Communication in History: Steam Power & Wireless Telegraphy

In the decade prior to World War 1, as wireless use expanded, most people thought radio telegraphy was novel and useful. It allowed people to talk to one another across great distances, to think about what others were feeling and to respond at once without the time to reflect afforded by written communication.

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Source: (Wikipedia) Photophone, a telephone that conducted audio conversations wirelessly over modulated light beams.

But in 1912, as the Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean, this attitude changed dramatically. 104 years later today, I highlight some of the main communications implications brought on after the sinking of the Titanic and explain the public’s new way of thinking about “experience of the present”.

For Stephen Kern, writing in his book The Culture of Time & Space 1880 – 1918, “…a series of sweeping changes in technology and culture created distinctive new modes of thinking about and experiencing time and space. Technological innovations including the telephone, wireless telegraph, x-ray, cinema, bicycle, automobile, and airplane established the material foundation for this reorientation.” 

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Source: (Wikipedia) RMS Titanic, showing eight lifeboats along the starboard-side boat deck

The history of wireless telegraphy begins with a paper by James Clerk Maxwell in 1864, which argued that electromagnetic waves must exist and should be able to be propagated through space. In 1887 Heinrich Hertz produced those waves in a laboratory, and in 1894 Guglielmo Marconi devised an apparatus to transmit and received them.

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Source: (Wikipedia) Guglielmo Marconi

In 1904, the Marconi Company established the first wireless news service with nightly transmissions from Cornwall to Cape Cod. The first distress signal from a ship at sea was sent in 1899, and in 1909, following a collision between two ships, a wireless call saved 1,700 lives. By 1912 the wireless was an essential part of international communication linking land stations and ships at sea in an instantaneous, worldwide network.

On the night of April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., the largest moving structure ever built, The Titanic, steamed at a recklessly high speed into an ice field in the North Atlantic. At 12:15 a.m. the captain ordered his wireless operator to send the distress call. This caused airwaves to travel far enough for dozen ships to become aware of the disaster.

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Iceberg (Source) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/

Ten ships heard the call from over a hundred miles away and remained in contact but were too distant to help, as were also the Hellig Olav at 90 miles and the Niagara at 75 miles. The Mount Temple was 50 miles away but had to move slowly through ice fields. The Carpathia at 58 miles was the first to arrive, but not until almost two hours after the Titanic went down with 1,522 passengers.

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Rescue boats (Source) http://mightysteamers.tumblr.com/

During the two hours from the first distress call until the radio operators abandoned the radio room they sent 30-35 messages, which were heard as far away as Italy; but not by a ship four miles away. This particular ship, the Californian was close enough (approximately 19 miles away) to have saved all the passengers, was not in wireless contact. The wireless operator had hung up his earphones for the night about ten minutes before the Titanic sent out its first CQD.

The world began to get news of the disaster at 1:20 a.m., when a wireless station in Newfoundland picked up the message that the Titanic was sinking and was putting women off in boats.

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The New York Herald April 16, 1912 (Source): http://www.poynter.org/

An officer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company praised the communication that made it possible to follow the rescue. The telephone and wireless, he wrote, “enabled the peoples of many lands to stand together in sympathetic union, to share a common grief.” Although the wireless had been used before to save lives at sea, the rescue effort was particularly highlighted because so many were aware of the tragedy: the survivors watching from lifeboats, the wireless operators in distant places, and the frustrated seamen in the rescue ships.

John Slifko Communications in History Blog

Sinking of the RMS Titanic (Source): Wikipedia

This epic relationship between steam power and wireless telegraphy led numerous artists, poets, and novelists to later debate the issue of sequence versus simultaneity. Thinking on the subject was divided over two basic issues: “Whether the present is a sequence of single local events, or whether the present is an infinitesimal slice of time between past and future.” In essence, the ability to experience many distant events at the same time, made possible by the wireless and dramatized by the sinking of the Titanic, was part of this major change in public perception when thinking about the “experience of the present.”

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Appeared in New York Herald for better radio regulation (Source): http://earlyradiohistory.us/

In summary, the Titanic disaster illustrates issues about broadcasting and the limitations of monopolies early in the cycles of technological adaptation.  In effect, the Titanic used wireless technology that was rapidly becoming obsolete.  Yet American Marconi and its British parent company were notorious for a technological conservatism, especially with respect to using a rapidly obsolescing approach to radio communications – the spark transmitter.  It had been apparent since at least 1906 that continuous wave, high frequency transmissions were possible and far more efficient.  The New York Times said May 2: “Sixteen hundred lives were lost that might have been saved if the wireless communication had been what it should have been.” Four months later, on August 13, the Radio Act of 1912 is passed.

