Harold Bride, the Titanic's junior radio operator, survived the sinking of the ship, but Jack Phillips, the senior operator, died of exposure after the Titanic sank. Both were Marconi employees. The New York Herald seems to have been particularly interested in exposing how its rival, the New York Times, managed to get exclusive access to Harold Bride's personal account of the events. The Herald publicized the fact that, while the Carpathia was making its way to New York with the survivors, American Marconi officials sent telegrams to the Marconi operators, instructing them to withhold some of what they knew about the disaster so that their reports could be sold. According to later testimony by Guglielmo Marconi, the New York Times paid $500 for the exclusive rights to Bride's story.
In addition, there were complaints that Marconi operators aboard the Carpathia had ignored two navy vessels, sent by U.S. President Taft to get information about his aide, Archibald Butts, who had been aboard the Titanic.
New York Herald, April 21, 1912, page 1:
'Keep Your Mouth Shut; Big Money for You,' Was Message to Hide News
Hold Story for 'Four Figures,' Marconi Official Also Warned the Carpathia Operator, While Anxious World Waited Details of Disaster.
While the world was waiting three days for information concerning the fate of the Titanic, for part of the time at least, details concerning the disaster were being withheld by the wireless operator of the steamship Carpathia under specific orders from T. W. Sammis, chief engineer of the Marconi Wireless Company of America, who had arranged the sale of the story.
This was admitted yesterday by Mr. Sammis, who defended his action. He said he was justified for getting for the wireless operators the largest amount he could for the details of the sinking of the ship, the rescue of the passengers and the other information the world had waited for.
The first information concerning the loss of the Titanic came Monday evening, and it was known at that time the survivors were on board the Carpathia. About midnight the first of the list of survivors began to come by wireless, and from that time until Thursday night, when the rescue ship arrived in port, the world waited and waited in vain for the details of how the "unsinkable ship" had gone down.
Three messages were sent to the Carpathia telling the operator to send out no news concerning the disaster. Two of these were unsigned, and the last one had the signature of Mr. Sammis.
"Keep Mouth Shut; Big Money."
The first message was unsigned, and it is said it was sent as a list of names of survivors were being forwarded. It read:--
"Keep your mouth shut. Hold story. Big money for you."
The messages from the Carpathia to the Marconi office concerning this matter were not available, but there was evidently some communication, for the second unsigned message followed after an interval. This message read:--
"If you are wise, hold story. The Marconi company will take care of you."
The third and last message was addressed to "Marconi officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic," and signed "S. M. Sammis," chief engineer of the Marconi Company of America. This one read:--
"Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr. Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock."
Mr. Sammis was at the Waldorf-Astoria yesterday at the hearing before the sub-committee of the United States Senate, and he was asked about the message.
Mr. Sammis Resents Criticism.
"It is reported," he was told, "that a message was sent by you to the wireless operator on the Carpathia to which you gave the orders or at least said to him not to give out any details of the sinking of the Titanic, as you had arranged for four figures."
"Well?" he said is a defiant way.
"Did you send such a message?"
"Maybe. What of it?" he replied.
"It would be interesting to know if you actually sent such a message."
"Yes, I sent the message, but whose business is it?" Mr. Sammis asked with some heat.
"Perhaps it was no one's business," he was told, "but it is interesting to know that when the world was horror stricken over the disaster and waiting for the news, that there were persons preparing to capitalize the suspense and had arranged for 'four figures.' "
"Do you blame me for this," retorted Mr. Sammis, as he backed up against the wall. "Do you blame me for getting the highest price I could for the operator for the story he had to tell about the collision and the rescue. I thought I was doing a good turn for him, and I can't see how it is the business of anyone."
It is not unlikely that the sending of these messages with the apparent result that no details of the disaster came from the relief ship will form part of the inquiry that is being made by a sub-committee of the Senate. Part of this inquiry has been directed as to why a message from President Taft asking for information about Major Archibald W. Butt was unanswered, and it is not unlikely that in view of the message from Mr. Sammis that this will be taken up again.
Navy Likely to Have Records.
While these messages were intercepted by more than one wireless receiving station, there is one place where the Senate Committee could undoubtedly get copies of them. The New York Navy Yard has a powerful receiving station, and has what is known as an "intercepted message" book. These messages are considered confidential and are never given out, but the book would undoubtedly be at the disposal of the investigating committee.
Senator Smith said yesterday that the authorities in Washington knew on Thursday long before the Carpathia arrived, that the White Star line was contemplating the return of part of the Titanic crew to England by the steamship Cedric, and this information undoubtedly came from a government station.
John W. Griggs, one time Attorney General of the United States and Governor of New Jersey, is president of the Marconi Wireless Company of America. He said last night he had not heard that the chief engineer of the company was marketing the information of the disaster.
"This is a matter which will be looked into," he said. "I know nothing about it, had not heard of it before, and, of course, cannot say what will be done until it is brought to my attention in an official way."
New York Herald, April 22, 1912, page 5:
GIVES NEW LIGHT ON MARCONIGRAMS
Wireless Manager Denies His Company Tried to Suppress the Titanic News.
HAD ASKED FOR DETAILS
Mr. Sammis Admits Sending "Dollars" Message, but Says it Went Later Than Reported.
J. Bottomley, general manager of the Marconi Company of America, in a letter, and T. W. Sammis, chief engineer of the company, in an interview, assert that an injustice has been done the company and Mr. Sammis personally by the publication in the HERALD yesterday of the marconigrams sent to the wireless operators of the Carpathia and the Titanic, in which they were told to "Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures."
No question is raised that the marconigrams printed in the HERALD were not sent to the operators, but they assert that the messages were sent on Thursday, the last one when the Carpathia was steaming up the bay, and for that reason there could have been no suppression of news. The article in the HERALD did not mention the time the messages were sent because it did not have that fact in its possession, and Messrs. Bottomley and Sammis complain on that score alone.
