The SOS distress signal has been a staple for emergency communication for 110 years, and although communications technology is very different now to the days of Morse Code, the term is still widely used today.
The SOS distress signal was the work of the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk, who established it at the Berlin Radio Society on October 3, 1906 – although it wasn’t properly introduced until July 1, 1908.
To celebrate this landmark occasion, we take a look at some of the interesting SOS facts from across the last 110 years:
SOS does not stand for anything
Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. Nor does it mean ‘send out succour’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.
SOS was selected purely because it could be very easily transmitted in Morse code during distress · · · – – – · · · (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot). Only later did the likes of ‘save our souls’ emerge.
The SOS signal was first used in 1909
SOS was formally introduced on July 1, 1908 and almost a year later it was used by the Cunard liner SS Slavonia on July 10, 1909 during a shipwreck off the Azores, Portugal.
All on board were rescued, and some of the cargo – which included 400 bags of coffee, 1,000 ingots of copper and 200 casks of oil – were salvaged from the wreckage before it was completely abandoned.
SOS took a while to be adopted
Even though the SOS distress signal was made official in 1908, it took some time to be widely adopted. So much so that in 1912, the radio operator aboard the striken Titanic used the old CQD distress signal first before he joked that they may as well do the new SOS distress signal too as they may never get a chance to try it again.