Today we picture Cape Cod as a haven for Fishing, Shell fishing, Vacationing, and as a world center for the arts. But in the late 19th and early 20th century, Cape Cod was also a center for Communication Technology with some of the leading edge scientific work showing its fruits here.
Below find a brief outline of the history and accomplishments of that campus where today you can see it exactly as Marconi saw it with all original buildings still standing and no additional contemporary buildings on the site; it is truly an historical gem that the Town of Chatham preserves for all to see and enjoy. The Marconi Campus site and its finely crafted buildings were designed and built by the J. G. White Engineering Company for the American Marconi Corporation and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Even in the earliest days of the 19th Century there was a telegraph office on Main Street in Chatham where a lookout watched for ships coming over the horizon and quickly telegraphed the destination port that it was on its way. The Atlantic was indeed a lonely place when communication was limited to visual methods. Many ships crossed the horizon and their fate was never known. Cape Cod grave yards all have memorial stones over empty graves of seamen who were lost to the unforgiving seas in unknown locations.
In 1874 the Transatlantic Cable was completed between Eastham and Brest France only 5 years after the original but unsuccessful cable was laid between Newfoundland and Brest France. Bits of that cable are still hooked by anchors just off Nauset Light Beach and as the cliffs move back often a bit of that cable shows its ghostly presence.
In 1891 the cable was extended to Orleans and ended at the French Cable Station that many people each year visit to see the still existing equipment representing technology state of the art in the early 20th Century. In 1898 the 3000 mile Cable laid from Orleans to Brest France and was the longest undersea cable in the world. Technology advances allowed simultaneous communication in both directions. Automatic inkers made permanent impressions that could later be read and transmitted to their intended recipients by Telegraph or Telephone. Among the earliest uses of the cable were by financiers that took advantage of different stock prices on the New York and Paris exchanges.
In 1899 Guglielmo Marconi validated his theory that Wireless signals could extend across the Atlantic and offer competition to the Cable monopoly on communication. Marconi was also attracted to Cape Cod for its proximity to Europe and in 1903 astounded the world by completing two way communications between his 35,000 watt station in Wellfleet and Poldu England. Marconi was at the same time extending his enterprise by communicating with ships at sea outfitted with leased Marconi Spark Gap Transmitters and Marconi Magnetic Receivers.
It was in 1901 that the American Marconi Corporation started its first commercial Ship to Shore station, MSC on Nantucket. It was at that station where a young Russian immigrant David Sarnoff began his wireless career working for Marconi. Sarnoff eventually became the head of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) when it acquired the assets of the Marconi Company after World War I. The Nantucket Building still stands.
On Christmas Eve in 1906 from Brant Rock, Reginald Fessenden used his newly delivered G.E. Alexandersen Alternator Rotary Transmitter and broadcast Voice and Music for the first time ever. His violin playing of ‘Oh Holy Night’ captivated astounded those monitoring the Wireless Stations that night for the usual dots and dashes of International Morse Code. (We take the liberty of calling Plymouth part of Cape Cod, after all the current Cape Cod Canal demarcation point would not be built for another eight years). For a while, the most powerful transmitter in the world was being run by the US Navy in Truro. Much was happening on Cape Cod.
When you visit CMMC's Navy exhibit and see the video Chatham Radio Goes to War you will hear Henry Stamps tell how Chatham Navy radiomen listened for radio transmissions from German submarines during World War II. The Navy eavesdroppers intercepted Morse code signals, encrypted by the Enigma machine, and relayed them to Washington, DC, where they were decrypted with the Bombe, a forerunner of the modern computer.
CMMC's Navy exhibit committee first met Henry Stamps via email. He volunteered to help us with the exhibit from his home in Virginia. Henry was among the Navy radiomen who arrived in Chatham in 1942 to open the listening station here, and later was assigned to the Greenland station of the direction-finding network. After the war, he worked as a civilian at Naval Security Group Headquarters in Washington, DC, and at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, MD.
Henry died on April 24, 2012, after a short illness. His wife of 65 years, Mary Vallastro Stamps, his daughter Marilyn, his son-in-law, and his grandson survive him.World War II buffs will be interested in an article Henry wrote several years ago that can be found on the CMMC website.
We have a roster showing personnel assigned to Chatham during WWI. It lists names, rank, and dates of assignment.
Click here to browse the roster.