The term wireless telegraphy came into widespread use around the turn of the 19th century, when spark-gap transmitters and primitive receivers made it practical to send telegraph messages over great distances, enabling transcontinental and ship-to-shore signalling. A ship's master could contact shipping line agents ashore to inquire which port was to receive their cargo without the need to come ashore at what was the first port of landfall.
The emphasis of communication at that time was based on the economics of goods' arrivals at port rather than issues of safety and problems at sea. The following extract highlights the lack of commitment to legislate compulsory wireless requirements aboard all vessels:
HC Dec 08 September 1909 vol 10 cc1298-9 1298
'Mr. REES asked whether the missing ship "Waratah" was provided with wireless telegraphic apparatus?'
'Mr. CHURCHILL: I am informed by the owners of the "Waratah" that she was not fitted with a wireless telegraphic-apparatus.'
'Mr. REES: Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the time has come to make it obligatory on owners to provide this great safeguard against loss of life on passenger ships?'
'Mr. CHURCHILL: No; I do not think that the time has come for that yet.'
(This is indeed Winston Churchill who was also President of the Board of Trade at the time)
Muirhead Morse inker. Apparatus similar to that used by Marconi in 1897