In the days after the tragic sinking of Titanic, Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless telegraph, was hailed as a hero. His invention had saved the lives of over 700 passengers because ships at sea had been able to receive the wireless messages and come to the aid of Titanic. But there had at least six wireless messages received by Titanic warning of growlers, bergs, pack ice, and field ice in a band 78 miles wide through which the Titanic would travel. Some people believe that if these warnings had been heeded, the Titanic would have completed her maiden voyage safely. There are several explanations about which messages reached the captain and why. One is that the telegram from Mesaba which gave precise details of the massive ice field in the path of Titanic did not contain the MSG prefix, indicating a personal message for the captain which he would be required by regulations then in force to personally acknowledge. The radio operator of the Californian also failed to use the MSG prefix in the message from his captain to Titanic.
Other issues came up about wireless telegraphy and how it operated aboard ship. The first ship reaching the site of the Titanic disaster was Carpathia which had immediately changed course after hearing Titanic's distress message. At 14 knots it took Carpathia four hours to arrive, having steamed 68 miles. It rescued only those in boats; those entering the water did not survive. Within sight of Titanic and ten miles away was California, a steamer who had earlier reported being surrounded by ice and whose records of the night show that it had seen Morse code lights and distress rockets from Titanic but had not responded.
Regardless of how California's actions have been explained, one fact is indisputable. At 11:30 PM, minutes before Titanic hit the iceberg and 45 minutes before the first of many distress signals were transmitted, California Wireless Operator Cyril F. Evans closed down his set by going off duty at his regular time. Evans was being visited by Third Officer Groves who had an interest in wireless and had some skill in receiving and transmitting. Groves puts on the head phones, but not knowing much about the equipment he doesn't wind up the magnetic detector and therefore so couldn't hear anything. Groves puts headset down at 12:15. The California is only ten miles away from Titanic but the wireless room is closed for the night.
During the days when Titanic was proceeding towards New York, the world was desperate for news. Much misinformation was distributed like this headline:
"Passengers Safely Moved and Steamer Titanic Taken in Tow - Carpathia and Parisian Care For Those Aboard Disabled Liner While Virginia Lends Aid to Make Port - Bulkheads Hold - Office of White Star Company Confident Steamer Is Unsinkable and Will Float Until Halifax Is Reached. BULLETIN: New Haven Railroad Schedules Special Pullman Train to Halifax to Accept Passengers."
One reason was that there was no wireless traffic other than personal messages sent from Carpathia. There have been a variety of explanations for this silence. Some speculated that information was withheld so that insurance companies could adjust their loss rates; others believed that Marconi directed his employees to be silent. One explanation was that the Carpathia's own wireless operator was incompetent so that Bride of Titanic was left to do the work. Bride later stated: "the public should not blame anybody because more wireless messages about the disaster to the Titanic did not reach shore form Carpathia. I positively refused to send (answer) press dispatches because the bulk of personal messages with touching words of grief were so large... I just worked wireless. The splutter never died down. I knew it soothed the hurt and felt like a tie to the world of friends back home. How could I take news queries? Sometimes I let a newspaper ask a question and get a long string of stuff asking for full particulars about everything. Whenever I started to take such a message I thought of the poor people waiting for their messages to go - hoping for answers to them. I shut off the inquirers, and sent my personal messages"(17).
Any of these issues surrounding wireless - warnings of ice not heeded, distress messages not heard, misinformation about the tragedy, the roles of other wireless operators and of Marconi himself, could be of interest to a student historian. Although more than 700 of those on Titanic survived, many passengers and crew members died the morning of Sunday April 15, 1912. Still today, the actions of those on Titanic are being discussed. In this mystery, in this drama, students researchers can find the real "stuff" of history.