December 12th – Marconi receives the first transatlantic radio signal


Marconi raising his kite at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland to pick up the radio signal from Cornwall, December 12th, 1901.

On this day in 1901, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, received the first transatlantic radio signal.

Prior to the transatlantic radio signal, telegraph messages travelling across the Atlantic Ocean had to be transmitted through an actual physical cable that was laid down on the floor of the Atlantic. The total time taken to transmit the message using the physical telegraph cables cable was a matter of minutes, far shorter than the ten days it would take to deliver a message by ship moving across the Atlantic. Wireless long-distance telegraph messaging had yet to be developed, until Marconi, using his brand new radio technology, did so in 1901.

In 1901, Marconi wished to demonstrate the viability and utility of his new radio. Earlier in the year, Marconi established a radio transmitter in Cornwall, England (the county in the southwestern tip of Great Britain), which served to emanate strong radio signals. On December 12th, 1901, Marconi was at Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland to receive signals from Cornwall. Using a 152-metre kite supported antenna to pick up the signal, on that day, Marconi successfully received the signals transmitted by Cornwall. This scientific achievement was remarkable to the people living in the nascent twentieth century, and the reaction to it (I am postulating here of course) would be similar to the reaction we twenty-first century citizens had of the first colour pictures we saw of Mars’ terrain in 2012 by the Curiosity Rover.

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