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   Chapter 10 THE WIRELESS TELEGRAPH.

The Story of Electricity By John Munro Characters: 21486

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Magnetic waves generated in the ether (see pp. 53-95) by an electric current flowing in a conductor are not the only waves which can be set up in it by aid of electricity. A merely stationary or "static" charge of electricity on a body, say a brass ball, can also disturb the ether; and if the strength of the charge is varied, ether oscillations or waves are excited. A simple way of producing these "electric waves" in the ether is to vary the strength of charge by drawing sparks from the charged body. Of course this can be done according to the Morse code; and as the waves after travelling through the ether with the speed of light are capable of influencing conductors at a distance, it is easy to see that signals can be sent in this way. The first to do so in a practical manner was Signer Marconi, a young Italian hitherto unknown to fame. In carrying out his invention, Marconi made use of facts well known to theoretical electricians, one of whom, Dr, Oliver J. Lodge, had even sent signals with them in 1894; but it often happens in science as in literature that the recognised professors, the men who seem to have everything in their favour-knowledge, even talent-the men whom most people would expect to give us an original discovery or invention, are beaten by an outsider whom nobody heard of, who had neither learning, leisure, nor apparatus, but what he could pick up for himself.

Marconi produces his waves in the ether by electric sparks passing between four brass balls, a device of Professor Righi, following the classical experiments of Heinrich Hertz. The balls are electrified by connecting them to the well-known instrument called an induction coil, sometimes used by physicians to administer gentle shocks to invalids; and as the working of the coil is started and stopped by an ordinary telegraph key for interrupting the electric current, the sparking can be controlled according to the Morse code. In our diagram, which explains the apparatus, the four balls are seen at D, the inner and larger pair being partly immersed in vaseline oil, the outer and smaller pair being connected to the secondary or induced circuit of the induction coil C, which is represented by a wavy line. The primary or inducing circuit of the coil is connected to a battery B through a telegraph signalling key K, so that when this key is opened and closed by the telegraphist according to the Morse code, the induction coil is excited for a longer or shorter time by the current from the battery, in agreement with the longer and shorter signals of the message. At the same time longer or shorter series of sparks corresponding to these signals pass across the gaps between the four balls, and give rise to longer or shorter series of etheric waves represented by the dotted line. So much for the "Transmitter." But how does Marconi transform these invisible waves into visible or audible signals at the distant place? He does this by virtue of a property discovered by Mr. S. A. Varley as far back as 1866, and investigated by Mr. E. Branly in 1889. They found that powder of metals, carbon, and other conductors, while offering a great resistance to the passage of an electric current when in a loose state, coheres together when electric waves act upon it, and opposes much less resistance to the electric current. It follows that if a Morse telegraph instrument at the distant place be connected in circuit with a battery and some loose metal dust, it can be adjusted to work when the etheric waves pass through the dust, and only then. In the diagram R is this Morse "Receiver" joined in circuit with a battery B1; and a thin layer of nickel and silver dust, mixed with a trace of mercury, is placed between two cylindrical knobs or "electrodes" of silver fused into the glass tube d, which is exhausted of air like an electric glow lamp. Now, when the etheric waves proceeding from the transmitting station traverse the glass of the tube and act upon the metal dust, the current of the battery B1 works the Morse receiver, and marks the signals in ink on a strip of travelling paper. Inasmuch as the dust tends to stick together after a wave passes through it, however, it requires to be shaken loose after each signal, and this is done by a small round hammer head seen on the right, which gives a slight tap to the tube. The hammer is worked by a small electromagnet E, connected to the Morse instrument, and another battery b in what is called a "relay" circuit; so that after the Morse instrument marks a signal, the hammer makes a tap on the tube. As this tap has a bell-like sound, the telegraphist can also read the signals of the message by his ear.

