January 18 - World's first transatlantic message

1903: First 2-way, transatlantic wireless messages sent from Wellfleet ~ 1644: Perplexed Pilgrims spot first UFO
A postcard showing the Marconi Wireless Station in South Wellfleet.

1903: The day the world heard the world's first transatlantic radio message

It was sent from the Cape by President Teddy Roosevelt to King Edward VII

On this day in 1903, a radio telegraphy machine invented by Marchese Guglielmo Marconi allowed President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII of Great Britain to exchange greetings from a windswept bluff in South Wellfleet, the first two-way, transatlantic wireless communication.

It was not the first wireless connection between North America and Europe, as commonly believed. This occurred a month earlier, on Dec. 17, 1902 from another Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

The importance of Marconi's invention was demonstrated in 1909 when the ocean liner Republic collided with another ship and slowly began to sink.  The vessel's wireless operator sent out distress signals and many boats and ships within a 300-mile radius responded. All but three of the Republic's passengers were saved, and Marconi was widely hailed as a hero for his invention's instrumental role in the rescue.

Later that same year, Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy."

Early on the morning of April 15, 1912, the Marconi station in South Wellfleet itself received a distress signal from another doomed ship - the luxury liner Titanic on its maiden voyage. This time the ship sank before any others could come to its rescue, and more than 1,500 passengers and crew perished.

The four 210-foot wooden towers at the Marconi station were dismantled in 1920 but visitors to the site, a popular tourist attraction, can still see the wooden remains of the towers and two concrete foundations that anchored them.

Reviewing the book "Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution" in The Boston Globe as the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic wireless messages approached, author John Steele Gordon wrote that "wireless telegraphy had profound consequences, not so much for what it was but for what it led to. It was the first direct technological ancestor of radio and then television, revolutionizing both the news and entertainment industries. Marconi's invention was thus a major step on the road to the global village."

(Credit for image of postcard, http://capecodhistory.us/index.htm)

And now a Marconi Maritime Center in Chatham

The Mission of the new Chatham Marconi Maritime Center is to enrich the lives of children and adults in Chatham and surrounding communities by:

  • preserving and restoring the historic Marconi Operations building and the adjacent antenna field; creating a center to celebrate the history and science of radio communication in the 20th century;
  • Supporting an active radio communications group to promote an interest in science and technology and serve the public interest by providing back-up communications in times of emergency; and creating and presenting science programs and materials that capitalize on the exciting story of Marconi's inventive spirit and provide hands-on, minds-on ways for students to explore wireless technology as it will impact their lives in the 21st century.

Visit the new museum dedicated to Marconi and his wireless wonder.

1644: Perplexed Pilgrims spot first UFO

Read about "Everything Else Which Happened Today" including in 1644 when perplexed Pilgrims in Boston reported America's 1st UFO sighting.

Read John Winthrop's account of this strange affair here.

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