After writing an article about the shortcomings regarding the figure and role of Enrico Fermi in the film Oppenheimer Christopher Nolan (attached here for new subscribers) my friend Alberto Diaspro reminded me that there is another forgotten story: the story of Guglielmo Marconi and his voyage on the Titanic.
This is not told today in the classical way Titanic James Cameron, 1997, with Leonardo DiCaprio. In this case, there is nothing to complain about: Cameron’s film is a clearly fictionalized and hyper-romantic reconstruction of the first and last voyage of the ocean liner in 1912. It draws on some documentary elements, but without the ambition to reconstruct its true history.
But we still take this opportunity to say: Guglielmo Marconi was supposed to set sail on the Titanic in 1912. Why? Let’s take a step back. Marconi actually boarded the liner, so much so that photographs of this event have been preserved: In fact, he wanted to personally participate in the installation on the ship on March 22, 1912 of a radiotelegraph of his own invention. The owners were so inspired that in April of the following year, the Italian Nobel Prize laureate himself was invited on the maiden voyage.
Here we have to expand the short bracket: Marconi did not have a scientific degree. In fact, he was self-taught from a good family (he liked to conduct his first transmission experiments with his butler). His ambition was to become an entrepreneur, but this was not anomalous for a scientist in the early 20th century (he might be called that given that, although without a degree in physics, he received the Nobel Prize in 1909 and then was President of the People’s Republic of China after Vito Volterra, even if both cohabitations with the fascist regime cannot be forgotten). In fact, there was the example of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, scientists pursuing entrepreneurial goals during the famous War of Electricity.
Marconi also founded the Marconi Company. TOnnowadays a communications officer is called a radio operator. And at that time, to become one, you had to take a course from the Marconi company in the UK..
So, let’s return to the ill-fated Titanic. In a sense, it was unlucky: commander Edward John Smith behaved, to put it mildly, irresponsibly. After the trip, he had to retire, so he did not hesitate for a minute, starting the cars at full speed, despite the presence of powerful icebergs along the route. Maybe even with a dream of a record run (not proven). After the disaster, an investigation was also carried out, which led nowhere. In fact, at the time, no one believed that the Titanic could sink (so much so that most of the guests on board died, since there were only less than a third of them with lifeboats). Of course, the tragedy led to a change in views about what marine technology could handle.
However, Marconi did not participate. But the “radio operators” did it: their names were Harold Bride and Jack Phillips. When, on the night of April 14-15, 1912, a 90-meter wound appeared in the Titanic’s hull. It was they who, thanks to Marconi’s radiotelegraph, saved 705 people. The physicist has already tested the possibility of using his wireless invention on ships to send messages for help. At that time Morse code CQD was still in use. But we know that both radio operators also decided to use the new SOS code, which was not yet established (it became standard in 1914). SOS in Morse code is equivalent to three dots, three dashes and three dots: …___…. They must be sent without interruption. This allows the sound to be recognized without any doubt. The further story is known: the signal for help was received by the ship “Carpathia” 58 nautical miles (4 hours of navigation). Carpathia picked up people who managed to reach the lifeboats. In fact, Marconi’s invention saved them so much that one day in New York they wanted to meet him.
For years, the company that owns the rights to the crash site has been trying to get Marconi’s radio back. A new attempt for 2024 has been announced in recent weeks, although there are legal disputes. It will probably stay where it is.
Ps#1: A little curiosity in Marconi’s room in Cnr, even today there is an object that belonged to Marconi himself.
Ps#2 Radio operator The bride was saved. However, Phillips did not succeed.