Marconi's Miracle: The Wireless Bridging of the Atlantic
By D. R. Tarrant
REVIEWED BY RAY BINTLIFF
This book's title Marconi's Miracle-The Wireless Bridging of the Atlantic suggests some more Marconi lore. But the book contains much more than that. It describes the accomplishments of those scientists and inventors who paved the way for Marconi's practical application of their work. Those mentioned include Oersted, Hertz, Faraday, Maxwell and Morse. The author is a professional engineer with extensive experience in the communications field and a Canadian. While the book reflects a Canadian perspective with Newfoundland ties, it is not a highly technical book that an engineer might write. The book can be understood and enjoyed by both the technically inclined and non-technical readers.
As you might expect, Marconi's Miracle provides details of his background and accomplishments. But the book also weaves an interesting tale about Newfoundland's role in the fledging telegraph industry and the construction of transatlantic telegraph cables. Before cables spanned the Atlantic, news from Europe reached North America by ship. Tarrant tells how the Associated Press stationed a boat at Cape Race in Newfoundland to meet transatlantic ships on their way to New York and Halifax. News and messages from Europe were placed in watertight containers, thrown overboard from transatlantic steamers and retrieved by smaller boats. The messages were then telegraphed to North America by the Cape Race telegraph office. Little wonder that the transatlantic cable, and later, wireless were considered major technological advances.
The author covers Marconi's activities in Newfoundland in great detail. He tells of the conflict between the Anglo-American Telegraph Co. and Marconi Wireless. Anglo-American, a transatlantic cable company, held sole rights to telegraphic operations in Newfoundland. It threatened court action if Marconi attempted to establish a wireless station in Newfoundland. Anglo-American regarded Marconi's successful transatlantic transmission and his promise of lower message rates as a competitive threat that required a response. Of course Marconi went on to establish wireless stations in other North American locations, but Newfoundland just missed being the first.
Obviously, Marconi was wary of Anglo-American when he first arrived in Newfoundland because he did not reveal the true purpose of his visit. He indicated that he intended to conduct wireless experiments with shipping in the area and made no mention of his plan to receive transatlantic transmissions.
The book tells of Marconi's successes, as well as his disappointments, such as the storm damaged antenna systems at Poldhu in Cornwall and Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It was the loss of these elaborate antenna systems that forced him to rethink his plans for the transatlantic trials. With a makeshift antenna at Poldhu, he wisely chose to shorten the transmission path and selected Newfoundland (about 1,000 miles closer to Poldhu) as the location for his receiving station. His original plans called for a transmitting and receiving capability on each side of the Atlantic.
Although centered on Marconi's activities in Newfoundland, the author's coverage of Marconi's life is quite complete. The book contains over 30 black and white illustrations, appendices and a bibliography. Sources of the interesting photographs reproduced in the book include Marconi plc, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parks Canada, and the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tarrant takes the reader back 100 years to that epic event at Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland and the remarkable individuals who made it happen.
Marconi's Miracle contains 109 pages and is printed in a 9" x 6" format with a hard cover. It may be ordered from the publisher, Flanker Press Ltd., P.O. Box 2522, Stn. C, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, A1C 6K1. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It is priced at $11.95 U.S. Please check for ordering and shipping information.
(Ray Bintliff, 2 Powder Horn Lane, Acton, MA 01720)