Transatlantic Wireless

Transatlantic wireless from Cornwall to Newfoundland.

From Poldhu in Cornwall UK to Signal Hill in Newfoundland the first wireless messages across 3,000 miles of ocean were transmitted in 1901. The person behind this amazing achievement was an Italian, Guglielmo Marconi whose early experiments in Bologna and Rome had been followed by further research in Britain. He had two assistants, George Kemp and William Paget. Having built the powerful wireless station in Cornwall, a similar station was set up on the American side of the Atlantic at South Wellfleet, Cape Cod.

Marconi seated with his experimental receiving equipment at Signal Hill.

Disaster then struck.

In September 1901 a storm hit the Poldhu station, destroying the antenna system. They hurried to build a temporary one but tests showed that it was not capable of transmitting a powerful enough signal to reach the Cape Cod station. Marconi had to decide what to do and he chose to set up his receiving equipment at St. John’s, Newfoundland, which of course was much closer to Poldhu. A fortunate decision because in November 1901 the Cape Cod station was also hit by hurricane force winds and the antenna destroyed.

The kite being launched at Signal Hill.

Amazing pictures from each side of the Atlantic.

At the primitive quarters in Poldhu the antenna was strung up between what appear to be two clothes poles. At Signal Hill a kite was launched to lift the primitive aerial skywards to ‘catch’ the wireless signal from Cornwall. The picture below shows them launching the large kite which in itself was a difficult thing to achieve. They then set up the receiving apparatus on a table and at a prearranged time on the 11th December they waited for the morse code signal, the letter ‘S’ . Strong winds played havoc with the antenna and the kite repeatedly broke loose. No message was received. On the 12th December, a strong gale still blew and carried away the first kite they sent up. A second kite however stayed up long enough for Marconi and Kemp to hear the transatlantic signals through a telephone earpiece connected to the receiver.

Marconi’s primitive transmission station at Poldhu Cornwall. Note the fragile antenna.

The impact of Transatlantic wireless would change the world forever.

Not everyone believed Marconi and Kemp, after all they were the only ones to hear the signal and though the scientific world were fully aware of the significance of the experiment to the average person on the street its potential was yet to be realized.

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