This Week in History


Radio Signals across Atlantic!

For the week of Monday November 30, 1998

On December 5, 1902, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first readable recorded signal from west to east across the Atlantic, from his station at Glace Bay, Cape Breton to Poldhu in Cornwall, England. This and other trials led rapidly to public transatlantic wireless messages ten days later. This achievement launched a new era of global communication.

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi
© Library and Archives Canada / C-51839

Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874. As a child, he developed an interest in science, particularly in the possibilities of electricity and communications. Later he set up a laboratory in his home and began to send wireless signals over short distances. He achieved his first success in 1894. By 1900, Marconi had sent a message across the English Channel. With this success under his belt, Marconi decided to try to communicate across the Atlantic Ocean. Until this time, inter-continental messages were sent by cables strung at great expense over the ocean floor.

Marconi set up a transmission station at Poldhu. He then went to the United States to build a receiving station at Cape Cod. When a storm damaged this station, he ventured to Newfoundland to begin tests on Signal Hill near St. John's. Without a proper receiving station, Marconi attached an antenna to a kite which floated 180 feet (55 metres) above the ground. On the morning of December 12, 1901, he heard over his earphones the unmistakable "S" of the Morse code. The signal came from Poldhu.

Personnel outside Marconi Wireless Station, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

Personnel outside Marconi Wireless Station,
Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

© Library and Archives Canada / PA-122243

Newfoundland cable companies kicked Marconi off of the island, claiming a monopoly on transatlantic messages. The government of Canada, recognizing the importance of Marconi's experiments, offered him $80 000 to set up wireless operations at Glace Bay in Cape Breton. In 1902, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada Ltd. was established (later changing its name to the Canadian Marconi Company). A sending and receiving station was built at Glace Bay. It is the experiments conducted from this station which proved that a public message could be transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Canadian Marconi Company is still in operation today, with plants in Montréal, Quebec and Kanata, Ontario. The Company maintains a close relationship with the federal government, and helps keep Canada on the cutting edge of communications technology. The Marconi National Historic Site at Glace Bay, Cape Breton, chronicles the role this site played in the development of the global communications industry.

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