Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi (Bologna, April 25, 1874 – Rome, July 20, 1937) was an Italian inventor, entrepreneur and politician.
To him we owe the development of an effective system of long-distance telecommunication via radio waves, or wireless telegraphy or radiotelegraph, which had considerable diffusion, whose evolution led to the development of radio and television and in general of all modern systems and methods of radio communication using wireless communications, and that earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 shared with Carl Ferdinand Braun, “in recognition of his contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy”.
Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna on April 25, 1874 in Via IV Novembre 7 (formerly Via delle Asse 1170). His father Giuseppe Marconi, born in Capugnano on July 8, 1823 and died in Bologna on March 26, 1904, was a landowner who lived in the countryside of Pontecchio and was on his second marriage. Widower with one son, he met a young Irish girl, Annie Jameson, granddaughter of the founder of the historic distillery Jameson & Sons, who was visiting Italy to study bel canto, and married her on April 16, 1864 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. One year after the marriage was born Alfonso and, nine years later, Guglielmo.
Having had an Irish mother provides a better understanding of Marconi”s many activities that took place in Britain and Ireland. He could have opted for British citizenship at any time, as the son of both parents with such citizenship. When the little Guglielmo was three years old, on May 4, 1877, Giuseppe Marconi had in fact decided to take British citizenship.
Marconi, already at the age of twenty years, began the first experiments working as a self-taught, helped by his butler Mignani. In the summer of 1894 he built a thunderstorm detector consisting of a battery, a co-efficient (also called coherer, a tube with nickel and silver filings placed between two silver caps, a device invented by Temistocle Calzecchi Onesti from Fermo) and an electric bell, which emits a ring in case of lightning.
Later he manages, by pressing a telegraphic key placed on a counter, to ring a bell placed on the other side of the room. One night in December, Marconi wakes up his mother, invites her in his secret hideout and shows her the experiment he had made. The next day his father also witnesses the experiment. When he is convinced that the bell rings without connection with wires, he gives his son the money needed to purchase new materials. The young Marconi continues his experiments outdoors. In the countryside he increases the power of the emissions and the distance separating the transmitter from the receiver, capable of receiving the signals of the Morse alphabet.
In the late summer or early fall of 1895, the date is not certain, after several experiments at increasing distances, the device proved its worth in communicating and receiving signals at a distance of more than a mile, but also in overcoming natural obstacles (in this case, the Celestini hill behind Villa Griffone). The shotgun blast that the butler Mignani shoots into the air to confirm the success of the experiment (the device had vibrated and sang like a cricket three times) is considered the act of baptism of the radio. In fact, the fundamental characteristic of radio propagation, which allowed the development of cell phones and radio broadcasting, lies in the possibility of being able, unlike light rays, to make connections in the absence of line of sight. This makes Marconi”s activity innovative and unique. In parallel to Marconi were working several researchers including Tesla, but he did not intend to rely on Hertzian waves and the Russian Aleksandr Popov who had created a receiver of radio waves connected to the arrival of storms, conceptually similar to that of Marconi but much less sensitive and not able to receive Morse signals.
In 1896 Marconi spoke with his family friend Carlo Gardini, the United States Consul in Bologna, about the idea of leaving Italy to go to the United Kingdom. Gardini wrote a letter to his acquaintance, the Italian Ambassador in London, Annibale Ferrero, to introduce the young man and his extraordinary discoveries. As a reply, Ambassador Ferrero advises not to reveal to anyone the results obtained, if not after the presentation of the patent. He also encouraged him to go to the United Kingdom, where he believed it would be easier for him to find the capital necessary for the practical use of his invention. On February 12, 1896 Marconi left with his mother for the United Kingdom. In London, on March 5 of the same year, he presented his first provisional patent application, with the number 5028 and the title “Improvements in telegraphy and related apparatus”. It should be noted that this request is made 21 days in advance of the date of the first radio transmission made by the Russian Popov. 19 March Marconi received from the Patent Office confirmation of acceptance of the first application. On June 2 of the same year he deposited at the Patent Office in London a definitive application for a system of wireless telegraphy, n. 12039, entitled “Perfection in the transmission of impulses and electrical signals and in the relative apparatuses”. In doing so Marconi waives three months of priority on the invention. On July 2, 1897 he obtained the requested patent from the London Patent Office.
