nor
of the reflection of electric wave from the higher regions of the atmosphere.
The instruments we had at our disposal were very crude compared with
those we have today. We had no valves or tubes, no amplifiers, no sensitive
super-heterodyne sets, no directional transmitters and receivers, and
no means of making continuous waves. All we had for transmitting was
the means of making crude damped waves by means of irregular spark discharges.
The receivers that were then employed were insensitive as compared with
those of the present day.
Following the success of the test
I was promptly notified by the Anglo-American Telegraph Company that,
as they had the exclusive right to construct and operate stations for
telegraphic communication between Newfoundland and places outside that
colony, the work upon which I was engaged was a violation of their rights.
I was asked to give an immediate promise not to proceed with my experiments
and to remove my apparatus or legal proceedings would be taken. I was
absolutely astounded by this communication, which, however, at least
gave me the satisfaction of knowing that one of the great cable companies
not only believed in my success but feared the competition of radio
I mention this to show why my
experiments in Newfoundland were thus cut short. When, however, the
reason became known. I received a very cordial invitation from the government
of Canada to erect a station in Nova Scotia, an offer which I gladly
The announcement that I had succeeded in transmitting
radio signals across the Atlantic was received with skepticism by most
scientists, principally in Europe. The same thing cannot be said of
American electrical engineers, for the American Institute of Electrical
Engineers was the first technical and scientific body which believed
in me and my statement of having received signals across the Atlantic
Ocean. It was the first distinguished and authoritative society enthusiastically
to celebrate the event and to extend to me its generous support and
valuable encouragement. It celebrated the occasion by a dinner given
to me in New York, at which most distinguished American scientists took
part, including men whose names were and still are household words in
electrical science, such as Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor
of the telephone, Professor Elihu Thomson, Dr. Steinmetz, Dr. Michael
Pupin, Mr. Frank Sprague, and many others. In less than three months
from the date of the test to Newfoundland these long-distance results
were more than confirmed by experiments carried out by myself on the
S.S. Philadelphia of the American Line.
Spanning great distances
is now child's play compared with what it was then. The I-beam projector
and other commercial radio telegraph and telephone stations are now
exchanging daily hundreds of thousands of words between distant parts
of the earth. Wireless telephony over world-wide distances is now a
reality, together with transmission of pictures, and the day is approaching
when television will also be a commonplace. It may even be that the
transmission of power over moderate distance may be developed in the
not far distant future. I must leave to your imaginations the uses which
can be made of these new powers. They will probably be as wonderful
as anything which we have experienced so far.
Mr. Kemp and Mr.
Paget are with me at the microphone today while I am addressing you,
and I wish to send my most cordial greetings to all those interested
in radio in America (I feel sure they form the majority of the American
people) and to all my friends at the other side of the Atlantic.