Ticker tape of world's first wireless broadcast for auction


Marconi’s telegraphed reports from the Kingstown Regatta of 1898 were the first in history. Now they are going under the hammer

ONE OF the biggest scoops in Irish newspaper history involved the Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) Regatta in the summer of 1898. The results of the yacht races were not especially interesting, but the technology used to transmit them was revolutionary.

Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy, was commissioned by TP Gill, editor of the Dublin Daily Expressnewspaper, to report the results of the races “direct from the high seas”. The newspaper chartered a yacht, The Huntstress, for Marconi, who set up his equipment and a mast on board. He followed the regatta 10 miles out into Dublin Bay, to Kish Lighthouse, and, on July 20th, 1898, sent back the first-ever press report by wireless telegraphy to a land station in the harbourmaster’s office. This report was printed on a Morse tape machine, decoded and telegraphed to the newspaper’s newsdesk.

Two lengths of this original Morse-code ticker tape, measuring 24in and 19in, framed along with Marconi’s visiting card and a photograph, will go under the hammer at Mealy’s two-day rare-books auction in Dublin next month.

Auctioneer George F Mealy says that the Kingstown Regatta report “was the first use of wireless telegraph for a commercial, journalistic or sporting purpose; an international first of enormous significance”.

Mealy has assigned the item a pre-sale estimate of €15,000 to €20,000. It was in the personal collection of TP Gill, who died in 1931, and is being sold by a descendant who inherited it.

Writers and sub-editors everywhere will be amused to know that the breakthrough technology’s inaugural message contained a typo. The strip of Morse records the first words transmitted as: “HERE A WIRE FORM [sic] MR MARCONI.”

Marconi, who was born in Bologna in 1825, had strong Irish connections. His mother was Annie Jameson, a member of the whiskey-distilling family of Daphne Castle, Co Wexford, and his first wife was Beatrice O’Brien, daughter of Edward Donough O’Brien, the 14th Baron Inchiquin of Co Clare.

Marconi established transatlantic wireless stations at Crookhaven, Co Cork, and near Clifden in Connemara. His inventions were credited with saving many lives following the sinking of Titanicin 1912. Two radio operators on the doomed ship were employees of his company and a report into the disaster claimed that “those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr Marconi . . . and his marvellous invention”.

Marconi, who was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909, died in 1937.

The two-day auction of Marconi memorabilia will take place at the D4 Berkeley Hotel in Dublin on December 13th and 14th