August 1901 the Marconi Company built a station at
Siasconset, on the island of Nantucket. Another station was installed
the Nantucket Lightship No.66
forty-two miles away which would become the first point of contact for
liners bound for New York. Sometime
around 1906 a young wireless operator named Jack Irwin was assigned
one of the four operators.
before 4 AM on January 23, 1909
while on the graveyard shift Irwin heard a weak call for help. “C.Q.D. C.Q.D. Attention all stations.
Republic rammed by unknown steamer 175 east of Ambrose Light. Lat.
70.” It was from the White Star liner, the RMS
away which had just been rammed by the Italian liner Florida
and was sinking. Irwin quickly took charge and contacted
the Baltic and several other nearby ships which all headed towards the Republic in thick fog. Six people were killed in the crash,
three from each ship,
but because of wireless 1,500 people were successfully rescued. The
operator aboard the Republic was
Binns who was also quite a hero.
Irwin returned to sea duty
after that. But it
was his next
assignment that would make history.
One hundred years ago this October he made
history by using
wireless to call CQD himself from an airship to a ship at sea. Again
was successful but I'm ahead of myself. The story about how he got to
where he needed to be rescued is really interesting.
His airship adventure would begin in
On the morning
of October 15, 1910, Jack
Irwin was awakened
about 4 o'clock and told to go aboard. There was not a breath of wind.
fog dripped down over everything. The crew of the ship consisted of
Walter Wellman, commanding; Melvin Vaniman, chief engineer; Louis Loud
Fred Aubert, assistant engineers; Murray Simon, navigator; and Marconi
man Jack Irwin. With the help of a few hundred police and firemen, they
proceeded to launch the largest non-rigid airship ever constructed. At
8 AM all
was in readiness and the crew climbed aboard. The last to embark was
mascot, a pretty foundling kitten that had been a stray pet around the
The crew had jokingly told visitors that the kitten was going along
and just as the word to "let go" was passed, somebody in the crowd
threw the kitten into the lifeboat where Irwin had taken his station.
went and the cat was one of
crew! Kitty, at first, appeared scared
and raised an awful "holler," but he (yes, it was a Tom!) soon
settled down. In the long days and longer nights that followed, Irwin
that he was grateful for that kitten's affectionate company. It was
be found cuddled up to next to Irwin in the wireless corner of the
And so the adventure begins.