MARCONI'S DEMONSTRATION OF THE POSSIBILITY OF TRANSOCEANIC TELEGRAPHY AT FROM FIVE CENTS TO TEN CENTS A WORD -- STATIONS TO COST ONLY ABOUT $200,000 -- IN THE CAPE COD STATION WHEN MESSAGES ARE SENT TO ENGLAND
WIRELESS telegraphy is a commercial fact. When Marconi, after months of final preparation, sent, on January 19th, President Roosevelt's message to King Edward from Cape Cod to Poldhu, the last doubt vanished. While I was at South Wellfleet on Cape Cod--where I went to meet the inventor and to get a view of his work--he said that in six months his invention would be on a business footing. It was the cautious remark of a man who was assured of his success. The experimental stage of wireless telegraphy is passed.
Imagination can hardly picture a drearier place than the Marconi station at South Wellfleet. Surrounded by a stockade, guarded night and day, the four towers rise two hundred and ten feet above the gray sand dunes, while beneath squat a few low buildings constituting the plant. Here I found Marconi the day after his successful test. In appearance he suggests the Englishman rather than the Italian--his mother was Irish and he studied at an English school. His tastes are all English. He has a short, quick, determined way of talking.
Visitors are not allowed to see his inventions in operation. When I asked to see him send and receive a message he hesitated. But he decided quickly.
"Come on," he said.
Walking along the board-walk under the great towers, it was noticed that from the horizontal stay-wire running between the two northerly towers were strung a number of telegraph wires, about half-way down converging like those of a gigantic harp.
"These wires receive and send out the ether waves," said Marconi. "There are fifty of them there, which, I have found, send and transmit the waves with sufficient power to carry to England. I used to think that you needed great heights; now I find that the more wires you have the less height you need. These fifty wires are joined to the wire running into the operating room. But come in here."
He opened the door, and the visitors entered a room where few have been. The centre of this place was filled with great box-like Leyden jars; while at the easterly side was the magnetic-detector which has replaced the coherer in receiving messages; on the south side was the induction coil and great zinc and copper tanks of oil. Over the Leyden jars, which occupied the greater portion of the room, were four huge sheets of zinc bound with copper. On the concrete floor were rubber mats, and the walls and low ceiling were of hardwood. Here some important devices were completed late in January and some important discoveries made. Queer instruments stored in all parts of the room evidently played their part in the general scheme, but no one but Marconi knew what they were or what they were for. On a northerly wall over a platform were tables with a brass sending-key and a great wooden lever also used for sending. Marconi stood on this platform, his hand resting near the sender.
"Now," he said, "when I signal to the electrician fifty thousand volts will come into the room. Stand up here by me and don't touch anything. Keep away from those jars, because the current does not wait for you to touch it. It will jump to you."
I confess I stood as close to Marconi on the little platform as I could. A volt measures speed; an ampere means volume--Marconi has secured great speed with little volume; so that, if anything slipped and the fifty thousand volts passed through you, you would get about the same shock as though you had formed a ground connection with a trolley wire, which measures about five hundred volts, but has fearful amperage. This scene is indelibly stamped in my memory: the room, packed with its queer, mysterious instruments, of some of which the electrical world knows nothing, and that slight, youthful figure of Marconi, with his eyes fixed on the indicator, his sensitive hands on the key. You thought of what this man of twenty-nine had accomplished--of his long fight, his courage; and here you saw him, in the midst of that accomplishment, ready to reveal it to his wondering companions.
"All ready!" he cried to the electrician who stood in the power-room watching the inventor through the long connecting hallway. A lever was pulled and a dim hum filled the room. The indicator of the volt meter began to race past all sorts of high figures on the face of the dial.
"Now I'll send to Poldhu." He pressed the key.
There was a blinding flash of bluish light, for with each movement of the key great sparks jumped two inches between the two silvered knobs of the induction coil. One knob of this coil is connected with the earth, forming the ground connection, the other with the wire leading to the aerial wires. Each spark means an oscillating impulse from the battery to the aerial wire, and from the wire the oscillations of ether occur which carry through space at the speed of 187,000 miles a second. With the blinding flash accompanying each movement of the key occurs a report to be compared accurately with the noise attending the discharge of a Krag-Jorgenson rifle. It was terrifying--the light, the noise, and in the midst of it all the inventor calmly pressing the key, making more noise, more light. Imagine a company of infantry firing at will in a tunnel and you can understand the sound that accompanies sending a message. Marconi, who stuffs cotton in his ears when sending, is now experimenting to deaden this sound. But somehow, to one impressed by the fact that here, in this very room, a message was being sent through the air across that gloomy stretch of 3,000 miles of ocean, the noise and the light seemed fitting--gave the proper touch of the super-human, of force, of intensity.
