Who Sent the First Radio Message?
Guglielmo Marconi is usually credited with sending the first radio message. Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Marconi studied physics and became interested in the transmission of radio waves after learning of the experiments of the German physicist Heinrich Hertz. He began his own experiments in Bologna beginning in 1894 and soon succeeded in sending a radio signal over a distance of 1.5 miles.
He came to England in 1896 and obtained a British patent for his wireless telegraphy system. In 1897 he established a radio transmitter on the roof of the post office at St Martins-le-Grand in London, and sent a message a distance of a few hundred yards. He continued to improve his apparatus, and in 1898 radio was installed aboard a ship at sea, the East Goodwin lightship off the south-east coast of England. In the following year wireless messages were sent across the English Channel.
The first radio transmission across the Atlantic, disproving detractors who told him that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less was on December 12, 1901 from a station on the cliffs at Poldhu, in Cornwall, England and the message, three dots representing the letter S in the Morse code, was picked up at St John’s in Newfoundland, Canada. The existence of radio waves was first demonstrated by Heinrich Hertz, a German professor, in 1887. Marconi based his experiments on Hertz’s research.
The transatlantic transmission won him worldwide fame. Ironically, detractors of the project were correct when they declared that radio waves would not follow the curvature of the earth, as Marconi believed. In fact, Marconi’s transatlantic radio signal had been headed into space when it was reflected off the ionosphere and bounced back down toward Canada. Much remained to be learned about the laws of the radio wave and the role of the atmosphere in radio transmissions, and Marconi would continue to play a leading role in radio discoveries and innovations during the next three decades.
In 1909, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics with the German radio innovator Ferdinand Braun. After successfully sending radio transmissions from points as far away as England and Australia, Marconi turned his energy to experimenting with shorter, more powerful radio waves. He died in 1937, and on the day of his funeral all British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stations were silent for two minutes in tribute to his contributions to the development of radio.