Maritime Topics On Stamps :|
Wireless Telegraphy on Sea!
This page is about the century-spanning history of wireless telegraphy
on sea. In 1887/1888 the German physicist Heinrich Hertz (on the stamp
to the left) succeeded to produce, send and receive experimental
electromagnetic waves. This was the start of wireless telegraphy.
The Russian Alexander S. Popov (see stamp to the right) built a
receiver, which was able to change atmospheric interference into
acoustic sound. Therefore he named his apparatus 'thunderstorm
announcer' (literally translated). This was the birth of the receiving
antenna, dated 1895. Later he succeeded with wireless message
transfers between two buildings. In 1900 he installed a regular
wireless telegraphy connection between two islands, which
was used in a rescue operation for a Russian battleship (see below).
The French scientist Eduard Branly continues the gallery of pioneers
of wireless telegraphy. In 1890 he improved the receiver of Hertz
and called the new device 'kohaerer'. It was able to indicate
electromagnetic waves. This tool was used in conjunction with a Morse
writing machine to record the high frequency waves as Morse code.
The American Samuel Morse invented the first usable automatic
telegraph, which translated the waves to zigzag symbols on paper tape.
Later on his assistent Alfred Vail developed the famous system with
points and dashes. From 1838 through 1844 this Morse-Alphabet became
the standard telegraphy code worldwide. First it was used for cable
telegraphy, then for wireless telegraphy and later on even for optical
signalling using e.g. floodlights. Every wireless operator had to
learn the code and be able to interpret signals just by hearing them.
In 1895 the Italian Guglielmo Marconi began to experiment with
wireless telegraphy. From 1896 on he worked in Great Britain and
constructed the first transmitter antenna by connecting
the sparking coil with a wire. In 1897 he succeeded in the first
wireless message transfer over a distance of 14.5 kilometers across
the Bristol Channel. In the same year he began to replace the optical
signal stations along the British coast with radio stations. In 1901
he crossed the North Atlantic Ocean with Morse signals. Marconi was
not an inventor but an innovator. He used well-known techniques,
advanced them and patented the results. Being a real business man,
Marconi founded his own company to sell his spark apparatus. His work
secured the worldwide breakthrough of wireless telegraphy.|
To the upper left you can see Marconi with a diagram of a patent, to
the right with his laboratory-ship 'Elettra'. In the 1920s he
researched the expansion of short waves aboard this ship.
In 1898 Marconi connected the lighthouse at South Foreland and
the lightship 'East Goodwin' (stamp to the left). You can spot the
antennas on top of the mast. In 1899 he succeeded to cross the English
Channel using morse signals.
In 1901 the first radio signals crossed the Atlantic Ocean
between Poldhu Station, Great Britain and St. Johns, New Foundland.
One year later Marconi started ship-to-shore testing from the
steamer 'Philadelphia' (stamp to the right) to Poldhu and was able to
transmit and receive messages over a distance of up to 3,378
In Germany wireless telegraphy was researched by Adolf H. Slaby
of the AEG company and Karl F. Braun from Siemens. These two pioneers
founded the famous Telefunken company in 1904.
The passenger liner 'Kaiser Wilhelm der Große' of the
Norddeutschen Lloyd in 1900 (stamp to the left) became the first
German ship equipped with a Marconi radio station. The Hapag company
followed with the liner 'Deutschland' in 1901. |
In 1900 Germany started to install a radio connection between the
lightship 'Borkum Riff' and the lighthouse Borkum (see cancellation to
the right). If the lightship sighted an incoming ship or was contacted
via radio signals the arrival was telegraphed to the lighthouse. From
there the shipping company was notified by using normal cable.
One of the first British ships with a wireless telegraphy station was
the Cunard steamer 'Campania'. In 1905 during her voyage to New York
the liner had permanent radio connection to coastal stations in Europe
or America, i.e. from thereon a ship was not alone on the oceans any
more. The ship could be reached and contact a station anytime.
The wireless telegraphy to/from and between ships made for great
headlines in newspapers in case of accidents and disasters. The brave
radio operators were praised and telegraphy technology was glorified.
In 1899 the Russian battleship 'General-Admiral Apraksin' was stuck
in ice in the Gulf of Finland. Popov's radio connection between the
island Gogland and Kotka was used to contact the icebreaker 'Yermak'.
With the help of this ship all people and the battleship were rescued.
The stamp to the right is a symbolic remembrance of May the 7th, 1895
- the day Popov demonstrated his first receiver.
The first crime solved with help of the wireless telegraphy occured
in 1910. The British doctor Crippen (in the middle, wearing glasses)
had killed his wife (on the left) and secretly buried her in his
cellar. He fled with his girlfriend (2nd from the right), who was
disguised as a man, across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Canadian
steamer 'Montrose' (below).
