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Guglielmo Marconi

A significant milestone in communication was observed on January 19, 2003. It was the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic wireless message transmitted between South Wellfleet, Massachusetts and England.

The figure behind this historic moment was Guglielmo Marconi, born in Bologna, Italy on April 25, 1874. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America had been conducting experiments from Cape Cod since 1901.

On eight acres of land facing the Atlantic Ocean, Marconi built an antenna field consisting of twenty 200-foot ship's masts in a large circle. It was modeled after his wireless array in Poldhu, England. On September 17, 1901, the British version blew down in a storm. It was replaced by two 150-foot masts with a wire suspended from the tops.

Two months later a storm knocked down the Cape Cod towers. In February, 1902 they were replaced by four wooden towers rising 210 feet above the horizon. Each was 24-feet square at the bottom, 8-feet square at the top, and painted barn red. Each tower stood on a four foot thick square of cement.

When the spark gap transmitting apparatus in the building at the base of the towers was in full operation, residents up and down the coast could hear the noise. Members of the U.S. Life Saving Service walking patrol on the Cape's eastern beaches could see massive blue sparks dancing from the antennae.

Late on the evening of January 18, 1903, Marconi stepped to the telegraph key and tapped out a message from President Teddy Roosevelt to the King of England. It flew through the air a distance of 3,000 miles eliciting a response from His Majesty.

The wireless response was rushed by horse to the Wellfleet telegraph station and forwarded to Washington.

New York Times, January 19, 1903
postcard showing Marconi Wireless Station at South Wellfleet on Cape Cod
By 1916, the sea was eroding the cliff on which Marconi Station stood. Though built 165 feet back from the edge, the forces of erosion were not to be denied. By 1920 the station was dismantled. In 2003 the concrete remains of two tower bases are still visible, but two others long ago washed out to sea. The site is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and there is a pavilion and wooden observation deck for spectators.
I.S. Postal Service commemerative piece
Guglielmo Marconi died July 20, 1937. An excellent source of information is Michael E. Whatley's book, "Marconi Wireless on Cape Cod, South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1901-1917."


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