For years I have told the following story when I am near the old Wanamaker’s building and was even at the offices of Nielson some years ago which are on the top floor. I will tell the story now and maybe hold my readers in suspense until the end:

The night the Titanic hit the iceberg, the Marconi radio station on top of the John Wanamaker’s Department store at 9th Street and Broadway was the first to receive the Morse code signals coming from the foundering ship. That night by chance there was a 16 year old at the telegraph key, a young immigrant from Russia who stayed at the key that night and received and transmitted the messages which told the world of the enormity of the disaster. The name of the radio operator was David Sarnoff who as a result of the fame he achieved started the Radio Corporation of America and as they say, the rest is history.

Well if it weren’t for all the publicity about the 100th anniversary of the sinking I would continue to tell and retell the story. In fact if it weren’t for Google I probably would still tell the story but….. I checked on line and found that the story took on the proportions of a legend but in fact Sarnoff did work as a telegraph operator for Marconi but was not likely to have been at the key that night.

This from the internet:

“He Sarnoff, joined the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America on September 30, 1906, and started a career of over sixty years in electronic communications.
Over the next thirteen years Sarnoff rose from office boy to commercial manager of the company, learning about the technology and the business of electronic communications on the job and in libraries. He also served at Marconi stations on ships and posts on Siasconset,Nantucket and the New York Wanamaker Department Store.

The following year, he led two other operators at the Wanamaker station in an effort to confirm the fate of theTitanic. Learning early the value of self-promotion and publicity, Sarnoff falsely advanced himself both as the sole hero who stayed by his telegraph key for three days to receive information on the Titanic’s survivors and as the prescient prophet of broadcasting who predicted the medium’s rise in 1916.
Regarding the Titanic story, some modern media historians question whether Sarnoff was at the telegraph key at all. As the profile done for the Museum of Broadcast Communications correctly points out, by the time of the Titanic disaster in 1912, Sarnoff was in management, and no longer a telegrapher; plus, the event occurred on a Sunday, when the store would have been closed.”

I have added below a link to the story of the two radio operators who served on the sinking ship. It is an amazing story.

One thought on “A Legend About the Titanic

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