Marconi and His Great Achievements

by Ray Stannard Baker

At noon on Thursday (December 12, 1901), Marconi sat waiting, a telephone receiver at his ear, in a room of the old barracks on Signal Hill. To him it must have been a moment of painful stress and expectation. Arranged on the table before him, all its parts within easy reach of his hand, was the delicate receiving instrument, the supreme product of years of the inventor's life, now to be submitted to a decisive test. A wire ran out through the window, thence to a pole, thence upward to the kite which could be seen swaying high overhead. It was a bluff, raw day; at the base of the cliff 300 feet below thundered a cold sea; oceanward through the mist rose dimly the rude outlines of Cape Spear, the easternmost reach of the North American Continent. Beyond that rolled the unbroken ocean, nearly 2,000 miles to the coast of the British Isles. Across the harbor the city of St. John's lay on its hillside wrapped in fog; no one had taken enough interest in the experiments to come up here through the snow to Signal Hill. Even the ubiquitous reporter was absent. In Cabot Tower, near at hand, the old signalman stood looking out to sea, watching for ships, and little dreaming of the mysterious messages coming that way from England. Standing on that bleak hill and gazing out over the waste of water to the eastward, one finds it difficult indeed to realize that this wonder could have become a reality. The faith of the inventor in his creation, in the kite-wire, and in the instruments which had grown under his hand, was unshaken.

"I believed from the first," he told me, "that I would be successful in getting signals across the Atlantic."

Only two persons were present that Thursday afternoon in the room where the instruments were set up—Mr. Marconi and Mr. Kemp. Everything had been done that could be done. The receiving apparatus was of unusual sensitiveness, so that it would catch even the faintest evidence of the signals. A telephone receiver, which is no part of the ordinary instrument, had been supplied, so that the slightest clicking of the dots might be conveyed to the inventor's ear. For nearly half an hour not a sound broke the silence of the room. Then quite suddenly Mr. Kemp heard the sharp click of the tapper as it struck against the coherer; this, of course, was not the signal, yet it was an indication that something was coming. The inventor's face showed no evidence of excitement. Presently he said:

"See if you can hear anything, Kemp."

Mr. Kemp took the receiver, and a moment later, faintly and yet distinctly and unmistakably, came three little clicks—the dots of the letter S, tapped out an instant before in England. At ten minutes past one, more signals came, and both Mr. Marconi and Mr. Kemp assured themselves again and again that there could be no mistake. During this time the kite gyrated so wildly in the air that the receiving wire was not maintained at the same height, as it should have been; but again, at twenty minutes after two, other repetitions of the signal were received. Thus the problem was solved. One of the great wonders of science had been wrought.