Marconi, meanwhile, carried out public demonstrations in the presence of politicians and industrialists: for example, he placed a transmitter on the roof of the Post Office building and a receiver in a house on a quay of the Thames, four kilometers away. For the Admiralty he establishes a contact through the Bristol Channel, 14 kilometers wide. He collaborates with the Daily Express on the Kingstown races. The journalists follow the regattas offshore, aboard a tugboat, then pass the news to Marconi who transmits it to a station ashore from where it is quickly telephoned to the newspaper.
In July 1897 Marconi founded in London the Wireless Telegraph Trading Signal Company (later renamed Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company), which opened its first office in Hall Street in Chelmsford, England, in 1898 and employed about fifty people.
Marconi makes the first wireless transmission over the sea from Ballycastle (Northern Ireland) to Rathlin Island in 1898. He established a radio link between the summer residence of Queen Victoria and the royal yacht on which there was the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, convalescing from a bad knee injury. In December of the same year, from a boat equipped with a radio starts a distress call: it is the first case of a rescue request. On May 29 the signals cross the English Channel overcoming the distance of 51 kilometers.
Marconi then focused his research towards the Atlantic, convinced that the waves can cross the ocean following the curvature of the Earth. In November 1901 in Poldhu, Cornwall, he installed a large transmitter whose 130-meter antenna consists of sixty wires stretched in a fan shape between two pylons 49 meters high and 61 meters apart. Then he embarks for St. John”s of Newfoundland with his assistants Kemp and Paget. The two places, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, are more than 3,000 kilometers apart. On December 12, 1901 took place the communication that is the first transoceanic radio signal. The message received is composed of three points, the letter S of the Morse code. To reach Newfoundland it had to bounce twice off the ionosphere. A recent challenge has been presented by Dr. Jack Belrose: based both on theoretical considerations and on attempts to repeat the experiment he believes that Marconi has only heard atmospheric disturbances mistaken for a signal. It is a fact that Marconi was able to repeat his transmissions later improving their reliability,
In 1903 Marconi installed a similar spark transmitter in the Radio Center of Coltano, near Pisa, which was used until the Second World War, first to communicate with the colonies of Africa, then with ships at sea. Subsequently, the transmitter was expanded and strengthened to become one of the most powerful radio stations in Europe.
In that year, as recalled by the press of the time (La Gazzetta della Spezia) Marconi was in La Spezia, at the structure of the Navy of San Bartolomeo, located between the capital and Lerici. Here Marconi worked to optimize transmissions and receptions, hoisting antennas suspended from helium inflated balloons on the planks of boats sent farther and farther from the coast of the Gulf of La Spezia.
On September 25, 1912, at about 12:30 am, Marconi was driving his car, a Fiat 50 HP, in the village of Borghetto Vara in the direction of Genoa, to cross the Bracco Pass. Just outside the village of Borghetto Vara, near a sharp curve, his car collided with another car, an Isotta Fraschini, getting stuck between the sheets of the latter. The impact is very violent and Marconi is injured in the right eye by the glass splinters of the windshield of his car, shattered in the collision. Admitted to the military hospital of La Spezia in Viale Fieschi, Marconi was operated, after consultation with various experts, due to the worsening of his condition; the doctors were forced to remove the injured eye. The curve near the village of Borghetto Vara, site of the accident, is still called Marconi curve by the old inhabitants.
In 1904 he carried out experiments on the Cappuccini hill of Ancona in order to study the influence of the sun on the transmission of radio waves, showing that they have a better propagation during the night.
On August 3, 1904 was made the first radio link across the Adriatic, putting in communication the city of Bari with that of Bar in Montenegro.
On March 16, 1905, he married Beatrice O”Brien, daughter of Edward O”Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin. The couple had three daughters, Lucia, who survived only three weeks, Degna and Gioia, and a son, Giulio. They divorced in 1924.
Marconi completed experiments to achieve reliable transoceanic communications until 1907 and founded the Marconi corporation, which in October 1907 inaugurated the first regular public radiotelegraphy service across the Atlantic Ocean, giving transatlantic ships the ability to launch SOS wirelessly (in 1907 the code CQD, not SOS, was still used).
