Revolution in Technology
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Revolution in Technology
Canada is home to invention and innovation in the emerging age of technology
In the early 1900s, technology was transforming Canada and the world. And some of the early innovations of the century were being devised right at home.
In 1902, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi journeyed to Cape Breton to try to convince the world that he could connect Europe and North America with nothing but radio waves. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, PA-093099, Guglielmo Marconi)
In 1902, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi journeyed to Cape Breton to try to convince the world that he could connect Europe and North America with nothing but radio waves. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, PA-093099, Guglielmo Marconi)

Cape Breton was a magnet for technological development in the first decade of the century. In 1902, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi journeyed to the island to try and convince the world that he could connect Europe and North America with nothing but radio waves.

He had had success the previous year, when he transmitted the Morse signal for "s" from Cornwall, England to St. John's, Newfoundland, but his success had been publicly doubted.

In Cape Breton, anticipation grew as Marconi worked on his invention.

"Excitement around town is intense and all kinds of news is going the rounds concerning events the future will unfold," wrote a reporter with the Sydney Record.

On December 15, 1902, Marconi sent the first full wireless message across the Atlantic. It was a short greeting to the Times newspaper of London from its correspondent, a Dr. Parkin, in Glace Bay. Marconi's success gained international attention. He also revolutionized communication, opening the door to the development of the wireless industry.

A few years later, Cape Breton was again the home of innovation. Alexander Graham Bell, a communication pioneer himself, owned a summer estate on Bras d'Or Lakes.
In 1909, Alexander Graham Bell's Silver Dart airplane flew about half a mile - higher and longer in the air than the Wright Brothers' plane. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, C-008355, Alexander Graham Bell)
In 1909, Alexander Graham Bell's Silver Dart airplane flew about half a mile - higher and longer in the air than the Wright Brothers' plane. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, C-008355, Alexander Graham Bell)

Bell had patented the telephone in the early 1880s but now he turned his attention to flight. The Wright brothers had beaten Bell off the ground in 1903 with the first manned airplane flight but the inventor was determined to go farther, faster - and higher.

On a February afternoon in 1909, Bells Silver Dart airplane was ready for testing on the frozen lake of Bras d'Or. A reporter looked on.

"Before some people realized what was taking place, the buzz of the engine could be heard and the machine was seen advancing rapidly. She had gone about 90 feet along the ice when she rose gracefully into the air ... Everyone seemed dumbfounded."

The Dart, piloted by a local man named J.A.D. McCurdy, flew about half a mile, higher and longer than the Wright Brothers' plane. It was the first manned flight in the British Empire.

Further afield in Canada, Adam Beck was powering his own contribution to the age of technology. The cigar box maker from London Ontario - turned provincial politician - dreamed of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls to produce cheap and bountiful electricity.

Becks slogan was "Power for the People."

"The poorest working man will have electric light in his home ... Nothing is too big for us. Nothing is too expensive to imagine."

In 1906, he introduced a bill in the provincial legislature to create the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario.

Beck became head of the new power commission and led the movement to develop electricity from Niagara Falls. Beck created the world's largest electrical company and helped ignite an industrial boom in Canada.

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