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Susan Douglas on: Promoting Wireless
Susan Douglas Q: Tell me about Gordon Bennett. Who he is, and now he gets involved in promoting wireless?

SD: James Gordon Bennett was, of course, the son of James Gordon Bennett, Sr., the founder of The New York Herald. He followed in his father's footsteps, he was a great newspaper entrepreneur, the guy who thought it was a great idea to send Stanley out to find Livingstone, etc. He was also an avid yachtsman. And when Bennett heard about Marconi's success in covering a yacht race in Ireland, he offered to pay him $5000 to cover the America's Cup Races in 1899, in New York Harbor.

Q: Tell us about that yacht race and the coverage and what happened.

SD: The yacht races occurred just a few days after Admiral Dewey returns triumphant from the Philippines. So the New York City area has basically been in one massive celebration all week. It's this environment that Marconi walks into, with his contraptions, gets on board a ship, and begins following the yacht races for The "Herald." The "Herald" considers this to be an enormous scoop, and has huge full-page coverage of Marconi's success in reporting the yacht races faster than anybody else. And what he does is he wirelesses--and that's the language that was used--the progress of the yacht races back to the "Herald" headquarters in Manhattan. They immediately post the point by point progress up on bulletin boards, so people who are outside the "Herald" offices can follow the progress of the yacht races almost instantaneously, compared to what was available otherwise, and this is proclaimed, of course, by Bennett and The Herald as an enormous communications coup.

Q: What was Bennett's motivation?

SD: Bennett was not just going after a one time scoop. Bennett and the other New York newspapers felt that the transatlantic cable companies were charging them extortionate rates for transatlantic service, and they were hoping that wireless telegraphy would prove to be a powerful competitor that would undercut in price the cable companies and provide an alternative method of news gathering.

Q: What's in it for Marconi? I mean, here you have this first demonstration in America, right? Marconi is kind of being a bit daring in saying he can pull it off.

SD: Marconi is trying to do two things. First, of course, he's trying to provide ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communications. This is an enormous untapped market. The other thing he's trying to do is compete with the cable companies to provide transatlantic news service from Europe to the United States, using no wires. This seems extraordinary at the time, and Marconi boasts that he can do it. So you can see that there's quickly a symbiotic relationship that emerges between the press and Marconi. They're happy to give him tons of publicity because they want him to provide a cheaper service, providing transatlantic news. And he, of course, needs the publicity to promote his apparatus and his companies and to sell stock.

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