In New England: Cape Cod was once a communications hub
Who would suspect that Cape Cod's sleepy shores were once a communications hub for the entire nation, pioneering the technologies that today power cell phones, TV and the Internet? A century ago, the Cape's arm reaching toward Europe made it a trailblazer in cable and wireless exchanges. At two sites, visitors can learn more about where technology history happened.
The French Cable Station Museum in Orleans looks like an unassuming four-room cottage shaded by lazy linden trees but was for decades a beehive of action, receiving dots and dashes flying along the first uninterrupted transatlantic cable. Unreeled from Europe (Brest, France) to Orleans in 1898 by a French company, Le Direct (as the cable was named), stretched an astonishing 3,173 nautical miles underwater. It relayed to America, via Orleans, such historical mega-news as Lindbergh's landing in Paris, and served as the primary link with our nation's World War I forces in France.
The telegraphic instruments remain, and at today's museum you can try out such curiosities as the Siphon Recorder that used glass pens dipped in ink to record incoming Morse code as peaks and valleys on a running tape; or the Automatic Message Sender that transmitted dots and dashes as key-punched holes.
A short drive up the coast to South Wellfleet brings more technology history as you visit a site made famous by an all-time-great techie: physicist Guglielmo Marconi.
Standing on Wellfleet's spectacular beach bluff with an ocean-to-bay panorama, you'll understand why Marconi - dubbed "the father of the radio" - chose this spot for his audacious 1903 attempt to jump a wireless signal across the Atlantic. He accomplished it by erecting four colossal radio towers, persuading President Theodore Roosevelt to compose a greeting to Britain's King Edward VII, and transmitting the message to England in a shower of primitive sparks. Telegraph keys soon clacked a royal reply, and the wireless era was born.
Today at the Marconi Site the station is gone, but an oceanside scale-model exhibit offers perspective on the exhilaration the inventor surely felt standing there 105 years ago, poised to make history. Gazing out toward Europe and musing on such wizardry, you might be startled by the chirping of your own cell phone - Marconi's stunning legacy.
For more information on the French Cable Station Museum, call 508-240-1735 or visit www.frenchcablestationmuseum.org. For more on the Marconi Site visit www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/marconi-beach.htm.
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