Today in History, August 11, 1909:
The first American use of “SOS” to call for assistance at sea. Diamond Shoals extends many miles into the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and are considered to be the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, one of the most dangerous areas of the east coast.
On today’s date the SS Arapahoe was off the shoals when the ship lost it’s screw (propeller). Wireless operator T. D. Haubner sent the SOS
signal and help was dispatched from Hatteras.
A few months later the Arapahoe was the first to respond to the second use of SOS by the SS Iroquois…so that Haubner and the Arapahoe are the first to have sent and the first to have responded to the signal (ship-wise).
Many (including me until today) believe the signal stands for “Save our Ship” or “Save our Souls”. Neither is true. After using several other codes to signal distress, the international sailing community settled on SOS because the code for the letters in Morse code are easy to send under stress and easily understood, and some of the previous signals weren’t. …—… dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot.