32. Marconi cocktail

30 Sep

The intruder differed but little in his manner of approach from other strangers I had seen hovering about my friend, but to make sure of his identity—the painter had not yet noticed the man—I sent Marny a Marconi message of inquiry with my eyebrows . . .

— F. Hopkinson Smith, The Under Dog (New York: Scribner’s, 1903), p. 268.

MARCONI, Guglielmo, the man who made the inventors of telephone poles and wires look foolish. His inventions have made it possible for New York stock brokers to continue their business while journeying to Paris.

— Irwin L. Gordon, Who Was Who, 5000BC To Date (Philadelphia: McKay, 1914), p. 74.

The twentieth century didn’t truly begin until 12 December 1901. That was the day when inventor and entrepreneur Guglielmo Marconi, still only 28 years old, announced “the most wonderful scientific development of recent times” (“Wireless Signals Across the Atlantic”, New York Times, 14 December, 1901): he had succeeding in transmitting a signal across the Atlantic using “Herztian” (radio) waves and his new system of wireless telegraphy. And so began the revolution in telecommunications that would change the world forever: soon there would follow radio, television, mobile phones and the internet.

At the time, however, some were sceptical about Marconi’s achievement. The transmission, which originated in a station in Poldhu, Cornwall and was received 3500 kilometres away, in St John’s, Newfoundland, consisted simply of the repetition at intervals of the letter “S” in Morse code; as such, the sign was difficult to distinguish from atmospheric noise and there was anyway no independent confirmation of the reception. It didn’t matter, though: a year later Marconi sent another signal, west to east, from Nova Scotia to Cornwall, and on this occasion the press was present. And on 18 January, 1903, in the first transatlantic transmission from the United States, he forwarded greetings from President Theodore Roosevelt to the recently crowned King Edward VII (who had been a patron of Marconi’s work and two weeks earlier had received a message directly from the man himself):

In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American people most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and all the people of the British Empire.

Theodore Roosevelt

South Wellfleet, Mass., Jan. 19, 1903.

The monarch answered:

I thank you most sincerely for the kind message which I have just received from you through Marconi’s transatlantic wireless telegraph. I sincerely reciprocate in the name of the people of the British Empire the cordial greetings and friendly sentiment expressed by you on behalf of the American nation, and I heartily wish you and your country edvery possible prosperity.

Edward R. and I.

Sandringham, Jan. 19, 1903.

— Orrin E. Dunlap, Marconi, The Man and his Wireless (New York: Macmillan, 1937), pp. 141-2.

I think we know by now how this epoch-making event was celebrated. With a cocktail, of course! Tim Daly was swiftly off the mark; already in his Bartender’s Encyclopedia, published in 1903, we find a recipe for a drink “named after the renowned inventor, Signor Marconi, and [which] is as modern as that gentleman’s system of wireless telegraphy” (p. 88). Like Marconi, whose mother was Irish, the eponymous cocktail is a suitably Anglo-Italian mix:

1/2 jigger of Plymouth gin

1/2 jigger of Italian vermuth [sic]

I wonder if the type of gin, too, has symbolic value: Plymouth is just up the coast from Cornwall, where Marconi’s transmitting station was located.

To the gin and sweet vermouth we add:

1 piece of orange, which should be put in at the end.

In cutting the orange, go deep enough to get some of the pulp, as the oil of the orange and the fruit together make a delightful blend; strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.

We end up with a light, citrusy concoction, not unlike a Bronx, that goes down almost as quickly as one of Marconi’s wireless transmissions crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

The Café Royal Cocktail Book, which appeared in 1937, the year that Marconi died, has a different recipe, one which calls for 1/3 Martini sweet vermouth and 2/3 Calvados.


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