The usefulness of radio rescue at sea was demonstrated on January 23, 1909, with the first resounding rescue at sea that led to the rescue of over 1700 passengers of the American liner “Republic”, which was about to sink after being rammed by the Italian steamer “Florida”. The radiotelegraph operator Binns, who worked for the Marconi company, continued to launch the SOS for fourteen hours repeatedly, until one of them was received by the operator of the steamer “Baltic”, whose commander ordered to change course and started the rescue operation. The next day in the port of New York, all passengers saved, Binns was celebrated as a hero and gratitude involved the figure of the marconist, accelerating the popularity of Marconi.
In the same year, on December 10, 1909, in Stockholm Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel Prize for Physics, shared with the German physicist Carl Ferdinand Braun. Marconi had already been nominated other times but that year the rescue of passengers of the Republic and Florida made easier the work of Gustaf Granquist, his nominator and supporter at the Royal Academy. However the internal debate was heated and the agreement was found through the sharing of the prize between Marconi and Braun who was academic and could balance the industrial interests of the United Kingdom and Germany. The motivation of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for both reads: “… in recognition of their contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy”. In the internal minutes, Marconi was defined as “without any doubt the creator of wireless telegraphy”, but Braun was a great scientist to whom we owe, among other things, the invention of the cathode ray tube.
In the fall of 1911 Marconi visited the Italian colonies in Africa to experiment with long-distance connections with the station of Coltano; in particular, he was in Tripoli, recently occupied by Italian troops, where he carried out in collaboration with Luigi Sacco, commander of the local radio station, some experiments of radio connection with Coltano, which gave impetus to the setting up by the Army of Engineers of the first large-scale military radiotelegraphy service.
When, in 1912, the Titanic sank after having launched the SOS signal via radio, Marconi was in the United States of America and rushed to the port of New York to receive the 705 survivors. He should have been on board, as he had been invited on the maiden voyage with his whole family, but for different reasons neither he nor his wife Beatrice went on that ship. Interviewed by the press in New York he said “It is worth having lived to have given these people the chance to be saved”. Before returning to Italy, an official ceremony was organized in which the survivors paraded through the streets of New York in rows, paying homage to Guglielmo Marconi with a gold plaque, made by the sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy, as a sign of gratitude. The inventor awarded a prize to the Titanic”s marconist Harold Bride who remained at his post launching rescue messages, even when the water had reached the upper deck. His colleague Harold Philips perished in the shipwreck.
From the matriculation sheet kept at the military district of Bologna, it is also clear that the young Marconi chose to be a soldier in the army for one year; instead he served in the Regia Marina, even though he was born in an inland city (he was included in the Royal Crew Corps as a worker). For this achievement was useful the possession of a boat in Livorno.
He performed his military service at the embassy in London from November 1, 1900. Transferred to Italy he was discharged on November 1, 1901, but due to his age he was transferred to the army on December 31, 1906. He was appointed senator for life of the Kingdom of Italy on December 30, 1914. On June 19, 1915 Marconi enlisted as a volunteer in the Royal Army with the rank of Lieutenant of the Engineer Corps, then promoted to Captain on July 27, 1916 and, although an army officer, he served in the Radiotelegraphic Institute of the Navy; following a regular application, dated Leghorn August 14, 1916 submitted to the Minister of the Navy, he was appointed Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Navy with R. D. of August 31, 1916, discharged with that rank on November 1, 1919, and promoted to Captain of Frigate on leave with R.D. March 28, 1920, and then Captain of Vessel with R.D. July 7, 1931. Both of these promotions were part of the advancement standards for complement officers on leave.
The war period, with all the experiments he did, gave Marconi the conviction that long waves should be abandoned in favor of short ones. This, a second revolution of wireless, was the move that allowed then to develop a number of radio systems such as microwave radio links, radio aids, RADAR etc..
In 1914 Marconi was appointed Senator and acquired a certain political importance. He carried out various missions for the Italian government that exploited his popularity. The most significant was perhaps the participation in the Paris Peace Conference. The disappointing results for Italy, which he was not able to avoid, marked him for the following times. This explains his behavior when in 1920 he was sent on a mission to Fiume with his yacht Elettra by Gabriele D”Annunzio. Instead of convincing him to renounce, he sent radio messages with him from the ship Elettra.
