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March 24, 1997
(Tourism, Culture and Recreation)

Matthew's New Communication System Follows Marconi's Lead

Sandra Kelly, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, received the first trans-Atlantic telephone call today which originated from on board the Matthew. The call was the first using the new communications system which was installed by Stratos Mobile Network. Matthew Captain David Alan-Williams made the call to the CBC Radio studios in St. John's where it was received by Ms. Kelly and Derrick Rowe, CEO of Stratos Mobile Network.

"The Captain made the call as the Matthew was sailing down the English coast near Cornwall," the minister said. "Marconi made the first wireless transmission from St. John's to Poldhu in Cornwall, England. The first trans-Atlantic cable link also originated from Great Britain to Heart's Content, Newfoundland. Today we've established yet another connection between Britain and Newfoundland."

The Matthew has just been fitted with a state-of-the-art satellite communications system which allows it to make international telephone, television and computer connections. Ms. Kelly and Mr. Rowe received the "live" call during the CBC's Radio Noon.

The Matthew has just completed a successful series of sea trials in anticipation of the trans-Atlantic voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador. The ship is scheduled to depart Bristol, England on May 2 to arrive in Bonavista on June 24 and then to 16 other ports of call on the island and one in Labrador.

Ms. Kelly congratulated Captain David Alan-Williams on the sea trials, and told him that the people of the province are very excited about the event. Captain Alan-Williams made a special point to invite school children to follow the voyage via the internet which is now available in every school in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Contact: Laura Cochrane, Director of Communications, (709) 729- 0928.

A Brief History of Tele-communications
Between the Old World and the New World

  • Newfoundland became a crucial link in communication between the New World and the Old World in the 17th and 18th centuries. The province, then a British colony, would play an important role in the global communications revolution which followed the invention of the electric telegraph in 1837.
  • By mid-century, a vast network of telegraph lines connected the major population centres in Europe and on the North American mainland. But the 2,000-mile wide Atlantic Ocean separated them and remained as a major challenge.
  • In 1851, Frederick Gisborne, an English telegraphic engineer, projected a trans-Newfoundland telegraph line with a submarine cable link across the Cabot Strait to Nova Scotia.
  • After Gisborne became bankrupt three years later, an American syndicate, Cyrus W. Field, took charge of the project. The Cabot Strait cable was only a beginning for Field. He was determined to complete a submarine trans-Atlantic cable line, connecting Europe and America via Newfoundland.
  • After an unsuccessful attempt in the summer of 1855, Field's New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Co., succeeded in laying a submarine cable across the Cabot Strait in 1856.
  • The Newfoundland government telegraph service began in 1877. While a trans-Newfoundland cable was being laid, Field occupied himself with designing a submarine cable and negotiated $1.25 million for the trans-Atlantic operation. It was decided to use stranded copper as a core conductor insulated with layers of "gutta percha", a rubber-like extract from Malaya. This material was then, in turn, protected by an outer covering of pitch, tar, and wax.
  • In August 1857, the USS Niagara and the HMS Agamemnon made two unsuccessful attempts to lay the cable from Valentia, Ireland to Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland (the present-day site of the Hibernia oil-rig, the world's largest engineering feat). Three more attempts were made in June 1858. Finally, on the sixth attempt in July, each vessel landed its end of the cable at the assigned destinations.
  • This superb achievement was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. However, disappointment followed after two months when an unknown rupture in the cable occurred and ruined its conductivity.
  • In 1864, Field began making a new cable superior to the one previously laid. It was manufactured in a single length, 2,300 nautical miles long and weighing 5,000 tons. A large ship was needed to carry such a gigantic cable. In 1864, there was only one vessel suitable, The Great Eastern. She attempted to lay the cable in 1865 from Valentia to Heart's Content, but due to incidents of sabotage, lost the cable and her lifting gear 1,200 miles out to sea. In 1866, they tried again and this time succeeded after an uneventful voyage across the Atlantic. A week later, a second trans-Atlantic cable landed at Heart's Content. Festivities on both sides of the Atlantic were held to celebrate the greatest technological achievement of the age.
  • Victoria Station at Heart's Content remained in service until 1965 after trans-ocean telephone cable and satellite communication made it obsolete.
  • The first telephone was installed in Newfoundland in 1878.
  • On December 12, 1901, at 12:30 p.m. Newfoundland time, Guglielmo Marconi proved that wireless telegraphy could span the Atlantic Ocean. The signal in morse code, the letter "S", was faintly received on top of Signal Hill in St. John's, from Poldhu, Cornwall, England, 1,250 miles away. It was the first trans- Atlantic wireless signal. Initially, Marconi had planned to try to receive the signal from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. However, after the antenna in Poldhu was damaged in a storm, he changed his location to St. John's due to its closeness to Poldhu.
  • Marconi began setting up in a receiving station in an old military barracks on Signal Hill, then being used as a hospital. He and his assistants made several attempts to elevate an aerial using 14-foot balloons and kites which captivated the attention of St. John's residents. Finally a fixed support for the aerial was constructed around noon on Thursday, December 12, 1901.
  • Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves in 1888. Marconi began experimenting with them in 1894-95 over distances of up to 1 1/2 miles in Italy, his home country.
  • Marconi relocated to England in 1895 after the Italian government refused his offer of a demonstration. In June 1896, he conducted his first official tests and became known as the inventor of the wireless. However, Marconi's contribution was an improvement to the existing technology.
  • In 1897, Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited, and two years later he sent the first message across the English Channel, a distance of 32 miles. But there were two obstacles to Marconi's work. First, the British Post Office had a monopoly of all telegraphic communications in Britain, and similar restrictions existed in many other countries. It was obvious that if his company was to succeed, it would have to compete with the undersea cable companies. Secondly, some members of the scientific community did not believe Marconi's distance claims on theoretical grounds - that electromagnetic waves, like light, could not bend around the surface of the earth. In the 1920s, a reflecting layer was discovered. In order to prove his theory, he decided to choose a distance with more grandeur in order to capture people's attention. He chose transmitting across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The transmitting station was constructed at Poldhu Cove in southwest Cornwall between October 1900 and March 1901. Marconi then selected a site for the second station at South Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He also had initially intended on a two- way transmission, but following the storm in Poldhu which toppled 20 masts of the antenna system, and risking his credibility as well as his L50,000 investment, Marconi elected sending a one-way message from Poldhu.
  • Marconi made other attempts to repeat the feat the following day using kites, but three kites blew away. His assistant also tried attaching an antenna wire to an iceberg in the Narrows in St. John's, but this also failed. Instead, Marconi broke the news to his London office and to the media world-wide.
  • As a result of a 50-year agreement between the Anglo-American Telegraph Company and the British Government in 1854, Marconi did not receive permission to erect a wireless station in Newfoundland. Instead, Marconi accepted an offer from the Nova Scotian government and established the first wireless telegraph office at Tablehead, Glace Bay, Cape Breton in 1902. Consequently, the first transatlantic wireless service began on December 15.
  • It wasn't until 1933 that the Canadian Marconi Company opened a wireless communication station in Newfoundland, on the second floor of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.
1997 03 24 5:05 p.m.

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