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Jack Irwin, Marconi Wireless Man

A PowerPoint presentation by John Dilks, K2TQN

Editor's note: This was the  "Tech Talk" presentation at our October 2010 meeting.
You can view the archived video clip here.
You can read more on the subject here.

In August 1901 the Marconi Company built a station at Siasconset, on the island of Nantucket. Another station was installed aboard the Nantucket Lightship No.66 forty-two miles away which would become the first point of contact for ocean liners bound for New York.  Sometime around 1906 a young wireless operator named Jack Irwin was assigned there as one of the four operators.


Just 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. Distress. The Republic rammed by unknown steamer 175 east of Ambrose Light. Lat. 40.7, Lon. 70.” It was from the White Star liner, the RMS Republic 60-miles 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 wireless operator aboard the Republic was Jack Binns who was also quite a hero.

Jack 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 the rescue was successful but I'm ahead of myself. The story about how he got to the point where he needed to be rescued is really interesting.  His airship adventure would begin in Atlantic City.

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. A dense fog dripped down over everything. The crew of the ship consisted of Messrs. Walter Wellman, commanding; Melvin Vani­man, chief engineer; Louis Loud and Fred Aubert, assistant engineers; Murray Simon, navigator; and Marconi Wireless 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 the mascot, a pretty foundling kitten that had been a stray pet around the hangar. The crew had jokingly told visitors that the kitten was going along with them 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. Up they went and the cat was one of the 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 admitted that he was grateful for that kitten's affectionate company. It was always to be found cuddled up to next to Irwin in the wireless corner of the lifeboat.

And so the adventure begins.



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