Marconi's Hall Street Works
1898 - 1912
The World's First Wireless Factory
By Tim Wander
By the end of 1898 Guglielmo Marconi's fledgling new Wireless Telegraph Company was just over two years old. The young Italian engineer was exhausted from endless months of intense testing and developments, trying to prove that his system of wireless communication was a viable commercial proposition. But Marconi had no customers and his company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. However Marconi was no ordinary man. He believed in his system and he believed that the orders would come and that he would need to fulfil them.
In January 1899, in a brave, perhaps even reckless move, he opened the world's first wireless factory in Chelmsford, employing 20 people. For a time his new factory had to scramble for sub-contract manufacture, but over the next 13 years the Hall Street Works engineers, technicians and staff were to build the foundations of a new wireless age.
Soon the Hall Street Works would send equipment to the Boer War, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion and supply the huge Poldhu and Clifden transatlantic stations. In December 1901, against all the odds, Marconi managed to receive a wireless message sent across the Atlantic Ocean, over 2,170 miles, and much of the equipment was built in the Hall Street Works. Despite Marconi and his Company becoming world famous it was still a desperate struggle to find paying customers for his new 'wire-less' system. On 8th May 1901 the Royal Navy would place the first order for 32 sets, which was increased to 108 sets by 1905.
The Hall Street Works then supplied all the equipment for Marconi's growing network of coastal wireless stations and started to equip increasing numbers of civilian ships. The factory supplied customers across the globe including the Amazon Basin, Hawaii, Congo, Thailand, South Africa, India, Canada and even to both sides in the Balkan War of 1912. It was Marconi wireless equipment manufactured in Hall Street installed aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic that saved over 730 people when the great ship was lost in 1912 and over 760 people when the RMS Lusitania was sunk in May 1915. This successful use of wireless for safety at sea effectively generated a new and vast market for Marconi's equipment.
In the same year the Hall Street Works officially closed its doors as the huge New Street Works took over the workload and the world's first wireless factory fell silent, apart from its wireless station across the road that continued to eavesdrop on the German fleet feeding vital intelligence to the Navy's top secret Room 40 code breakers. It was this and all the work done at Hall Street that ensured that Britain and the Marconi Company were ready to face the extreme demands of a world now at war.
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