In 1920 Marconi”s Chelmsford facility was the site of the UK”s first publicly announced audio broadcast; it was a concert by Australian singer Nellie Melba. In 1922 the first regular service of entertainment broadcasts began from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle, near Chelmsford.
He was appointed president of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in 1927 and of the Regia Accademia d”Italia (today”s Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei) on September 19, 1930, automatically becoming a member of the Grand Council of Fascism, although he attended only one session.
The figure of Marconi was used by the Italian government to enhance the role of Italians abroad. During the difficult years of the First World War, Prime Minister Boselli had proposed appointing Marconi as commissioner to take care of the Italian diplomatic representation in the United States of America, but the project was not followed up due to the resistance of career diplomats.
The question of Marconi”s adhesion to Fascism is very complex and is still being studied. Certainly he was strongly courted, from the beginning, by the regime, as it had been by previous governments, and decided to join, not so much for the important positions in national bodies, which came later, but for the patriotic spirit that seemed to represent at the beginning. Negatively, speeches such as “I claim the honor of having been in radiotelegraphy the first Fascist, the first to recognize the usefulness of gathering in a beam the electric rays, as Mussolini first recognized in the political field the need to gather in a beam the healthy energies of the country for the greater greatness of Italy”. Benito Mussolini, in a speech to the Senate on December 9, 1937, affirmed: “No wonder that Marconi embraced, from the very beginning, the doctrine of the Black Shirts, proud to have him in their ranks”. On the occasion of the 19th meeting of the Italian Society for the Advancement of Science, which was held from 7 to 15 September 1930 jointly in Bolzano and Trento, he began his inaugural speech with the words “My greeting is exultant for the pleasure of finding myself among the brothers of Trentino in a great and purely Italian event that takes place on the land reconquered to the great Mother under the leadership of the victorious King, while the sign of the Fatherland safely waves over the Brenner Pass and the vigilant and alert mind of the Duce presides over and provides for the fulfillment of our destiny”. Beyond these public statements, the relationship between the Duce and the inventor was not easy, especially towards the end when Marconi tried to convince him in vain not to think about a war against England. Marconi died on the eve of a meeting with the Duce on this subject.
On June 15, 1927 he married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali. Their daughter was named Maria Elettra Elena Anna. Also the yacht that hosted many researches in various parts of the world was called Elettra. The experiments carried out in the gulf of Tigullio had a tower on the peninsula of Sestri Levante as a ground station, which later took the name “Marconi Tower”, while in the official charts of the Italian Navy the gulf of Tigullio took the name “Marconi Gulf”. The assistant Adelmo Landini joined him in these years.
On June 17, 1929 Vittorio Emanuele III conferred to Marconi the hereditary title of Marquis.
In 1929, at the request of Pius XI, he was responsible for overseeing the construction of the first Vatican Radio Station. Marconi wanted to personally introduce the first radio broadcast of a pontiff, Pius XI, announcing at the microphone: “With the help of God, who puts so many mysterious forces of nature at the disposal of mankind, I was able to prepare this instrument that will provide the faithful all over the world the comfort of hearing the voice of the Holy Father”.
At 4:49 p.m. Pius XI pronounced his first radio message in Latin and Marconi, in direct connection with New York, Melbourne, Quebec and other cities of the world, introduced the pope”s words stating among other things: “For about twenty centuries the Roman Pontiff has made the word of his divine magisterium heard in the world, but this is the first time that his living voice can be simultaneously perceived on the entire surface of the earth”.
At the end of the ceremony, Pius XI decorated him with the insignia of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Plan, also awarding him the Diploma of Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. During this period he designed and built a radio control with which Pope Pius XI was able to operate for the first time the lighting of the votive stele dedicated to the Madonna della Lettera in Messina.
From the center of Coltano, but ordered by Marconi from Rome, departed the signal, in 1931, which turned on the lights at Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, in a renewed demonstration of the efficiency of radio in transoceanic communications.
From 1933 until his death he was president of the Treccani Institute. In 1934 he was appointed first president of the CIRM which was born on his initiative and that of his doctor, Dr. Guido Guida.
