OTD 1901: With a Single Letter, a 'New Epoch' in Wireless Communication


It won't work, skeptics said. The curvature of the earth would not allow for a wireless transmission over such an immense distance. The signal would simply drift into endless space.

Yet on this day in 1901, 116 years ago, an undaunted Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi heard a faint "pip-pip-pip" from a receiver in Newfoundland, Canada. It was the letter "S" in Morse Code.

The gargantuan importance of the seemingly unremarkable sound was not lost on Marconi -- the transmission had been sent from Poldhu, Cornwall, more than 2,000 miles away. It was the first-ever transatlantic wireless signal and a distant precursor to real-time international communication that would define the modern era decades later.

Marconi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1909, saw it all coming.

"The result meant much more to me than the mere successful realization of an experiment," he reportedly wrote later. "As Sir Oliver Lodge has stated, it was an epoch in history. I now felt for the first time absolutely certain that the day would come when mankind would be able to send messages without wires not only across the Atlantic but between the farthermost ends of the earth."

Related: On This Day: First US-Russia 'Hot Line' Message Sent

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