Sources:

http://www.environmentalhistory.org/revcomm/features/radio-and-the-titanic/

http://www.philosophychannel.com/index.php/article_detail/titanic_times

Communication in history: Technology, culture, society” by David Crowley and Paul Heyer

In March 2016, We Celebrate Women’s History Month

Throughout history, women have driven humanity forward on the path to a more equal and just society, contributing in innumerable ways to our character and progress as a people.  In the face of discrimination and undue hardship, they have never given up on the promise of America:  that with hard work and determination, nothing is out of reach. – President Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

In honor of National Women’s History month, the fast-growing family history site, Archives.com, published a visual infographic to honor some of the exceptional women who have made a difference and helped shape our world. In this blog post, I include the top 5 inspirational quotes these women have left behind:

5.Marie Curie Womens History month Celebration on John Slifkos Civil Society Blog site“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie, Polish physicist and chemist 

The importance of Marie Curie’s work is reflected in the numerous awards bestowed on her. She received many honorary science, medicine and law degrees and honorary memberships of learned societies throughout the world. Together with her husband, she was awarded half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the Prize. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in radioactivity. She also received, jointly with her husband, the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1903 and, in 1921, President Harding of the United States, on behalf of the women of America, presented her with one gram of radium in recognition of her service to science. – Source: nobleprize.org

4.Harriet Beecher Stowe Womens History Month 2016 on John Slifkos Civil Society blog“Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe, American abolitionist and author 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) published more than 30 books, but it was her best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which catapulted her to international celebrity and secured her place in history.

But Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not Stowe’s only work. Her broad range of interests resulted in such varied publications as children’s text books, advice books on homemaking and childrearing, biographies and religious studies. The informal, conversational style of her many novels permitted her to reach audiences that more scholarly or argumentative works would not, and encouraged everyday people to address such controversial topics as slavery, religious reform, and gender roles.  Harriet Beecher Stowe believed her actions could make a positive difference. Her words changed the world. – Source: harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/

3.Jane Austen celebrating Womens History Month 2016 on John slifkos civil society blog site“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” – Jane Austen, English novelist 

Jane Austen is a world renowned English author and, despite her having lived centuries ago, she commands a legion of fans around the world numbering in the millions today. Her timeless works- numbering just six completed novels- have been turned into a plethora of motion pictures, television shows and modern adaptations at a regular pace in addition to being translated into multiple languages that help her stories surpass cultural boundaries. These six works have gone on to become the model formula for the romance stories of today. – Source: www.janeausten.org

2. Susan B. Anthony Celebrating Womens History Month 2016 on John Slifkos Civil Society blog site“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” – Susan B. Anthony, Civil rights leader and suffragette

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) is perhaps the most widely known suffragist of her generation and has become an icon of the woman’s suffrage movement. Anthony traveled the country to give speeches, circulate petitions, and organize local women’s rights organizations. Stanton and Anthony founded the American Equal Rights Association and in 1868 became editors of its newspaper, The Revolution. The masthead of the newspaper proudly displayed their motto, “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” From 1881 to 1885, Anthony joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage in writing the History of Woman Suffrage. As a final tribute to Susan B. Anthony, the Nineteenth Amendment was named the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. It was ratified in 1920. – Source: www.nps.gov

1. Eleanor_Roosevelt_celebrating women's history month march 2016 on John Slifkos civil society blog site“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and humanitarian 

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest-serving First Lady throughout her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office (1933-1945). She was an American politician, diplomat, and activist who later served as a United Nations spokeswoman.  When Mrs. Roosevelt came to the White House in 1933, she understood social conditions better than any of her predecessors and she transformed the role of First Lady accordingly. She never shirked official entertaining; she greeted thousands with charming friendliness. She also broke precedent to hold press conferences, travel to all parts of the country, give lectures and radio broadcasts, and express her opinions candidly in a daily syndicated newspaper column, “My Day.”

This made her a tempting target for political enemies but her integrity, her graciousness, and her sincerity of purpose endeared her personally to many–from heads of state to servicemen she visited abroad during World War II. As she had written wistfully at 14: “…no matter how plain a woman may be if truth & loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her….” –Source: www.whitehouse.gov 

In conclusion, (and in the words of President Obama): “During Women’s History Month, we remember the trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books, and we honor their legacies by carrying forward the valuable lessons learned from the powerful examples they set.”