Quite different was the process of receiving. When the light and the banging ceased there was a strange silence as Marconi walked over to the receiving instrument. He set in motion the wheels of the magnetic-detector. No sound came at first, and while waiting Marconi pointed to the detector. The incoming oscillations from Cape Breton, he said, would be caught there. He pointed to a wire passing around the outside of the two wheels of the detector. This wire is of soft iron, insulated, through which a slight alternating current passes. The ether waves disturb this current sufficiently to cause either a dot or a dash, as the case may be, and this is recorded on a ticker. It was a strange experience. Suddenly the detector began to move and the ticker to click. Every one started forward. Slowly the tape ran out of the ticker--dot, dot, dash--so they came; and by placing a telephone receiver to your ear you could hear plainly the b-r-r-rang of the induction coil hundreds of miles away. While the phenomenon was taking place it was difficult to tell whether the faint sound one heard was the impulse, coming hundreds of miles through the air, or one's own heart beating. It is impossible to analyze your impressions in that place.
"Of course unforeseen things may occur, but I think now we shall be on a business footing inside of six months," said Marconi afterward. "Overland or across sea, it makes no difference; you know we have sent messages overland from Cornwall to St. Petersburg, 1,500 miles. The waves will go through anything. For instance, we have Nova Scotia and Newfoundland between this station and Poldhu, but the ether waves travel all right. Wireless telegraphy is assured."
If any person can invent a name for wireless messages, he will have the thanks of Marconi. He calls them etherographs, for want of a better term.
Marconi, is not the discoverer of the ether waves; neither did he evolve the theory of wireless communication, which he has brought to such a practical realization. He acknowledges adequately the work of predecessors in leading up to his invention: Professor S. F. B. Morse, Doctor Oliver Lodge, Sir William Preece, Sir William Crookes, Edison, Tesla, who perhaps came nearer than any to working out a system of wireless communication; Hertz, the discoverer of Hertzian waves, and Professors Trowbridge and Dolbears, of America. He used the coherer invented by Branley and Calzecchi. Although when criticized on this point he abandoned that important instrument for receiving messages, and produced his magnetic-detector; he utilized Professor Rhigi's oscillators and the discoveries of Henry and Hertz. But all these were simply parts: wireless telegraphy in its entirety, its successful application, its brilliant originality, is absolutely his.
The idea of it, so Marconi has stated, came in 1894, while reading in an electric journal an account of the work of Professor Hertz with ether waves. He was interested in the Hertzian theory that waves of ether could be carried through space; but feeling that great numbers of scientists must be pursuing the phenomenon, Marconi did nothing for a year. Then hearing nothing from the world of science, he began to investigate for himself. For detecting the waves sent from his oscillator Hertz used a metal hoop broken by a small gap. When the hoop was brought within the influence of the transmitting instrument it was noticed that a small spark leaped across the gap in the hoop. This showed that the waves when radiated into space could be detected at a distance by this metal hoop. The thought came to Marconi that if he could interrupt the waves en route, so to speak, from the oscillator, breaking them up into long and short periods, similar interruptions would be detected in the spark of the metal hoop. A short emission of the transmitted waves would signify the dot of the Morse code; a long emission, the dash; and these would be registered in the distant receiver. Later Marconi conferred with Professor Rhigi, and in 1894 Doctor Oliver Lodge issued a book publishing the result of his experiments with the ether waves, suggesting a number of possibilities, but neglecting that of telegraphy altogether. Marconi utilized all available material, but it is only fair to say that new elements of his own invention made long-distance wireless communication a success.
