Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

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Marconi’s First Wireless Transmission, Signal Hill, Newfoundland

The receiver in Newfoundland moved, tap, tap, tap on December 12, 1901. The Morse Code letter “S” had travelled thousands of miles.. On December 15, 1902, Marconi transmitted a full message. Success!

The boy grew up with an intense curiosity about the sciences of electricity and physics.  Born on April 25, 1874, Guglielmo Marconi was the second son in a well-heeled family.  His father was Italian, his mother from Ireland.  Privately taught, Marconi immersed himself in the worlds of great men through their writings, studying Hertz, Lodge and many other scientific geniuses.


Marconi and assistants raising kite at Signal HIll, 1912

Marconi and assistants raising kite at Signal HIll, 1912

First Wireless Telegraphy Patent

By the time he was a young man in 1895, Marconi was performing “laboratory experiments at his father’s country estate at Pontecchio where he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles,” said the biography of Marconi on Nobel Prize.  The next year, Marconi moved to England and received his first patent in wireless telegraphy.  The scientist’s patent was also the world’s first in that issue.

The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Ltd. was formed by Marconi in 1897, re-titled three years later to Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company.  Demonstrations of his invention were expanding, the signals reaching up to 12 miles.  Gaining financial backing and with a team of the best engineers supporting his research, Marconi “erected permanent wireless stations at The Needles, Isle of Wight, at Bournemouth and later at the Haven Hotel, Poole, Dorset,” added Nobel Prize.

Would Waves Curve with the Earth?

There was some concern that wireless transmission would be disrupted by the curved shape of the earth.  Theories suggested that waves travelled only in straight lines and would not be able to travel long distances. Marconi did not hold with this idea.  “Marconi had a hunch, unsupported by any scientific proof, that the waves would be drawn by gravity and follow the curvature of the earth,” noted Historica-Dominion’s Heritage Minutes.”  Setting up a temporary station with a received at Cabot Tower, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Marconi also raised a kite into the stormy midday skies as an antenna.

Waiting for the Signal

On December 12, 1901, Marconi sat at the Canadian desk with an earphone in one ear, waiting to hear a familiar noise. “Unmistakably,” Marconi wrote, “three sharp clicks responding to three dots sounded in my ear.”  It was the signal for the letter “S”, transmitted over 2,000 miles from Poldhu, Cornwall in England.  Marconi was elated… and vindicated.  Wireless telegraphy was no longer a dream for Marconi.  It was a reality.

“Long range communication was of great interest to Canada so Marconi took up the offer of Canadian assistance to further his experimental work,” said “Marconi National Historic Site of Canada” by Parks Canada.  In preparation for transmission of a full message, rather than a single letter, Marconi opened a new station at Table Head, Glace Bay in Nova Scotia.  On December 15, 1902, Marconi’s Morse Code machine tapped out a message and moments later, the receiver at Poldhu, England began clicking in response.  The transmission was a success!

The vision and advancement of wireless telegraphy earned Marconi praise and a Nobel Prize in 1909, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun.    Thinking code would be the only communication method needed, Marconi didn’t envision voice transmission.  But another man did:  in the early 1900s, Canadian scientist Reginald Fessenden was the first to develop radio-telephony.

Honours for Marconi’s Work

Marconi continued his invaluable work in wave science for many decades, developing, among many things, a beaming system for long distance transmission, research in short waves, and microwave radio beacon for vessels, said Nobel Prize.  For his many inventions and discoveries, Marconi received doctorates, medals and prizes from countries and universities around the world.

On July 21, 1937, the brilliant and determined Guglielmo Marconi died in Rome, Italy.  Married twice, he was the father of three daughters and one son.

The Canadian government designated Marconi’s wireless station at Table Head, Glace Bay a National Historic Site of Canada in 1938.


“The Nobel Prize in Physics, 1909,” NobelPrize.Org

“Marconi,” Heritage Minutes, Historica Dominion    

“Marconi National Historic Site of Canada,” Parks Canada.

This article first appeared on in 2012.  Copyright Susanna McLeod


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