On this day in history : 12th December 1901 – Guglielmo Marconi, Italian physicist and radio pioneer, successfully sends the first wireless transmission 2,000 miles across the Atlantic….

Guglielmo Marconi – Pach Brothers, Public Domain

The simple message, consisting of the morse-code signal ‘…’ for the letter ‘S’ was sent from Poldhu in Cornwall to Newfoundland, Canada….

Marconi had studied physics in his home country of Italy and had become interested in radio wave transmission after learning of the experiments of Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist…. Marconi began his own experiments in 1894 and managed to send a signal for a distance of 1.5 miles…. But his work was unappreciated and he received little encouragement – and so in 1896 he decided to relocate to England….

British Post Office engineers inspect Marconi’s radio equipment, 13th May 1897 – during a demonstration on Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel – Cardiff Council Flat Holm Project CC BY 3.0

Marconi set up a wireless telegraph company and continued to develop his ideas; before long he was regularly sending transmissions over distances of more than 10 miles…. In 1899 he succeeded in sending a transmission across the English Channel…. Also in the same year he gained international recognition when he enabled the results of the America’s Cup yacht race to be transmitted to a New York newspaper from the deck of a ship….

Marconi built transmitting stations at Poldhu, Cornwall and South Wellfleet, Cape Cod…. He later moved the latter to Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland (which is closer to England) after estimating signals would not reach the distance to Cape Cod…. Many experts did not believe radio signals could be sent any further than 200 miles; the theory being the curvature of Earth would not allow it – and instead of following the natural curvature the signal would carry on out into Space….

On the 12th of December 1901 Marconi and his assistant, George Kemp, set up their equipment – a telephone receiver and a wire antenna attached to a kite…. An attempt two days previously had been unsuccessful – but this time at 12.30 pm a faint but distinct ‘pip pip pip’ was heard…. Marconi claimed “I knew then that all my anticipations had been justified…. The electric waves sent out into Space from Poldhu had traversed the Atlantic”…. Marconi believed the signal had been unimpeded by the curvature of Earth…. However, although his experiment had been successful he was wrong to believe the signal had traversed along the Earth’s curvature – in fact the experts were correct…. The signal had carried on out into Space….but then had hit an atmospheric layer of ions – which deflected it back down towards Newfoundland…. But his experiment can only be described as a groundbreaking milestone into the research of radio waves….

Marconi watches associates raise a kite used to lift the antenna at St. John’s, Newfoundland, December 1901 – James M Vey – Public domain

Marconi continued to play a leading role into radio development – and in 1909 he was awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in physics….along with German radio innovator, Ferdinand Braun….

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