On this day in 1901, Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi sends the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean. The message, simply the Morse-code signal for the letter “s,” traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada. For this feat, his development of Marconi’s law and the radio telegraph system, he is generally seen as the father of radio, and shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.”
Born in Bologna, Italy in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother of the Jameson Whiskey family, Marconi studied physics and became interested in the transmission of radio waves after learning of the experiments of German physicist Heinrich Hertz (as in Megahertz-MHz). Principally educated in Italy, he took his work to England when the Italians showed yawning disinterest.
In 1899, he succeeded in sending a transmission across the English Channel and equipped two US ships to report to New York newspapers on the progress of the America’s Cup yacht race that same year. Such successful endeavors aroused widespread interest in Marconi and his wireless company, and when he proposed his Transatlantic project, detractors claimed the curvature of earth would send the waves off into eventual outer-space after approximately 200 miles.
Ironically, Marconi’s transatlantic radio signal had been headed into space just as critics foretold when it was bounced off the ionosphere and back down toward Canada; this writer listened to three innings of a White Sox game called by Harry Caray on WLS in 1971 based on the same principle.
Enjoying great commercial success after his breakthrough, in addition to his Nobel Prize, Marconi was also awarded the Matteucci Medal, Albert Medal, Franklin Medal, IEEE Medal of Honor, John Fritz Medal and the Gold Medal Flour Medal. On his passing in 1937, all British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stations were silent for two minutes in tribute to his contributions to the development of radio.
And that completes our broadcast morning.