12 December

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)

Marconi Hears Code

On December 12, 1901, at St. John's, Newfoundland, Marconi proved that wireless signals could be sent across the Atlantic. This was one of the most important developments in the world, and yet Marconi was almost run out of town!

In 1901, after important experiments in conjunction with the Royal Navy, Marconi built a transmitter at Poldhu, Cornwall. Then he established a receiving station at St. John's. His aerial was a 600-foot wire hoisted into the air by a kite. Poldhu had been instructed to transmit the letter "S" in Morse code (three dots) every day for three hours beginning at 3 p.m., G.M.T. The experiments began on December 10, 1901, but the kite blew away. Another aerial was lost the next day, but on December 12, at 12:30, Newfoundland time, a 400-foot aerial was flying. Suddenly the receiver began clicking. Marconi was listening with C. S. Kemp, P. W. Paget, and several fishermen from the neighbourhood. He was so excited that he shouted in Italian, "Do you hear that?" They all listened carefully, and the three dots could be heard clearly. There was no doubt about it. The three dots being sent from Poldhu, 2,000 miles away, were being received at St. John's. They had cost about $200,000!

Marconi only had time to experiment for a few more days before he was told to leave St. John's as the Submarine Cable Company had exclusive communication rights from Newfoundland for fifty years. He went to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where he met Alex Johnson, a newspaper publisher, who introduced him to Prime Minister Laurier and Finance Minister Fielding. They gave him $80,000 to continue his experiments from Glace Bay.

Some scientists were claiming that the messages from Poldhu had been faked. Others said that although wireless signals had traveled from east to west, they would not go in the opposite direction against the movement of the earth. Marconi proved them wrong on December 5, 1902, when the signals he sent from Glace Bay were heard in Britain. On December 15, Governor-General Minto sent this message: "To His Majesty the King, London: May I be permitted by means of this first wireless message, to congratulate Your Majesty on the success of Marconi's great invention connecting England and Canada— Minto."


12 December

-1813    Captain Black of the Royal Navy captured Fort Astoria (see October 6).

-1831    W. L. Mackenzie was expelled from the Legislature of Upper Canada. He was expelled five times in three years (see January 2) .

-1837    Dr. Wolfred Nelson was captured and exiled during the Lower Canada Rebellion.

-1885    The first freight train carrying Manitoba wheat left Portage for Montreal.

-1949    Mrs. Nancy Hodges was appointed Speaker of the British Columbia Legislature. She was the first woman Speaker in the British Commonwealth.

-1951    The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority was established.