The HERALD, with this article, as with all others, tried to ascertain all the facts before publishing it. When Mr. Sammis talked with a HERALD reporter at the Waldorf-Astoria, he made no mention of the time when the wireless message, which he admitted sending, was sent. If any inference was to be drawn from this interview with Mr. Sammis it was that the message was sent at an earlier time than Thursday night, and this interview was in the presence of at least two persons besides the reporter obtaining it, and was confirmed by one of them after it had been written out and before it was published.
Mr. Griggs Surprised.
Early on Saturday evening a HERALD reporter talked with John W. Griggs, one time Attorney General of the United States and now president of the Marconi Company of America. He was told that Mr. Sammis had sent a wireless message to the Marconi operator on board the Carpathia, advising him not to give out the details of the Titanic disaster, but to hold for four figures.
Mr. Griggs declared it was the first information he had received that any such message had been sent. Inasmuch as the last of the wireless messages to the operators said that Mr. Marconi had agreed to the sale of the article, the inventor was seen Saturday night in his apartments in the Holland House. He declared it was the first he had heard of it, and said he had not agreed to the sale of any article, but on the contrary had been of the opinion that it would have been much better to give out the news of the disaster.
Because it has been willing at all times to give all the sides of any question, the HERALD publishes the letter of Mr. Bottomley, in which he denies the sending of the messages was for the purpose of suppressing the news, and asserts that the company endeavored in get the details of the disaster. The letter follows:--
Calls Article Unjust.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD:--
The article in your issue of this morning under the heading, " 'Keep Your Mouth Shut: Big Money for You,' Was Message to Hide News," was a grave injustice to the Marconi company, and calls for immediate correction. Dealing with stolen wireless messages, with no mention of dates or other informing circumstances, it is not difficult to create a false and injurious impression; and such an impression is certainly sought to be conveyed by the assertion that any of the messages you quote was sent at a time when the sending of news from the Carpathia could be influenced, or that any of the messages was intended to suppress the sending of such news.
The quoted messages to the wireless operator on the Carpathia were sent about eight o'clock on Thursday evening when the Carpathia was coming up the bay, and not as you intimate on any of the early days following the Titanic disaster. They referred to an opportunity for the operators, after they had landed from the ship that evening and their duties to the public, to the Carpathia and to the Marconi company had been fully discharged, to sell to a newspaper narratives of their personal experiences, a thing they had a complete right to do, for these narratives were their own personal property. Who will begrudge these unfortunate and hard working men the renumeration they thus received, or because of it charge them with previous neglect of duty?
Asked for Information.
As to obtaining information of the Titanic disaster for the public, everything possible was done by the Marconi company, as will be seen when it is remembered that everything transmitted from a ship is under the control of its commander. I personally sent the following message to the operator on board the Carpathia:--
"Send earliest possible moment at least five hundred words reliable for public, our office. Remember Jack Binns.
"J. Bottomley, General Manager."
And this was followed by others to the ship and to the various land stations, but without effect.
My company depends on the transmission of messages for its support, and it is not reasonable to suppose it would for any reason cut off such a wonderful service as the first four days of the week offered,
General Manager of the Marconi Company, 254 West 133d street, New York, April 21, 1912.
Mr. Sammis Explains.
Mr. Sammis called up the HERALD office on the telephone last night and said an injustice had been done him in the story.
He admitted that he was talking with a HERALD reporter at the time he gave the interview in the Waldorf-Astoria, but said he did not know he was "talking with a reporter for a paper which had in its possession stolen messages." Neither did he deny the accuracy of the interview.
As a matter of fact the rumor that the wireless operators had received a message instructing them not to give out details of the disaster had been current since the Carpathia arrived Thursday night, and when Mr. Sammis was asked about such a message he admitted the sending without offering any explanation about the time, although he knew he was talking with a reporter who was seeking information for the purpose of publication.
Mr. Sammis said that the letter of Mr. Bottomley explained his reason for asserting that the publication of the article in the HERALD had done him an injustice.
New York Herald, April 22, 1912, page 5:
TOLD TO 'KEEP OUT' NAVY MAN CHARGES
Wireless Operator Aboard Cruiser Declares the Carpathia's Man Ignored President's Request.
[SPECIAL DISPATCH TO THE HERALD.]
PHILADELPHIA, Pa, Sunday.--That the Carpathia had not only refused to give the United States scout cruiser Chester information concerning the Titanic, but had told her wireless men to "keep out," was the statement made to-day by Frank Gaffney, chief operator of the Chester, now at League Island.
The refusal to answer, Gaffney declared, was after the Carpathia had been informed that President Taft was anxious to learn the fate of Major Butt and other prominent persons. Commander Decker, who was in charge of the cruiser, said the statements made by Harold Bride, that the navy operators were "wretched" was absurd.
The Chester, it is said, continued to flash questions to the Carpathia until the operators aboard the latter were compelled to answer because the high power of the navy's apparatus made the reading of messages to other points impossible.
"We made an effort to learn about Major Butt," said Gaffney, "and the only reply we got was 'keep out.' "
Gaffney declared that he and Frank Blackstock, the other operator aboard the Chester, probably would be witnesses before the Senate committee.
Gaffney declared that the operators on board the Carpathia left them under the impression that all had been saved. He said that at one time they did answer when inquiries were made for Major Butt by saying "He is not here."
One of the officers on board the Chester said this afternoon.--
"The operators of the Carpathia ignored everything that Gaffney and Blackstock sent or asked. Gaffney has been a wireless operator for more than six years, while Blackstock has been one for about three or four years. The former is capable of sending about forty-five words a minute and to say they are slow and wretched is absurd."