LONDON — As the Titanic was sinking in the North Atlantic, its more than 2,000 passengers and crew scrambling in the dark for lifeboats, a young man far away in Wales heard the ship's distress calls on his homemade radio.
Arthur "Artie" Moore, one of the few people on Earth following the developing disaster, could do nothing to help, and encountered disbelief when he reported the news to his local police station.
Although some people believed that Moore had heard the signals, "the fact that the Titanic had sunk, no one would believe that because the Titanic was unsinkable," said Stuart Instone, a member of a local radio club based in the old mill where Moore monitored radio traffic as the ship sank on the night of April 14-15, 1912.
Moore's achievement, which sparked a career in the electronics industry, is being celebrated in the Welsh valleys on the centenary of the disaster.
Winding House museum in New Tredegar, southern Wales, is opening an exhibition titled "The Titanic, the Mill and the Signal: Artie Moore and Titanic's SOS" on Friday, and the local Blackwood & District Amateur Radio Society will be using a special call sign to send messages on April 13-15 from Gelligroes Mill, where Moore built and operated his device.
At the time, it was believed that radio transmission could only reach a thousand miles (1,600 km) or so at night, Instone said — but Moore was 3,000 miles from the sinking ship.
"For a lad in the Welsh valleys to do that was quite an achievement," he added.
Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi was so impressed with Moore's achievements that he hired the Welshman, who went on to patent an "echometer," a sonar device, in 1932.
At 12:15 a.m. on April 15, the 26-year-old amateur radio enthusiast heard a faint signal in Morse Code: "CQD Titanic 41.44N 50.24W."
CQD meant "come quickly distress." In its next message, Titanic also used the newer SOS signal — "CQD CQD SOS de MGY Position 41.44N 50.24W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We have struck an iceberg. Sinking."
Moore continued to copy the increasingly desperate messages until Titanic went silent about two hours after the first distress call.
"We are putting the passengers off in small boats," ''Women and children in boats, cannot last much longer," ''Come as quickly as possible old man; our engine-room is filling up to the boilers."
Then, finally: "SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic."
It would be two days before newspaper headlines worldwide corroborated Moore's story.
David Constable, the curator of Gelligroes Mill, said Moore had lost part of a leg in an accident before the night in the mill, and took up model building as he recovered. His model of a stationary steam engine won a competition prize, a book called "Modern Views of Electricity and Magnetism."
"It was about how to make a radio, really," Constable said.
The author, Sir Oliver Lodge, had demonstrated the potential of radio communication at a lecture in London in 1894, a year before Marconi did the same.
Moore died in 1949. His model steam engine and some parts of his radio are on permanent display at the mill.
Museums officer Emma Wilson said that the Winding House has invited Moore's niece, Margaret Hopkins, to cut the ribbon when the exhibition opens on Friday. It includes some replicas of items salvaged from the Titanic.
AP Titanic Interactive http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2012/titanic-100-years/
Blackwood Amateur Radio Society http://www.gb100ggm.co.uk/
The Winding House http://www.windinghouse.co.uk/