Also in 1933, in the vicinity of Castel Gandolfo, he showed to some high-ranking army officers, a radio apparatus that could detect metal objects in the vicinity (passing cars), in fact a first draft of the radar that Marconi had already predicted in 1922. Although the officers were positively impressed, they failed to understand the strategic importance of that invention which thus received no investment from the State. In the following years Marconi abandoned this research, which was however continued by the Navy officer Ugo Tiberio. He was the first to theorize the RADAR equation and he realized a first version of it. But the Italian General Staff did not consider it interesting.
On October 28, 1934, in the studios of the Ente Italiano audizioni radiofoniche, Marconi inaugurated radio transmissions with the United States with a historic conversation with the president of the Radio Corporation of America, D. Sarnoff.
The first regular television service in the world was inaugurated in London by the BBC on November 2, 1936; after a brief experimentation of the two systems (the mechanical scanning system by the Scotsman John Logie Baird and the electronic one by Marconi-EMI Television), the BBC definitively adopted the Marconi-EMI electronic system on February 1, 1937. The BBC itself in 1935, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, had banned Marconi for political reasons from broadcasting.
He was awarded 16 honorary degrees (two of which in law), 25 high rank honors, 13 honorary citizenships, and by Royal Decree of July 18, 1936 Marconi was promoted to Rear Admiral in the reserve for exceptional merits.
In Rome, on the morning of July 19, 1937, Guglielmo Marconi accompanied his wife to the station, on her way to Viareggio to celebrate the seventh birthday of their daughter Elettra, and then returned to his father-in-law”s house, in Via Condotti, where he had a heart attack. After his personal physician, Dr. Cesare Frugoni, informed him of the seriousness of his condition, Marconi sent for a priest, received extreme unction and died at 3:45 am on July 20. As a sign of mourning, that same day radio stations all over the world stopped transmitting simultaneously for two minutes.
The state funeral, held in Rome on July 21, was attended by most of the political authorities and academics, including the head of government Benito Mussolini, as well as an impressive crowd of 500,000 people.
During the funeral honors, in Bologna on July 28, the body was laid to rest at the Certosa, awaiting final burial, in the presence of HRH the Duke of Genoa representing the Sovereign and Giuseppe Bottai representing the government.
His remains are now kept in Sasso Marconi in a mausoleum located at his father”s house in Villa Griffone, where there is also a museum and a foundation dedicated to him.
In Italy, by decree of the President of the Council of Ministers of May 30, 1991, a committee was established for the first centenary of the invention of the radio. In the premises of the decree it is stated:
There is a clear stance on attributing the invention of the radio to Marconi.
On the other hand, Law No. 156 of February 14, 1992, celebrating the first centennial of the invention of radio, uses a different formulation:
Therefore, the need to promote international cooperation is underlined as a way to overcome the dispute that involves the scientific circles of many nations: the need to study Guglielmo Marconi”s work on an international level is unrelated to attributing the invention of the radio to this or that experiment.As part of these legislative interventions, a museum was created by RAI, flanked by minor initiatives in various locations.
Marconi”s claim to the invention of the radio was always disputed by Nikola Tesla. In 1943 a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes Nikola Tesla”s authorship of the radio patent.
A long time before, in 1911, the British High Court in the person of Mr. Justice Parker ruled in a similar case on the validity of Marconi”s patents and in the years before 1943 many other rulings were pronounced with ups and downs for the parties involved. There is some criticism of the US Supreme Court case, also due to the fact that at that time the Marconi company had a legal case in progress with the US Army and the Supreme Court decision rendered null and void the claims of the Marconi company on the alleged intellectual violations by the Army. In fact this is not entirely true since the U.S. government paid the sum of about $ 43,000 at the time, plus interest, to Marconi”s company for a patent of Oliver Lodge that the company had bought from him.
Marconi always stated that he was not aware of Tesla”s work before obtaining his first patent. It is well understandable that patent issues are different from the analysis of real scientific contributions.
Nikola Tesla in March 1900 patented (delivered in 1897) a system of transmission of electricity that could also be used for transmission of radio signals. In 1898 he patented a multi-channel radio control that allowed, over short distances, to command vessels and whose basic control system consisted of four circuits tuned to the same frequency.