25 The Wireless 1901 AT THE START of the 20th century, few people imagined that an electromagnetic wave could travel without wires or cables over any significant distance. How could a radio signal possibly bend along the curvature of the earth? Surely it would shoot right off the horizon in a straight line. But Guglielmo Marconi believed that radio waves, if given the chance, would follow the earth's contours. In 1895, in his native Italy, he transmitted a radio signal about a mile and a half; six years later, on December 12, 1901, Marconi raised the stakes. Affixing antennas to high-flying kites, Marconi, only 27, arranged for one signal--the Morse code letter S--to cross the Atlantic, some 2,000 miles. The signal was sent from the town of Poldhu, in Cornwall, England; in a fraction of a second, at a receiving station in St. John's, Newfoundland, Marconi heard three faint clicks. It was the sound of the communications industry being hatched, the first wave of an electronic age that would include radio broadcasts, television and cellular telephones--a discovery that would open up our imaginations.