Two "self-induction bobbins," L Ll, a well-known device of electricians for opposing resistance to electric waves, are included in the circuit of the Morse instrument the better to confine the action of the waves to the powder in the tube. Further, the tube d is connected to two metal conductors V Vl, which may be compared to resonators in music. They can be adjusted or attuned to the electric waves as a string or pipe is to sonorous waves. In this way the receiver can be made to work only when electric waves of a certain rate are passing through the tube, just as a tuning-fork resounds to a certain note; it being understood that the length of the waves can be regulated by adjusting the balls of the transmitter. As the etheric waves produced by the sparks, like ripples of water caused by dropping a stone into a pool, travel in all directions from the balls, a single transmitter can work a number of receivers at different stations, provided these are "tuned" by adjusting the conductors V Vl to the length of the waves.

This indeed was the condition of affairs at the time when the young Italian transmitted messages from France to England in March, 1899, and it is a method that since has been found useful over limited distances. But to the inventor there seemed no reason why wireless telegraphy should be limited by any such distances. Accordingly he immediately developed his method and his apparatus, having in mind the transmission of signals over considerable intervals. The first question that arose was the effect of the curvature of the Earth and whether the waves follow the surface of the Earth or were propagated in straight lines, which would require the erection of aerial towers and wires of considerable height. Then there was the question of the amount of power involved and whether generators or other devices could be used to furnish waves of sufficient intensity to traverse considerable distances.

Little by little progress was made and in January, 1901, wireless communication was established between the Isle of Wight and Lizard in Cornwall, a distance of 186 miles with towers less than 300 feet in height, so that it was demonstrated that the curvature of the Earth did not seriously affect the transmission of the waves, as towers at least a mile high would have been required in case the waves were so cut off. This was a source of considerable encouragement to Marconi, and his apparatus was further improved so that the resonance of the circuit and the variation of the capacity of the primary circuit of the oscillation transformer made for increased efficiency. The coherer was still retained and by the end of 1900 enough had been accomplished to warrant Marconi in arranging for trans-Atlantic experiments between Poldhu, Cornwall and the United States, stations being located on Cape Cod and in Newfoundland. The trans-Atlantic transmission of signals was quite a different matter from working over 100 miles or so in Great Britain. The single aerial wire was supplanted by a set of fifty almost vertical wires, supported at the top by a horizontal wire stretched between two masts 157 1/2 feet high and 52 1/2 feet apart, converging together at the lower end in the shape of a large fan. The capacity of the condenser was increased and instead of the battery a small generator was employed so that a spark 1 1/2 inches in length would be discharged between spheres 3 inches in diameter. At the end of the year 1901 temporary stations at Newfoundland were established and experiments were carried on with aerial wires raised in the air by means of kites. It was here realized that various refinements in the receiving apparatus were necessary, and instead of the coherer a telephone was inserted in the secondary circuit of the oscillation transformer, and with this device on February 12th the first signals to be transmitted across the Atlantic were heard. These early experiments were seriously affected by the fact that the antennae or aerial wires were constantly varying in height with the movement of the kites, and it was found that a permanent arrangement of receiving wires, independent of kites or balloons, was essential. Yet it was demonstrated at this time that the transmission of electric waves and their detection over distances of 2000 miles was distinctly possible.

A more systematic and thorough test occurred in February, 1902, when a receiving station was installed on the steamship Philadelphia, proceeding from Southampton to New York. The receiving aerial was rigged to the mainmast, the top of which was 197 feet above the level of the sea, and a syntonic receiver was employed, enabling the signals to be recorded on the tape of an ordinary Morse recorder. On this voyage readable messages were received from Poldhu up to a distance of 1551 miles, and test letters were received as far as 2099 miles. It was on this voyage that Marconi made the interesting discovery of the effect of sunlight on the propagation of electric waves over great distances. He found that the waves were absorbed during the daytime much more than at night and he eventually reached the conclusion that the ultraviolet light from the sun ionized the gaseous molecules of the air, and ionized air absorbs the energy of the electric waves, so that the fact was established that clear sunlight and blue skies, though transparent to light, serve as a fog to the powerful Hertzian waves of wireless telegraphy. For that reason the transmission of messages is carried on with greater facility on the shores of England and Newfoundland across the North Atlantic than in the clearer atmosphere of lower latitudes. But atmospheric conditions do not affect all forms of waves the same, and long waves with small amplitudes are far less subject to the effect of daylight than those of large amplitude and short wave length, and generators and circuits were arranged to produce the former. But the difficulty did not prove insuperable, as Marconi found that increasing the energy of the transmitting station during t

he daytime would more than make up for the loss of range.

