Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mobile phones, the wireless, and Titanic

We take our mobile phones for granted. I know many people with smartphones now, although I still consider them a luxury item. Even I can text on my dinky cell phone. Best of all, although I hope I don't need it, I can call 911 anytime (and yes, it is 911 for cell phones in my state).

In early 1912, the telegraph was the new gadget, a novelty used by upper-class travelers to chat with their friends back home. The equivalent of today's smartphone with Facebook.

Jerry Neal as Guglielmo Marconi
That changed when the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg April 14, 1912, and started to sink. The telegraph transformed from social networking device into the most basic emergency system. Titanic's operators transmitted "CQD," the maritime call for help, with the ship's position at 12:15 a.m. April 15.

I learned about the wireless aspect of the famous disaster last weekend during Jerry Neal's performance as Guglielmo Marconi. Neal is the co-founder of RF Micro Devices, Inc. (for cell phones and other applications) and owner of Linbrook Estate, where I saw his performance. Since childhood he's been fascinated with Marconi (1874-1939), who invented telegraph technology and sent the first transatlantic wireless signals in 1901.

As part of the deal between Marconi and White Star Line, he and his family had free passage on Titanic's maiden voyage. But Marconi decided to take earlier transport to America and his wife and children joined him later.

Titanic artifacts at Linbrook Hall
Marconi had two telegraph operators onboard Titanic, John "Jack" Phillips, 24, and Harold Bride, 22. The two men stayed at their post even after being told they could leave. Phillips was lost, but Bride survived the icy Atlantic. Recovering from his rescue with frost-bitten feet, Bride was carried into the wireless room to give Carpathia's exhausted telegraph operator a few hours' rest.

The operators weren't the only ones to stick to their posts in an attempt to save as many passengers as possible. Engineering crew members stayed to keep the lights on as long as possible. Boiler operators, firemen, and the famous band, all kept working.

With 1,523 casualties, Titanic remains the greatest peacetime disaster in maritime history. In honor of that, Neal's grandson Charles Neal composed a song, "Signals," for the occasion. He also played a solemn trumpet solo of "Nearer My God to Thee."

After the performance, Neal answered questions in character about Marconi.

Earlier in the evening I got to tour Linbrook Hall. I'll share more about that in Monday's post.
Meanwhile, if you'd like to learn lots of details about the Titanic, including the people onboard and recovery operations, I recommend the book Titanic: Destination Disaster, The Legends and the Reality.

Photos courtesy of Linbrook Heritage Estate.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary ticket to this event through my chamber of commerce membership, with no obligation to write about it.


Susan Scott said...

most interesting thank you! Susan

Elizabeth Saunders said...

Glad you liked it, Susan. Thanks for stopping by.