Briefly, the Marconi system of telegraphy consists of setting in motion, by means of his transmitter, electric waves, which pass through the ether (a colorless, rarefied, unknown agent, supposed to fill all space) and are received on a wire or wires strung in the air. Like water, ether has waves, which may be set in motion just as waves from a stone thrown in a pond--it is the same principle exactly. Air waves and ether waves are totally different; sound is the result of the vibration of air; light the result of vibration of ether. Air waves travel infinitely more slowly than ether waves; that is the reason you see the lightning flash before you hear the thunder. Electricity means etheric vibration. Wireless telegraphy simply means the unharnessing of electricity which has long been transmitted only by wire. Marconi has demonstrated that since ether is everywhere the waves can be set in motion and sent on long journeys without the medium of wires as well as with them. But after these deductions he had first to invent two mechanical processes--one for setting the ether waves in motion so that they would travel great distances, and the other for receiving and registering these waves. Finally he evolved an apparatus which, when a current from a battery passed through it, would cause the current to jump between two brass or silver balls, described in the foregoing, and, passing thus into the aerial wire, would be radiated into space. By turning this current on and off with an ordinary sending-key its waves would be divided into dots and dashes. To catch these waves an aerial wire was hung up many miles away. The waves which the wire catches are too weak to operate an ordinary telegraph instrument. In order that they might be strengthened Marconi utilized the coherer of Calzecchi and Branley. The coherer was a little glass tube two inches long, plugged at each end with silver plugs. The ends of these plugs very nearly met in the middle of the tube. Within the narrow space in the tube were little atoms of nickel and silver. The incoming ether waves, though not strong enough to work a telegraph sounder, are strong enough to cause the loose silver and nickel particles to cohere. When the particles are loose they will not carry an electric current; when they cohere they are good conductors of electricity. Thus when they cohere, a current from a powerful battery runs through the tube, and operating the Morse instrument, causes the ether wave which entered the coherer in the first plate to be registered as a dot or dash, as the case may be. As soon as this has been recorded, a little tapper causes the particles to fall loose, as it were, and thus it is ready for the next wave. Marconi has abandoned this coherer now, however. Instead, he uses the magnetic-detector.
Around two wooden wheels half a foot in circumference runs a wire consisting of soft iron, insulated, through which a slight alternating current passes. The magnet causes the current to alternate, which means flowing first one way around the wheels, then the other way. The ether waves disturb the regular flow of this current, and additional current, pouring in at the moment of the disturbances, increases the force of the disturbing waves so that it operates the Morse instrument.
In his first experiment Marconi believed that the ether waves could be sent great distances only from great heights; so he used kites to carry his receiving and sending wires, believing that the curve of the earth hindered the progress of the waves. Recent experiments have shown, however, that the waves conform to the earth's curve, and that the aerial wires need not be very high provided sufficient power be utilized in transmission. The sending of great power caused the instruments to become overheated, and this was one of the problems solved recently at Cape Cod. From the appearance of the operating room it looks as though oil were the chief medium in keeping the instruments cool while fifty thousand volts were being shot into aerial wire; but that, of course, is only conjecture.
Marconi first began to experiment with his invention in his father's fields in Bologna. Later he came to London, working in the laboratory of Sir William Preece. Then came signals overland on Salisbury Plain, through walls and houses and everything else; and finally, in 1897, came the great success of sending a message from the Needles on the English Coast to the Isle of Wight. In July, 1898, came its practical test and its complete success, by the Dublin Daily Express, in reporting the Kingstown yachting regatta. Since then Marconi has persevered and fought under all sorts of discouragements and doubts until wireless telegraphy is about to become something that will be quietly accepted, just as the telephone and telegraph were, each in its turn.
The extent of its commercial success is already remarkable. In England there is the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, capitalized at $5,000,000. In this country the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America is capitalized at $6,500,000; and the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada has just been organized. The Italian Government deals personally with Marconi, and he is now preparing to establish wireless connections between Italy and Argentina, a distance of some six thousand miles. With the United States the American Company is putting through its system from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska; and in other ways this government is experimenting with different systems of wireless telegraphy. Germany is taking up the Arco-Slaby system, which has not yet been brought to the perfection of the Marconi invention. France is experimenting with various plans, and so is Russia. About seventy British cruisers and a number of English lightships have the Marconi system installed, and the great ocean liners find it almost a necessity. Off our coast the Nantucket lightship supplies information of incoming vessels hours before they would otherwise be reported. The United Fruit Company, controlling the tropical fruit trade of the Gulf of Mexico, has contracted with Marconi for the establishment of stations at its Central and South American ports. Every ship of the company will be fitted with the Marconi apparatus and will carry an operator. Other private concerns in all parts of the globe are taking an active interest in the development of wireless telegraphy. The public believed in the invention before its success was assured. Marconi thoroughly believes that it will supersede to a great extent the telegraph and the cable. The wireless system will secure almost a monopoly in the sending of matter that cannot be codified, as, for instance, stock reports and press matter. Marconi says that written-out matters can be sent in full across the ocean at ten cents a word for commercial matter and five cents a word for press matter, the rates now established at Glace Bay; and that he is prepared to meet any reductions his competitors may make. He promises a reduction anyway when improved facilities and the volume of business warrant it. Indeed, Marconi prophesies that in time the rates will be so lowered as to render it no more costly to send a message from New York to London than it costs now to telegraph from New York to Philadelphia. It costs only $200,000 to install a transatlantic wireless telegraph system, and once installed there is nothing to get out of order: no breakages to repair, except, probably, a wire or so once in a while. The repairs for one year to a perfected wireless telegraph system should not equal the cost of keeping a cable repair steamship in commission for two months.
