Regimental Division,
Office Chief of Signal

United States Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, GA
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SOS …---…

The lack of international radio regulations created problems, among them the Marconi company’s attempt to establish a radio monopoly. Marconi initially leased rather than sold his equipment to his clients and supplied the operators as well. He further stipulated that there must be no intercommunication between Marconi sets and those of other manufacturers, except in emergencies. By this means he hoped to force all those wanting wireless service to use Marconi equipment. At the invitation of the German government, representatives of eight nations, including Chief Signal Officer Greely, gathered at the first international conference on wireless telegraphy, held in Berlin during August 1903. The meeting produced a protocol that remains the cornerstone of international radio agreements. It provisions contained a statement upholding the policy of intercommunication, thus striking a blow to the Marconi interests.

A second conference convened in Berlin in October 1906, with Chief Signal Officer Allen in attendance. The resulting treaty embodied the intercommunication principle of the 1903 protocol and received the endorsement of President Roosevelt. The conference also adopted the signal "SOS" as the international distress call because these letters could be easily sent and deciphered. General Allen and other government officials concerned about radio policy jointly submitted arguments in favor of the treaty before congressional hearings.

Due to strenuous opposition by various radio companies, especially the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, as well as of amateur operators, the Senate did not ratify this treaty until 1912. Majors Squier, Russel and Saltzman attended the third international conference, held in London in 1912 to revise the 1906 treaty. Convening shortly after the Titanic disaster, the conference devoted much of its attention to safety at sea.

Getting the Message Through by Becky Raines, pp. 137 -138, Center of Military History

Last modified on:
April 04, 2012

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