The experiments begun at Newfoundland were transferred to Nova Scotia, and at Glace Bay in 1902 was established a station from which messages were transmitted and experimental work carried on until its work was temporarily interrupted by fire in 1909. Here four wooden lattice towers, each 210 feet in height, were built at the corner of a square 200 feet on a side, and a conical arrangement of 400 copper wires supported on stays between the tops of the towers and connected in the middle at the generating station was built. Additional machinery was installed and at the same time a station at Cape Cod for commercial work was built. In December, 1902, regular communication was established between Glace Bay and Poldhu, but it was only satisfactory from Canada to England as the apparatus at the Poldhu station was less powerful and efficient than that installed in Canada. The transmission of a message from President Roosevelt to King Edward marked the practical beginning of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy. By this time a new device for the detection of messages was employed, as the coherer we have described even in its improved forms was found to possess its limitations of sensitiveness and did not respond satisfactorily to long distance signals. A magnetic detector was devised by Marconi while other inventors had contrived electrolytic, mercurial, thermal, and other forms of detector, used for the most part with a telephone receiver in order to detect minute variations in the current caused by the reception of the electro-magnetic waves. With one of Marconi's magnetic detectors signals from Cape Cod were read at Poldhu.

In 1903 wireless telegraphy had reached such a development that the transmission of news messages was attempted in March and April of that year. But the service was suspended, owing to defects which manifested themselves in the apparatus, and in the meantime a new station in Ireland was erected. But there was no cessation of the practical experiments carried on, and in 1903 the Cunard steamship Lucania received, during her entire voyage across from New York to Liverpool, news transmitted direct from shore to shore. In the meantime intercommunication between ships had been developed and the use of wireless in naval operations was recognized as a necessity.

Various improvements from time to time were made in the aerial wires, and in 1905 a number of horizontal wires were connected to an aerial of the inverted cone type previously used. The directional aerial with the horizontal wires was tried at Glace Bay, and adopted for all the long distance stations, affording considerable strengthening of the received signals at Poldhu stations. Likewise improvements in the apparatus were effected at both trans-Atlantic stations, consisting of the adoption of air condensers composed of insulated metallic plate suspended in the air, which were found much better than the condensers where glass was previously used to separate the plates. For producing the energy employed for transmitting the signals a high tension continuous current dynamo is used. An oscillatory current of high potential is produced in a circuit which consists of rapidly rotating disks in connection with the dynamo and suitable condensers.

The production of electric oscillations can be accomplished in several ways and waves of the desired frequency and amplitude produced. Thus in 1903 it was found by Poulsen, elaborating on a principle first discovered by Duddell, that an oscillatory current may be derived from an electric arc maintained under certain conditions and that undamped high frequency waves so produced were suitable for wireless telegraphy. This discovery was of importance, as it was found that the waves so generated were undamped, that is, capable of proceeding to their destination without loss of amplitude. On this account they were especially suitable for wireless telephony where they were early applied, as it was found possible so to arrange a circuit with an ordinary microphone transmitter that the amplitude of the waves would be varied in harmony with the vibrations of the human voice. These waves so modulated could be received by some form of sensitive wave detector at a distant station and reproduced in the form of sound with an ordinary telephone receiver. With undamped waves from the arc and from special forms of generators wireless telephony over distances as great as 200 miles has been accomplished and over shorter distances, especially at sea and for sea to shore, communication has found considerable application. It is, however, an art that is just at the beginning of its usefulness, standing in much the same relation to wireless telegraphy that the ordinary telephone does to the familiar system employing metallic conductors.

On the spark and arc systems various methods of wireless telegraphy have been developed and improved so that Marconi no longer has any monopoly of methods or instruments. Various companies and government officials have devised or modified systems so that to-day wireless is practically universal and is governed by an international convention to which leading nations of the world subscribe.

