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«INTRODUCTION My first introduction to Fessenden was sometime in the 1950’s whilst collecting gulls eggs near the Inneans. I remember asking “what ...»

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He had, as mentioned earlier perfected his High Frequency Alternators. Approaching Christmas 1906, he cabled his listening operators on various ships etc, to listen at 9pm on Christmas Eve, to receive an important message. Whereupon at the prescribed time they were stunned to hear instead of the usual “ morse spark” transmissions, Fessenden playing “Holy Night” on his violin, reading passages from the Bible and ending by wishing them all a Merry Christmas. This was the first ever published radio broadcast and another triumph for Fessenden. This was also the first time that voices had been heard over the air with Fessendens new system of what is called Amplitude Modulation - A system still used today worldwide.


The system of jointing the guys had been used before in bridges in the USA and had given no problems so why now? The method of joining the thick cables, was to push the end of the stranded cable into what looked like a type of “ filter funnel” after treating the ends with hydrochloric acid to act as a flux. The end, after coming through the small part or neck of the device is splayed out and in some cases a wedge is hammered into the cable. The ends are placed alongside the funnel sides and molten zinc is poured into the splayed ends along the inside of the funnel. The zinc solidifies and forms a plug of cable and metal thus preventing the cable from pulling back. The other cable end is treated in the same way on an identical funnel all attached together on a base plate.

On examination locally it was found that the zinc had not been heated to a high enough temperature and had not combined with the cable, plus it had a crusty appearance rather like a poor solder joint. This may have looked ok externally but when any strain was put on the joint, it simply pulled through the funnel. The jointing was reported to have been done by a sub-contractor.

Thus came the end of Fessendens involvement with Machrihanish.

Fessenden however, carried on and devised the first ever device to enable ships to measure the depth of water below them, eg the “Echo Sounder.” He however called it his “Fathometer.” In 1916 he had a device forerunning the “Sonar” used by ships today. This was able to detect icebergs… and had a certain ship called the “Titanic” in 1912 had one fitted, history may have been very different.

The scope of Fessendens inventions are much too large to be scripted here, suffice to say that next time you switch on the “wireless” or TV or use your mobile phone, just think where and who to thank. Well perhaps not the mobile phone!!! TV - oh yes, he had the first TV operating in USA in 1919.

In all, Reginald Fessenden is credited with over 500 patents from insulating tape to tracer bullets…a wide range indeed.

Fessenden fell out again with his backers and left radio work However his High Frequency Alternators, because of their complexity, high cost and limited range of frequencies, would never be used for public broadcasting but they did make superb Longwave transmitters and were used for transoceanic services well through the 1940’s. In fact by 1919 his alternator-transmitter patents were considered so valuable that the question of ownership triggered the formation of the Radio Corporation of America.

Because of national security reasons, the U.S. Government did not want the British owned Marconi Company to gain control of the alternator-transmitter rights.

Hopefully a small memorial will be erected on the Machrihanish site in due course.

What happened there is just too important to forget. We hope you agree EPILOUGE Reginald Fessenden sometimes broke, sometimes rich, managed to claim monies from many of those who had unlawfully used his patents. He retired to Bermuda, where he died in 1932. He was survived by his wife Helen Trott Fessenden, who died in 1941.

His monies host a Scholarship Fund in Bermuda to this day.

What he said of himself "My parents despaired of me. They saw my future as a church minister, but when I closed my eyes and dreamt, I saw an invention that could send voices around the world without using wires or cables. There's no future in that, my mother told me, and she was both right and wrong." In my lifetime, I developed hundreds of inventions, including the electric gyroscope, the hetrodyne, and a depth finder. I built the first power generating station at Niagara Falls and I invented radio, sending the first voice message in the world on December 23rd 1900. But despite all my hard work, I lived most of my life in near poverty. I fought years of court battles before seeing even a penny from my greatest inventions. Worst of all, I was ridiculed by journalists, businessmen and even other scientists, for believing that voice could even be transmitted without wires. However by the time of my death, not only was I wealthy from my patents, but all of those people who had laughed at my ideas were twisting the dials on their newly bought radios to hear the latest weather and news.” Also like Michell Dell and Bill Gates he never finished college… FINALLY The site today is still recognisable as a radio station. The mast is of course long gone, as is the counterpoise earth mat but the massive guy anchor points are still there and even the building foundations can be recognised from 1906 photographs. The mounting bolts of the machinery are still embedded in the concrete. The mast base is also very evident with the counterpoise earth strips still in situ and with insulator shards littering the surrounding ground. The very base of the chimney can also be seen which was used by the steam engine.

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden is buried in St Marks's Church Cemetery in Bermuda. On his grave are the words "By his genius distant lands converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep.” His wife Helen died in 1941.

His grave is surmounted by hieroglyphics which when translated say.

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This article was produced by the Fessenden Project Team in Campbeltown Duncan McArthur. Duncan McMillan William Durrance. Col. Mac Neil Lossett.

March 2006

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