Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
LIMITED TIME ONLY: Discounted Pint Glass/Tote Bag Combo at $10 sustaining member level.

New Wireless Technology Hacked! (June 4, 1903)

One hundred and nine years ago — June 4, 1903 — the famous Italian communications pioneer Marconi waited on a cliff in Cornwall, England, ready to send a Morse code message to a colleague named Fleming in London. Fleming wasn't waiting alone for the historic transmission: he had set up a new wireless communicator in front of an eager audience at London's Royal Institution.

Marconi had boasted that with this new wireless technology, Morse code could be sent privately over long distances.

Before Marconi could begin his code-sending demonstration, however, the machine in London sprang to life. It repeated a single word: "Rats."

Next, as writer Paul Marks explained in the pages of New Scientist:

"The incoming Morse then got more personal, mocking Marconi: 'There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily,' it trilled. Further rude epithets - apposite lines from Shakespeare - followed."

Marconi and colleagues had been hacked!

Marks' article, explaining who did the hacking and why it amounted to a good thing for science, makes a fun Sunday read.

You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.