The word message took 16 hours to send—two minutes per letter! Initially, the main technical challenge was to reinforce and insulate underwater cables to protect them and to prevent current from leaking into water. This was achieved using gutta-percha, a form of latex produced from the sap of trees found in Southeast Asia, to coat iron-reinforcing wires protecting the copper conductor.
This allowed the first undersea cable to be laid between England and France in It was followed by more connections linking England with Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Soon after the first undersea cable was laid, a group of businessmen proposed laying a trans-Atlantic cable between Ireland and Newfoundland.
In December , Thomson was appointed as an unpaid scientific adviser to the board of directors of the company. It was operational for just three weeks and provided a very weak signal.
Thomson made recommendations for the design and manufacture of submarine cables, which included requirements for the conductivity of the copper core, the size of the conductors and the insulation. Thomson was knighted by Queen Victoria in for his work on the trans-Atlantic telegraph project. In Thomson devised the syphon recorder, the first instrument used on long cables to record the received signals.
Later, he also designed the first modern deep-sea sounding machine for assessing the depth of water, an essential piece of equipment when laying submarine cables.
His Kelvite Mark IV Sounding Machine, developed with the Royal Navy between and , was still being produced with only minor modifications in the s. Following the setback and delays resulting from the US civil war , there was an eight year gap before another attempt was made in It was a success and paved the way for a rapid development of telegraph communications between continents. It was about this time that Marconi began to experiment in Ireland and he conducted his first tests here between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island on 6 July It was not long after that reporters began to investigate this ground-breaking new technology that was being tested in rural Ireland and they soon realised the potential for their own profession.
With the turn of the century, Marconi now turned his mind to the challenge that would make him a legend: sending a signal across the Atlantic Ocean. Firstly, he needed to build the infrastructure and Ireland figured heavily in his plans. These would act as the communications bridge between the two continents.
Utilising a foot kite supporting antenna in Newfoundland, the first cross-Atlantic message was received on 12 December His claim to have received the signal was met with scepticism, as he sent it in the worst atmospheric conditions and with no independent verification. Rising to the challenge, Marconi prepared a more detailed and verifiable test.
In February , he sailed from Britain, carefully documenting the signal from his Cornish transmission station as he received them on board.
In , he was able to prove his system worked beyond any doubt when he sent a message from the president of the United States to the British King. The big commercial breakthrough was made in , when he launched a commercial service to communicate with ships at sea.
Daily news was transmitted to passenger ships, which were then reprinted on their on-board newspapers. Three years later, a regular trans-Atlantic radio-telegraph service was set up, transmitting from Clifden in Galway to Nova Scotia in Canada. At the time, these transmission stations in rural areas must have seemed outer-worldly, with their eight feet-high masts sparking brightly and loudly into the atmosphere as they surged with electricity. The system was not seamless, however, and the vagaries of weather and atmospheric conditions affected reliability regularly.
Nonetheless, it was the first system that broke the isolation of ships at sea and a Marconi radio operator was soon to be found on most merchant ships and ocean liners providing a vital link with the land.
Life in plants
The system soon proved its worth in emergencies and the most famous example of this was when the Titanic sunk in Fifteen hundred lives were lost in this tragedy but no fault could be attributed to the Marconi radio operator, who sent out the distress call that brought ships to rescue those that made it to the lifeboats. In a tragedy with many villains, the Marconi radio operator Jack Philips was feted as the hero of the hour — his heroism being made all the more poignant by the fact that he also died in this tragedy, doing his duty till the end.
Adapting these technologies and sometimes flouting patent law in the process , Marconi was able to replace his Morse code telegraphic system with a sound transmission system. In , he made the first trans-Atlantic telephone call from his Ballybunion telegraphic station to Nova Scotia and in , the first radiobroadcast for entertainment purposes was made with the transmission of an opera to the general public. This proved highly popular and soon regular shows were been transmitted from the Marconi Research Centre in the UK. This would form the basis of the BBC, which was launched in In , he would receive the ultimate accolade when he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Braun.
He then turned his brain to microwaves and soon established them too as a means of communication — but, more significantly, for radar technology.
Politically and personally, Marconi was not without controversy. When he and his wife moved to Italy, they were feted by Italian society and his wife became a lady-in-waiting to the Italian queen.
IEC blog » Lord Kelvin and the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable
It was not a blissful marriage, however. Marconi married again in to Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali and they had one child. In a final snub to his first wife and their children, he excluded them from his will, leaving his fortune to his second wife. In , Marconi, aged 63 died in Rome after a period of ill health. In Italy a day of national mourning was held and he was given a state funeral. A fitting tribute to the man responsible for filling our airways and launching the communications revolution that we so enjoy today.