One of the recent features of wireless telegraphy of interest is the success of various directional devices. As we have seen, various schemes were tried by Marconi ranging from metallic reflectors used by Hertz in his early experiments with the electric waves to the more successful arrangement of aerial conductors. In Europe Bellini and Tosi have developed a method for obtaining directed aerial waves which promises to be of considerable utility, enabling them to be projected in a single direction just as a searchlight beam and thus restrict the number of points at which the signals could be intercepted and read. Likewise an arrangement was perfected which enabled a station to determine the direction in which the waves were being projected and consequently the bearing of another vessel or lighthouse or other station. The fundamental principle was the arrangement of the antennae, two triangular systems being provided on the same mast, but in one the current is brought down in a perpendicular direction. The action depends upon the difference of the current in the two triangles.

Wireless telegraph apparatus is found installed in almost every seagoing passenger vessel of large size engaged in regular traffic, and as a means of safety as well as a convenience its usefulness has been demonstrated. Thus on the North Atlantic the largest liners are never out of touch with land on one side of the ocean or the other, and news is supplied for daily papers which are published on shipboard. Every ship in this part of the ocean equipped with the Marconi system, for example, is in communication on an average with four vessels supplied with instruments of the same system every twenty-four hours. In case of danger or disaster signals going out over the sea speedily can bring succour, as clearly was demonstrated in the case of the collision between the White Star steamship Republic and the steamship Florida on January 26, 1909. Here wireless danger messages were sent out as long as the Republic was afloat and its wireless apparatus working. These brought aid from various steamers in the vicinity and the passengers were speedily transferred from the sinking Republic. On April 15, 1912, the White Star liner Titanic, the largest ship afloat, sank off Newfoundland, after colliding with an iceberg. Wireless SOS calls for help brought several steamships to the scene, and 703 persons from a total of 2,206, were rescued. On October 9, 1913, the Uranium liner Volturno caught fire in mid- ocean, and her wireless calls brought ten steamships to her aid, which, despite a heavy sea, rescued 532 persons from a total of 657. Again, on November 14, 1913, the Spanish steamship Balmes caught fire off Bermuda, and at her wireless call the Cunard liner Pannonia saved all of her passengers-103. The Titanic horror led the principal maritime nations to take immediate steps to perfect their wireless systems, and the installation of apparatus and operators soon became a prime requisite of the equipment of the world's shipping. Wireless telegraphy has been developed to great efficiency in all the leading navies, and powerful plants are installed on all warships. The United States, Great Britain, and Germany, most noticeably, have established shore stations, by which they can "talk all around the world" from any ship or station. In operation secrecy is most important. For in the navy practically all important messages are sent in code or cipher under all conditions while in commercial work the tapping of land wires or the stealing of messages while illegal is physically possible for the evil disposed yet has never proved in practice a serious evil. The problem of interference, however, seems to have been fairly solved by the large systems though the activity of amateurs is often a serious disturbance for government and other stations.

Despite the progress of wireless telegraphy it has not yet supplanted the submarine cable and the land wire, and in conservative opinion it will be many years before it will do so. In fact, since Marconi's work there has been no diminution in the number or amount of cables laid and the business handled, nor is there prospect of such for years to come. While the cable has answered admirably for telegraphic purposes yet for telephony over considerable distances it has failed entirely so that wireless telephony over oceans starts with a more than favorable outlook. But wireless telegraphy to a large extent has made its own field and here its work has been greatly successful. Thus when Peary's message announcing his discovery of the North Pole came out of the Frozen North, it was by way of the wireless station on the distant Labrador coast that it reached an anxious and interested civilization. It is this same wireless that watches the progress of the fishing fleets at stations where commercial considerations would render impossible the maintenance of a submarine cable. It is the wireless telegraph that maintains communication in the interior of Alaska and between islands in the Pacific and elsewhere where conditions of development do not permit of the more expensive installation of submarine cable or climatic or other conditions render impossible overland lines. At sea its advantages are obvious. Everywhere the ether responds to the impulses of the crackling sparks, and even from the airship we soon may expect wireless messages as the few untrodden regions of our globe are explored.

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