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Marconi - Still Making Waves...

It is hard to conceive of a world without radio.  In the last hundred years we have come to accept telecommunications as a part of everyday life - a technological revolution which has touched all of us and made the world a smaller and safer place.   There is one man who stands head and shoulders above the rest who must be recognised as the driving force behind radio development -

Guglielmo Marconi.


Over the years there has been much argument over who can be credited as being the inventor of radio. The existence of electromagnetic waves was first demonstrated by Heinrich Hertz in 1887-8 but this work was purely academic and it is probable that Hertz could see no practical use for his findings. The work of Hertz did however, inspire the young Marconi who dreamed of communicating over large distances using 'Hertzian Waves'.


Marconi was born into a wealthy Italian family.  He was something of a reserved child - a trait that lasted all his life - who showed no real promise either socially or academically.  He did however demonstrate an aptitude for physics. After failing the qualifying examination for the Naval Academy, Marconi returned to the family home, Villa Grifone, where he had established a laboratory in an attic. Encouraged by his 

David Wardell

Related further reading...

Further Reading:

mother - Annie Jameson of the famous Irish whiskey family - he began experimenting and by the summer of 1894 had succeeded in transmitting signals over a few yards. This work was opposed by his father who saw the young Marconi as something of a dilettante.


By improving his equipment and realising the value of an elevated aerial, by the end of August 1995 Marconi was able to send signals over a distance of 1.75 miles. He now tried to interest the Italian Government in his inventions - but no support was forthcoming.  To be fair, it must be remembered that he was unqualified, aged only 21 and probably perceived of as something of a wealthy eccentric.  In a move that will bring a wry smile to modern British inventors, it was decided that Britain would be the best place to look for support and so the young man set sail for England in 1896.


On arrival, and with the help of his cousin, Henry Jameson Davis, the world's first patent application for a system of telegraphy using Hertzian waves was filed.  British patent No. 12039 was granted on 2 June 1896.  At the same time, Marconi had met a well-known electrical engineer, A A Campbell Swinton, who was so impressed with his work that he provided a letter of introduction to William Preece, Chief of the Engineering Department at the General Post Office.


It was this introduction that marked a turning point in Marconi's fortunes.  Later he was at pains to recognise his indebtedness to Preece, who had given every encouragement and the necessary technical support.  Following demonstrations of his new techniques, the next few years were to herald a new era in communications. Transmission distances were increased dramatically as, through a process of invention and innovation, equipment was steadily improved.  On 12 December 1901, this was to culminate in the historic trans-Atlantic signals from Poldhu, Cornwall to Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Throughout this period of amazing advances, Marconi had to swim against the tide.  Every time a breakthrough was made, eminent scientists and engineers accused him of derivative and obvious work.  It was proposed that long-distance communication was impossible because if a receiver was beyond the horizon then any radio wave would head, in a straight line, out into space.  Nobody was to know that signals would be reflected back from the ionosphere.  Marconi, through a combination of intuition and experimentation, was to prove all of his critics wrong.


From a modern perspective it is difficult for us to comprehend just how great an impact Marconi was to have on the world.  As developments grew, he was literally a world-wide hero to millions.  The notorious murderer, Dr Crippen, was captured because of radio-telegraphy.  The survivors of the sinking of the Titanic owed their lives to radio communication.  These developments were of great comfort to Marconi as he had originally thought in terms of ship-to-shore communications.  From our point of view it is hard to remember that, before Marconi, a ship beyond the sight of shore was on its own until it reached its destination.


Marconi's achievements, both as an inventor and a businessman, were so many-fold that an article of this nature cannot hope to chronicle them all.  It was on the event of his death that his incalculable benefits to mankind were recognised.  News of his demise was carried throughout the world by wireless.  As a mark of respect, and for the first time since Marconi began, the 'ether' was quiet for two minutes as all the world's wireless stations shut down.  This quietude will surely never occur again.

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Guglielmo Marconi born in Bologna, Italy


First experiments using'Hertzian Waves'at Villa Grifone


HF and VHF experiments using a sensitive coherer


Experiments moved into the grounds of Villa Grifone


'Marconi Antenna' system invented and transmits over a distance of 2.4km


Moves to London with his mother


First patent request in London


A A Campbell Swinton gives Marconi letter of introduction to PO Chief Engineer, Preece


Receives patent no. 12039


First public demonstration from the Post Office roof at St Martin's-le-Grand to the Savings Bank in Queen Victoria Street (1km)


Start of Salisbury Plain experiments over a distance of about 3km


Experiments from Lavernock Point near Cardiff to Flat Holme Island in the Bristol Channel


Demonstrations in the Gulf of La Spezia, Italy, over a distance of 16km


First experimental Transmissions from the Royal Needles Hotel, Alum Bay on Isle of Wight, to a ship in the Solent and later to Bournemouth


Start of the first public service radio telegraphy between Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight (26km)


Wireless communication between Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, and the Prince of Wales on board Royal Yacht in the Solent


First cross-channel message transmitted from Wimereux, near Boulogne' to South Foreland


World's first radio factory established at Hall Street, Chelmsford, with Marconi major shareholder


Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company formed


First experiments with mobile radio from a steam-driven wagon over a distance of 50km


World's first wireless school at Frinton opens


First trans-Atlantic transmission from Poldhu, Cornwall to Signal Hill, Newfoundland


Marconi marries Hon. Beatrice O'Brien


Shares Nobel Prize for Physics


First message from aeroplane to ground, using a Marconi spark transmitter


1911 - Marconi Company launches the Marconigraph, later re-named Wireless World


Titanic sinks: survivors owe their lives to wireless distress calls


Marconi Company publishes first Wireless World magazine


Appointed Senator in Rome


King George V gives Marconi honorary title of GCVO


First longwave station for direct communication with USA; transmitter at Caernarfon and receiver in Tywyn


Marconi buys yacht Elettra, which he fits out as floating laboratory


2MT -'2 Emma Toc'- starts test broadcasts from Marconi Company's Writtle, Essex, laboratories


2LO starts broadcasts from Marconi House in London and British Broadcasting Company formed by Marconi and five other companies


Marconi divorced from Hon. Beatrice O'Brien


Marries Maria Christina Bezzi-Scali


Daughter Maria Elettra Elena Anna (now Princess Elettra) born


Personally supervises installation of Vatican Radio shortwave broadcast transmitter


Marconi dies in Rome

Some Key Dates:

Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO)

King George V

Commemorative Coin

New Street, Chelmsford

Marconi and Beatrice O'Brien

Cape Cod, 1906

Radio operator aboard Elettra

Nobel Prize

Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, Albert

The Marconi Family

In the Radio Room aboard Elettra


Marconi marries Christina Bezzi-Scali

The Marconi's with their daughter (now Princess Elettra)

Early Marconi Equipment

Crippen Captured - a radio first

(Right) The Titanic Radio Room re-created for the Cameron movie and (Below) the sinking.

Dame Nellie Melba sings for a broadcast - 1920

Marconi with his mother, Annie Jameson

A A Campbell-Swinton


William Preece

The young Marconi

(Above) Post Office Engineers - 1897 and (Left) Poldhu, Cornwall

Guglielmo Marconi

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