The captain (to the right) became suspicious and sent a telegram to
London. An inspector of Scotland Yard started the chase with the
faster liner RMS 'Laurentic' and was able to stop the 'Montrose' off
the Canadian coast. Crippen was taken prisoner and sentenced to death
while his girlfriend was cleared of all charges.
In 1912 the White Star liner 'Titanic' collided with an iceberg and
sank in the North Atlantic. The radio operator of the 'Titanic' sent
'CQD' and 'SOS' signals, which were received by the steamer
'Carpathia'. The 'Carpathia' immediately hurried to the place of the
tragedy and was able to rescue 712 people. The bulkcarrier
'Californian' passed the 'Titanic' by a mere 5-8 nautical miles but
the only radio operator slept (Later on this led to operators having
to switch on to emergency call frequencies at fixed times.).
About 1,500 people died in the freezingly cold water.
You can see the 'Titanic' and the 'Carpathia' in the middle of the
souvenir sheet. To the left and right are the wireless operation
rooms. The abbreviation 'CDQ' on the upper border is wrong, it should
read 'CQD'. The Morse code on the lower border is correct - both for
'CQD' as well as 'SOS'.
See our Titanic page for
It was forbidden for radio operators of Marconi to accept telegrams
from wireless stations of other companies. So the German Telefunken
company began to install many wireless station on ships and along
coasts on its own - resulting in a long and bitter conflict for fame
and market shares. Endless patent lawsuits between the Marconi Company
and Telefunken followed.|
In 1911 the German DEBEG (abbreviation for 'Deutsche
Betriebsgesellschaft für drahtlose Telegraphie') was founded.
DEBEG purchased licenses for both Marconi and Telefunken equipment -
thus effectivly calming emotions until the conflict ceased completey
Since 1904 the Marconi operators used the signal 'CQD' as the standard
emergency call sequence. Later on an operator interpreted this as an
abbreviation for the text 'Come Quick Danger'.
In 1906 the 1st international wireless telegraphy conference was held
in Berlin, Germany. There all participants agreed to use the signal
'SOS' as the standard emergency call sequence. Later this was
interpreted as 'Save our Ships', 'Save our Souls' or 'Send out
Succor'. Wireless telephony used the term 'MAYDAY' as the standard
The stamp to the left symbolizes the Dutch Scheveningen Radio, to the
right German Rügen Radio.
Some applications of wireless telegraphy on sea:
- Time signal transmission of the Greenwich Zero-Meridian to control
the chronometer aboard. You need the Greenwich time to calculate
length meridian (stamp to the left).
- Weather forecast worldwide, with charts and text (stamp to the
right), warning messages, information services about iceberg drifts
- Telegram, teletype and wireless telephony services for passengers
and crew members.
- Messages for seamen, information and changes to shipping routes.
- Board newspaper, short summaries of well-known newspapers like
- Medical advice on sea, especially for ships without a doctor.
- Radio location with a radio direction finders, Consol, Decca,
LORAN (Long Range), Omega, Transit/GPS (Global Position System via
- Collision prevention via RADAR (Radio Detecting and Ranging).
- AMVER (Automated Mutual Assistence Vessel Rescue), intelligence
service of the US Coast Guard; i.e. each vessel crossing the Atlantic
has to notify the Coast Guard when entering and leaving the area.
- Since 1914 development of the valve transmitter, which became
common in all radio stations after World War I.
- In the twenties start of the short-wave telegraphy, because the
Heavyside layer in the stratosphere reflects the short waves.
Progresses in wireless telephony.
- 1925 saw 115,000 wireless stations worldwide - ashore and aboard.
- In 1934 all vessels got new call signals with the first two
characters indicating the nationality.
- In the Fifties use of the ultra-short-wave for radio telephony,
call channel 16.
- Since 1965 teletype service, teleprinter exchange and telefax for
- Since 1971 the emergency radio-beacon EPIRB (Emergency Position
Indicating Radio Beacon) is in use.
Satellites end the traditional wireless telegraphy:
- Since 1979 the INMARSAT (Internationale Maritime (later Mobile)
Satellite Organization) system is operational. Nearly all shipping
nations are members of this organization. The system does'nt need a
wireless operator as the data exchange is managed via satellites to
all receiver stations like telephone, teletype, telex, modem etc. etc.
- Since 1992 the satellite emergency system GMDSS (Global Maritime
Distress and Safety System) is in use. A ship's officer is able to
start an emergency call by simply pressing a button. Wireless
telegraphy with the SOS signal is no longer necessary.
- Since January 1st, 1999 the GMDSS is mandatory for all
- Since the middle of the 1990s the most wireless shore stations
were closed, in Germany Kiel Radio, Norddeich Radio, Rügen Radio.
No one needs a providing station, Morse Code, or a radio operator any