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Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 4 months ago



In September 1901, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company opened the first wireless school in the world at Frinton in Essex. The school supplemented students' knowledge of engineering with the principles and practice of Marconi wireless. Further training courses were established in Chelmsford in October 1901 in the Hall Street works.. These two schools subsequently moved to Chelmsford to become Marconi College and expanded into training for all Marconi equipment not just marine operations. The training scheme was extended to Liverpool in 1902 in a building erected at Waterloo, Liverpool and this continued for many years as the gateway through which Marconi operators passed to the various shipping companies.


School of Wireless Communications or The Wireless Telegraph School - 1.  2.  3.

The life blood of any manufacturing organization is its technical staff. This was realized by Guglielmo Marconi at the conception of his Company, and although for a year or so the training of new recruits was carried out by the senior men this rather haphazard state of affairs ended in September 1901, when a residential school for the training of probationer engineers of the Company was opened at Frinton, Essex. This circumstance made history, for not only was it the first wireless college in the world, it was also the first in which qualified electrical and mechanical engineers on full pay were provided with a training centre where they could be instructed in the latest technological developments.


Marconi College


Liverpool School 

Students    1.  2.

Following the establishment of the School at Frinton training classes in Marconi techniques were started at Chelmsford for the instruction of the otherwise qualified men to join the staff as wireless operators - for the wireless system to work it required trained personnel to operate it. This scheme was extended in the following year when a building was erected at Waterloo, Liverpool, to house a school, a repair shop, office and operating room. This establishment (irreverently christened the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ by its early occupants) continued as the main gateway through which, for many years, Marconi operators passed to the oceans and the four quarters of the globe.

Here they learned much more than simply the dot-dash rudiments of Morse. The School had several sets of working wireless apparatuses that were used for instruction, including a half-kilowatt set which had a range of about 100 miles, which was used for basic instruction, as well as several of the standard one-and-a-half-kilowatt sets that were used on most Marconi-equipped ocean liners, and a powerful five-kilowatt set. The school accommodated sixty pupils and the average term of instruction spanned ten months. Courses in electricity, magnetism, radio-wave propagation, troubleshooting of equipment, and the new regulations, such that they were, of the lnternational Radiotelegraphy Convention, were all included.

The Convention was very clear about how wireless operators were supposed to conduct themselves, and quite explicit about the priority of certain types of transmissions. The courses in radio-wave propagation explained to the operators the effect of the ionosphere on wireless transmission and why both transmission and reception were clearer and longer-ranged at night than during the day. Of course, this benefit in range and clarity often meant that the majority of a wireless operator's work was done during hours when most of the rest of the world was asleep.

The young men who graduated from the Tin Tabernacle quickly found themselves employed on ships all over the world. They were a distinctive type of youth, always intelligent, often high-strung, energetic and intense, yet time and again they would prove remarkably cool and calm in an emergency, carrying out their duties even when their own lives seemed to be in danger. Their position aboard the ships on which they served was somewhat peculiar: although they would be required to sign the ship's articles and were subject to the orders and discipline of the ship's captain and officers, they were not actually part of the crew. The company which owned the particular vessel in question would contract with Marconi Marine for their services, so that they remained Marconi employees no matter to which ship of what shipping line they were posted aboard.

At that time there was no requirement for a 24-hour wireless watch to be maintained by any ships, save warships, so the wireless operators usually worked a schedule set for them by their ship's captain. On large ships, such as the fast German liners or Cunard's soon-to-be-launched Lusitania and Mauretania, there would be two wireless operators who alternated shifts, twelve hours on, twelve off, seven days a week. Smaller vessels warranted only one operator, who usually pulled duty in fifteen-to-eighteen-hour stretches.

It was not hard work in the conventional sense, but the long hours of enforced immobility and intense concentration as the operator sat at his table, headphones on, key at hand, were exhausting. The pay did little to compensate for this: a senior operator only made £8 ($40) a month, a junior operator only £5 ($25). It was the knowledge that they were part of a small, select fraternity, sitting on the leading edge of a new, revolutionary technology that few people understood and even fewer could operate, capable of snatching messages seemingly out of the thin air with their ungainly looking apparatus, that kept most operators at their stations.

The skill of the early wireless operators was nothing short of amazing. Spending long hours, sitting almost motionless, only their hands moving as they worked the key of their apparatus; or sitting listening through their bulky headphones as they sought to pluck the signals from other stations out of the ether. It was all far more difficult than is popularly supposed. Instead of the carefully modulated buzzes, beeps, or tones that today are most commonly associated with Morse Code, the sounds made by the open-spark transmitters of the day were more like bursts and crashes of controlled static, which resembled nothing so much as the interference distant lightning will create on a radio. And yet these bursts and crashes, and the various signals into which they would evolve, would save thousands of lives in the decades to come.


Marconi House - London

In 1912 a school was established at Marconi House in The Strand, London to train men in the use of wireless equipment. It had several sets of apparatus in the school room for the purposes of tuition, including ½kw set which had a range of about 100 miles; a standard 1½kw set that was used on most ocean liners and a 5kw set. The school accommodated 60 pupils and the average course spanned six weeks. By this time the demand for efficient operators was great and the school had a constant supply of students. Marconi Schools were also established in New York and Madrid.


The Wireless College

The Wireless College Colwyn Bay North Wales was established in 1920 for the training of Radio Officers in communications techniques. It closed in 1970.


School of Marine Radio and Radar


A Radio School story


Training article


The Role of the Merchant Navy Radio Officer


Schools were also established overseas - this is a typical example in the USA




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