New York Times, May 7, 1899, page 20:
FUTURE OF WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY.
Nobody will accuse the Secretary of the Wireless Telegraph Company of exaggeration when he says that Sir THOMAS LIPTON and the authorities of Great Britain and the United States feel an intense interest in the company's plans for transmitting messages across the Atlantic Ocean without wires on the occasion of the yacht races for the America's Cup. The whole world will await the result of that momentous experiment with an unimaginable intensity of interest, for the success of it would work a revolution in the affairs of men and nations to which no advance due to any recent invention can be compared save that due to the original discovery of the electric telegraph, of which telegraphy without wires constitutes the most astonishing development.
In a most interesting article on the subject in the May issue of The North American Review J. A. FLEMING, Professor of Electrical Engineering in University College, London, says that "the future will slowly unroll the scope and limitations of this new telegraphy. Its practical uses are indubitable, but it has a wider interest from a scientific standpoint in that it opens up a vista of fascinating speculation as to the possible revelations in store for us concerning the powers and potencies of this mysterious ether." Ether, in truth, is at the bottom of the business, and scientific curiosity as to that inscrutable agent is so keen that we can readily understand why Prof. FLEMING should feel that from that point in wireless telegraphy is wider than from the point of view of practicable business. Its practical interest, however, is great enough to make MARCONI'S experiments quite the most important matter now before the civilized world. The possibilities of liquid air are alone comparable with it.
A word or two as to the apparatus and its working. As is well known from descriptions already given, MARCONI creates by an electric spark the wave impulse that passes between his distant stations. Two spark balls are placed about half an inch apart, one connecting with the earth by a wire and the other suspended by a long insulated copper wire, the length of this wire being proportioned to the distance between the two stations. When an ordinary telegraph key between the battery and an induction coil is pressed the long vertical conductor is charged and a spark passes between the two balls. "The discharge is an oscillating one," says Mr. MARCONI in a description of his method, also published in The North American Review for May, "and the insulated conductor becomes a powerful radiator of electric waves." By pressing the key at long or short intervals the receiver at the distant station is affected in a manner that by the use of a proper recording apparatus reproduces the dot and dash characters of the Morse alphabet.
The receiver is a short glass tube fitted with silver plugs and containing nickel and silver fillings. Under the influence of the electric waves set in motion by the spark at the other station the filings cohere, make the tube a conductor, and a current from a cell passes through it to a relay and rings a bell or works a Morse writer. At the end of each wave impulse a little hammer automatically taps the tube, causes the filings to fall apart, makes the tube a non-conductor, and puts it in readiness for the next impulse. All this could not happen without that "mysterious" ether which so fascinates Prof. FLEMING. According to the modern theory ether is the great transmitter of energy. The light of the sun is not a part of the Sun's matter sent to us across ninety-two million miles of space. The light rays leaving the sun impinge on the ether which fills space and set up a wave motion that is transmitted through the ether to the earth at a speed of about a thousand million feet a second, which on reaching our atmosphere gives off the energy that set it in motion, which produces the phenomenon of light. Ether is not matter, but it seems to permeate matter and to exist comfortably in matter and where there is no matter, as in the inter-stellar spaces. This makes wireless telegraphy possible, for MARCONI sends his wave impulses across the English Channel quite undisturbed by winds, storms, or rain; and intervening hills and trees offer no obstacle.
The oscillatory spark sets in motion waves that travel through the ether in every direction. If a thousand stations were set up within the range of influence of the discharge, each one would get the message. But MARCONI has found a way to do away with this universal publicity:
"By means of reflectors it is possible to project the waves in one almost parallel beam, which will not affect any receiver placed out of its use of propagation. This would enable several forts or islands to communicate with each other without any fear of the enemy's tapping or interfering with signals; for if the forts are situated on small heights, the beam of rays would pass above the position which might be held by an enemy."
What has been done already establishes the utility of the invention. The apparatus is in daily and perfectly successful use between the South Foreland lighthouse and the lightship on the Goodwin Sands, a distance of twelve miles; between the South Foreland light and Boulogne, France, thirty miles across the Channel; it has been used between Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, fourteen miles; on Salisbury Plain, with the vertical conductor suspended from kites, over a distance of thirty-four miles; at Spezzia, between an Italian warship and the shore, twelve miles, and in reporting the Kingstown regatta, the positions of the yachts being signaled to the shore ten miles distant.
It is now proposed to set up a station at Sandy Hook and to send the news of the cup races to another station near Waterville, on the Irish coast, three thousand miles away. If that experiment succeeds even moderately well, if intelligible electric impulses are transmitted between the Old World and the New, MARCONI'S wireless telegraph will take its place among the great transforming inventions of history. It may be well to add that nothing so far accomplished by MARCONI justifies confidence that the experiment will succeed.
Theoretically the thing looks possible. There is no known limit to the distance to which an ether wave will travel. The dimension of the apparatus needed to create the wave impulse may impose a limit. MARCONI uses a vertical conductor forty feet high for four miles, eighty feet for sixteen miles, and one hundred and fifty feet for the thirty-mile stretch across the Channel. It is plain that if his experiments in shortening the conductors do not succeed ocean wireless telegraphy will not be realized.
If he does succeed in sending a message across the ocean without a wire his method must come at once into universal use. There will be a wonderful cheapening of telegraphy and an inconceivable extension of its use in common affairs. Five-cent messages to Chicago and a satisfactory talk with a friend at Manila for a dollar or so ought to be easily possible. For private messages, business communications, and press dispatches the use and development of the system would transcend the power of the imagination to picture them forth. We boast now that we have annihilated time and space, but a father on the old New England farm and his son in Seattle are still pretty widely separated by the prohibitory cost of electric communication. Wireless telegraphy would make them neighbors--perhaps by the use of their own private apparatus. All the nations of the earth would be put upon terms of intimacy and men would be stunned by the tremendous volume of news and information that would ceaselessly pour in upon them. One of the most interesting changes wrought by the invention would be the abolition of the unearthly aloofness of travelers by sea. Wireless telegraphy developed as we may expect it to be developed would bring every ship on the sea into daily and hourly communication with the Maritime Exchange. It is appalling to think of this fearful multiplication of the means of sending from man to man and from city to city and nation to nation communications mostly of no consequence whatever.
Any scientist you meet will smile at this picturing forth of the developments of wireless telegraphy. Scientists are apt to be incredulous. They see the obstacles. The electricians ridicule the idea of a wireless message to Ireland. But the telephone had been in use as a toy for ten years in Germany before GRAY and BELL made it a practicable instrument. Years after the arc light had been in use all over the world it was still held that it would never be possible to subdivide the current to permit of its use for domestic purposes. The invention of the incandescent lamp settled that. Fifteen years ago two dozen of the most eminent electrical experts in this country put their names to a circular affirming that it would not be possible to place electric wires in underground conduits because of induction and the interference of currents. The history of the locomotive and of the steamboat shows how foolish are the skeptics who with their puny powers attempt to set bounds to the accomplishments of inventive genius. Already there is a hint that by the use of a syntonizing apparatus, that is, of a receiver that will respond only to a wave impulse sent out from the transmitter to which it has been adjusted, MARCONI may be able to make a station in Chicago or Hongkong pick out its own messages from the thousands simultaneously coming in from all parts of the world. If this can be done, and if next Fall's experiment shall prove that messages can be sent across the ocean, no prudent man will try to set limits to the development of wireless telegraphy.