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The First Year

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 5 years, 8 months ago

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The First Year

The first ordinary (statutory) meeting of the Company was held at the Company’s offices, Finch Lane, London, on Wednesday, August 1, 1900, with Major S. Flood Page in the Chair. This was a purely formal meeting at which no resolutions could be proposed, but the Chairman was able to give some information regarding the progress which had been made. The Board, of course, looked to the foreign directors of the Company to attend to its business abroad. They were all men of ‘high consideration, great experience, and strong financial position, representing almost every country in Europe’. Many conversations had been held with the Belgian ministers concerned with the Telegraph and Posts and Marine and also with the Prime Minister of Belgium, and a site had been determined upon for the erection of the first Marconi station in Belgium. A Belgian steamer was about to be fitted. Another director had been added to the Board in M. Edgar St. Paul de Sincay, of Paris, who was Administrateur des Chargeurs Reunis of Havre, a large and successful French shipping company. The French directors were approaching the French Government and were about to enter into negotiations with a view to obtaining permission for concessions for the Company in France. Negotiations had been commenced with the Spanish Government, and the Company, through its London WIRELESS AT SEA offices, was in close communication with Newfoundland with a view to establishing stations there.

 

The Marconi Company’s Task

This was the difficult one of persuading those Governments who had monopoly of the telegraph services that the Company was going to help them; that if the Company succeeded it would increase the Governments’ revenue and would in no sense be in competition with them; and if they allowed the Company to erect shore wireless stations, they would undertake to establish a Marconi service with ships by which communication could be carried on and business would therefore accrue to them in that manner. The experiments which Marconi was carrying out gave very great promise that the system would be successful, scientifically and commercially.

 

Some difficulty had been experienced with the British Post Office, but a contract had been made with the British Navy arranging that thirty-two ships or torpedo stations would be equipped with Marconi apparatus, but work had not yet been commenced. A ship was to be fitted at Portsmouth and another at Portland, and communication had to be established from one to the other. It was a long distance, and there was a range of hills between the two places. ‘We know it is difficult’, said Major Flood Page, ‘but we expect to carry out the contract with confidence. We have had this Marconi apparatus at Delagoa Bay on four of Her Majesty’s ships for several weeks, and in no case had it failed to give satisfaction’. The Company had received a most flattering telegram which had been sent to their chief assistant, Mr. Bullock, from one of the captains of Her Majesty’s ships stating that they were delighted with the work carried out and that it had given direct communication with the ships. A Committee was sitting to determine various questions with reference to communication between the land, lighthouses, and lightships. The only thing that could be said was that the Company had communicated between a lightship and the land for twelve months, morning, noon, and night, and in fog, and had never met a failure of any kind. There could be no talk of dividends yet, but these were bound to follow good and successful work.

 

The next year, at the end of June 1901, the Directors were able to report that Marconi stations had already been erected on various points of the coast of Great Britain and Ireland at Withernsea, Caister, North Foreland, Lizard, Holyhead, Port Stewart, Rosslare, Crookhaven, and at La Panne, Belgium, Borkum lighthouse and Borkum Riff lightship, Germany, in addition to which the following stations had been equipped by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited, and were available for communication: Nantucket lightship and Siasconset, U.S.A. They were daily expecting to hear that the station at Belle Isle—the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada—was ready for communication.

 

The first merchant vessel to be equipped commercially with the Marconi system was the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse , owned by the Norddeutscher Lloyd. This was the vessel which Germany had built to capture the ‘Blue Riband’ of the North Atlantic from the Cunard liner Lucania. At the same time Marconi apparatus was installed on the Borkum Riff lightship and at the Borkum lighthouse. These two stations were nominally erected for the Norddeutscher Lloyd Steamship Company, but there was no doubt that the German Government were highly interested in what they could do, realising even then the strategic importance of such stations for communication with ships at sea. The installations worked excellently and served to handle many messages to and from the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse , which, curiously enough, was brought to book through the medium of wireless telegraphy early in the war of 1914-18. Both these stations were installed by Mr. W.W.Bradfield, later to become General Manager of the Company. As electrical assistant to Signor Marconi he had previously taken part in the experimental work on Salisbury Plain, and assisted in the erection of the wireless station at the Needles, Isle of Wight.

 

During the second half of 1900 over 580 telegrams were received by the Borkum lightship from passing shipping equipped with wireless apparatus, and twenty telegrams by the lighthouse. The total number of words transmitted during this time was over eight thousand, and the commercial value of the system was undoubtedly proved. Its utility was demonstrated in a dramatic manner when the lightship broke away from her moorings during a gale. A wireless message for help resulted in the rescue of the crew who would certainly have been drowned but for the existence on board of the Marconi apparatus. In November 1900 the Belgian Royal Mail Steam Packet, Princesse Clementine , plying between Ostend and Dover, was equipped by the Marconi International Marine Company and a Marconi station was installed at La Panne, near Ostend, on the Belgian coast. These installations frequently proved of great value in saving life and property.

 

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