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Susan Douglas on: The Impact of Wireless on Ships
Susan Douglas Q: Describe the impact of wireless going to sea. Give me a sense of what it was like for ships to be traveling without wireless and then to suddenly have it.

SD: Imagine going out in a ship and all you have are semaphores and homing pigeons. Once you can no longer see the shore, you are incommunicado. Nothing until you get to the other shore. That's the situation that people confronted in the 1890s. Imagine then all of a sudden you get a device that ends that isolation. That makes it possible if there is some kind of disaster or accident to signal another ship similarly equipped. This is an enormous revolution in safety and communications.

Q: Did this technology threaten the captains?

SD: Ships' captains had mixed reactions to wireless telegraphy aboard ship. This was especially true of military captains because they were used to having complete command of that ship once it left shore. That was their baby, it was their show. And with wireless telegraphy there was the danger now that their authority could be undercut by signals from shore, by somebody who outranked them on shore. And so wireless telegraphy, especially for naval captains, was not always welcome.

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