Wrights weren’t only inventors on Outer Banks

On this day in 1906: A decade after Guglielmo Marconi of Italy sent the first radio signal, Reginald Fessenden makes the first voice transmission. From a station in Brant Rock, Mass., he broadcasts to ships at sea a program of two musical selections (including his own violin rendition of “O, Holy Night”), a Scripture reading and a short talk.

Fessenden, a native of Canada who had been Thomas Edison’s chief chemist, laid the groundwork for his breakthrough during two years’ research on the Outer Banks; barely a dozen miles away, the Wright Brothers were preparing to fly at Kitty Hawk.

A storm almost sank the Fessenden expedition on the way to Roanoke Island. Conditions continued to be harsh — crew members often had to wear mosquito netting — but 50-foot transmission towers were erected on Roanoke and Hatteras.

Reg Fessenden was considered by at least one contemporary scientist to be “the greatest wireless inventor of the age — greater than Marconi.” But the question of who would profit from radio was complex and treacherous, and Fessenden lost out in extended, bitter litigation over patent rights.