The scheme of tuning a sending instrument so that it will send ether waves vibrating a specific number of times a second, and be received only by a receiving instrument tuned to receive just that number of vibrations, is one of the greatest of the Marconi achievements. It had been maintained that a rival to the concern using the wireless system could simply rig up the aerial wire and catch the ether message also. The waves radiate in all directions, all efforts to send them in one direction only like a searchlight having failed where great distance is involved. This, too, was the fear expressed in regard to the war-ships of nations at war. But now the system of tuning has obviated all this. Every firm or country may have their instruments tuned to send and receive only a certain number of vibrations by the ether waves.
Marconi says that there is no limit to the distance of wireless communication. It is only a question of increasing the power of the apparatus. He counts on sending messages across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Japan in due time. England still refuses to allow Marconi to transmit messages overland, and until that is done public business by wireless telegraphy will be delayed.
Within a short time stations will be erected at Seattle and San Francisco to open communication between these ports and vessels at sea. The State of Washington and Alaska are now being connected; and in a short time the whole of the Pacific Coast will be lined with stations for communication with shipping. On the Atlantic the Marconi Company already has three such stations, all in active operation--one at Sagaponack, on the end of Long Island; another at Babylon, Long Island, and one at the Nantucket lightship. They are working perfectly and a large amount of business is already being transacted. A school of wireless telegraphy has been established in Babylon where telegraph operators are instructed in the use of the delicate instruments. It is only the best operators who can become successful in sending and receiving; the finest sense of hearing is requisite. There are from four to six students in the school all the time, and they learn the system in about three weeks. They receive free lodging at the quarters of the company, and when they have finished the course of instruction they are employed at a salary of from $60 to $100 a month.
With the short-distance stations on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the transatlantic stations in Canada, England and this country and the future trans-Pacific wireless system, there will be communication with all parts of the world. A station is soon to be erected in South Africa; and at Monte Mario, Italy, the most powerful station in the world will shortly be built, at which place Marconi will work out the remaining problems of wireless telegraphy. Among other things at Cape Cod he solved the minimum power necessary to carry the ether waves across the Atlantic.
There seems no limit to the pictures that one's imagination sees in the future. Every newspaper office in the land might be equipped with wireless receivers. Every home could have one. A message received of an event anywhere could be "marconied" simultaneously to every newspaper in the land, and household subscribers could receive their news on ticker tapes. Marconi has already thought of this project. When Marconi's work is completed France can talk to Russia without paying any other government, and England can communicate with Italy direct without the aid of branch systems. It means much to international politics. Marconi says it is just as easy to communicate by wireless telegraphy over land for any distance as it is across the water. He did not believe this at first, but now he finds that it is so.
The equipping of ocean greyhounds with the Marconi system has taken away part of the dread and mystery of the sea. Steamships can now communicate with one another or with the shore at a distance of hundreds of miles, the case of the American liner Philadelphia, which talked with Poldhu from midocean, 1,551 miles, on February 22, 1902, coming to mind. Recently the Philadelphia and the Lucania played a chess game en route, and a plan of supplying liners with daily news from shore at $5.00 a day is now being contemplated. In April, 1899, the Goodwin Sands lightship off the English coast was struck in a collision, and with her Marconi apparatus was able to send for assistance across twelve miles of ocean. Life-saving stations along the coast of England have frequently received warning, by the wireless system attached to outlying lighthouses, that vessels were drifting ashore through the fog. When the invention is perfected so that the Weather Bureau can flash warnings from shore stations to the coasting fleet plying the coastwise lanes a great step will have been taken; but at present the tests of this nature, owing to various atmospheric disturbances, have not met with complete success.
It was only a little more than a half-century ago that the present network of telegraph wires which knits continents together began with Morse's invention. A comparatively few years later the whole world was amazed at the successful laying of the first transoceanic cable. And now comes this new step, more wonderful perhaps than either of its predecessors. The wonder of this invention, the simplicity of it, strike the imagination with the same sense of awe that thrills one for the moment when in a blinding flash Marconi talks with Poldhu.