Guglielmo Marconi

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jul 2, 2022

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Summary

Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi (Bologna, April 25, 1874 - Rome, July 20, 1937) was an Italian inventor, entrepreneur and politician.

He is credited with the development of an effective system of long-distance telecommunication via radio waves, namely wireless telegraphy or radio telegraph, which had considerable popularity, the evolution of which led to the development of radio and television and generally all modern radio systems and methods using wireless communications, and which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 shared with Carl Ferdinand Braun, "in recognition of his contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy."

Early years

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna on April 25, 1874, at 7 Via IV Novembre (then Via delle Asse 1170). His father Giuseppe Marconi, who was born in Capugnano on July 8, 1823, and died in Bologna on March 26, 1904, was a landowner living in the Pontecchio countryside and was on his second marriage. A widower with one son, he had met a young Irish woman, Annie Jameson, granddaughter of the founder of the historic Jameson & Sons distillery, who was visiting Italy to study bel canto, and married her on April 16, 1864, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. A year after the marriage, Alfonso was born and, nine years later, William.

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 little Guglielmo was three years old, on May 4, 1877, Giuseppe Marconi had in fact decided to take British citizenship himself.

The experiments

Marconi, already in his early twenties, began his first experiments by working as a self-taught technician, aided by his butler Mignani. In the summer of 1894 he built a thunderstorm beacon consisting of a battery, a cohesor (also known as a 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 the event of lightning.

Later he manages, by pressing a telegraph key placed on a counter, to ring a bell placed on the other side of the room. One December night Marconi wakes his mother, invites her to his secret hideout and shows her the experiment he had made. The next day his father also witnesses the experiment. When he becomes convinced that the bell rings without a wire connection, he gives his son the money needed to purchase new materials. Young Marconi also continues his experiments outdoors. In the countryside he increases the power of emissions and the distance separating the transmitter from the receiver, capable of receiving Morse alphabet signals.

In the late summer or early fall of 1895, the date is not certain, after several experiments at increasing distances, the device proves successful in communicating and receiving signals at the distance of more than a mile, but also in overcoming natural obstacles (in this case, the Celestine Hill behind Villa Griffone). The shotgun blast that Butler Mignani fires into the air to confirm the success of the experiment (the device had vibrated and sung like a cricket three times) is considered the baptismal act of radio. In fact, the fundamental characteristic of radio propagation, which enabled the development of cell phones and broadcasting, lies precisely in the ability to succeed, unlike light rays, in making connections in the absence of line of sight (line of sight). This makes Marconi's work innovative and unique. Several researchers were working in parallel with Marconi, including Nikola Tesla, who, however, did not intend to rely on Hertzian waves, and the Russian Aleksandr Popov, who had made a receiver of radio waves linked to the arrival of thunderstorms, conceptually similar to Marconi's but much less sensitive and unable to receive Morse signals.

In 1896 Marconi spoke with family friend Carlo Gardini, U.S. consul in Bologna, about the idea of leaving Italy to go to the United Kingdom. Gardini writes a letter to the Italian ambassador in London, his acquaintance, Annibale Ferrero, to introduce the young man and his extraordinary discoveries. In response, Ambassador Ferrero advises him not to reveal his achievements to anyone until after the patent has been filed. He also encourages him to travel to the United Kingdom, where he believes it will be easier for him to find the necessary capital 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 files his first provisional patent application, with the number 5028 and the title "Improvements in telegraphy and related apparatus." It should be noted that this application occurs 21 days in advance of the date of the first radio transmission made by the Russian Popov.On March 19 Marconi receives confirmation from the Patent Office that the first application has been accepted. On June 2 of the same year he files with the Patent Office in London a final application for a system of wireless telegraphy, No. 12039, entitled "Perfections in the Transmission of Impulses and Electrical Signals and in Apparatus relating thereto." In doing so Marconi waives three months' priority on the invention. On July 2, 1897, he obtained the requested patent from the London Patent Office.

Success

Marconi, meanwhile, performs public demonstrations in the presence of politicians and industrialists: he places, for example, a transmitter on the roof of the Post Office management building and a receiver in a house on a quay on the Thames, four kilometers away. For the Admiralty, he establishes contact across the 14-kilometer-wide Bristol Channel. He collaborates with the Daily Express on the Kingstown regattas. Journalists follow the races offshore on board a tugboat, then pass the news to Marconi, who relays it to a shore station from where it is quickly telephoned to the newspaper.

In July 1897 Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph Trading Signal Company (later renamed the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company) in London, which opened its first office on Hall Street in Chelmsford, England, in 1898 and employed about fifty people.

Marconi made the first wireless transmission over the sea from Ballycastle (Northern Ireland) to Rathlin Island in 1898. He established a radio link between Queen Victoria's summer residence and the royal yacht on which was the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, recovering from a bad knee injury. In December of that year, a distress call goes out from a radio-equipped boat: it is the first case of a rescue call. On May 29, the signals cross the English Channel, crossing the distance of 51 kilometers.

Marconi later focused his research toward the Atlantic, convinced that waves could cross the ocean by following the curvature of the Earth. In November 1901 at Poldhu, Cornwall, he installs a large transmitter whose 130-meter antenna consists of sixty wires fanned out between two masts 49 meters high and 61 meters apart. He then embarks for St. John's of Newfoundland with assistants Kemp and Paget. The two places, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, are more than 3,000 kilometers apart. On December 12, 1901, the communication that constitutes the first transoceanic radio signal takes place. The message received consists of three dots, the letter S in Morse code. To reach Newfoundland it had to bounce twice off the ionosphere. A recent dispute has been presented by Dr. Jack Belrose: based on both theoretical considerations and attempts to repeat the experiment, he believes that Marconi heard only atmospheric disturbances mistaken for a signal. The fact remains that Marconi had a way of repeating his transmissions later, improving their reliability.

In 1903 Marconi installed a similar spark transmitter at the Coltano Radio Center near Pisa, which was used until World War II, first to communicate with the colonies of Africa, then with ships at sea. Later the transmitter was expanded and upgraded to become one of the most powerful radio stations in Europe.

In that year, as the coeval press (La Gazzetta della Spezia) recalls, Marconi was in La Spezia, at the Navy's San Bartolomeo facility, located between the capital and Lerici. Here Marconi works 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 p.m., Marconi was driving his automobile, a Fiat 50 HP, through the village of Borghetto Vara on his way to Genoa to cross the Bracco Pass. Just outside the village of Borghetto Vara, near a sharp curve, his car collides head-on with another car, an Isotta Fraschini, getting caught between the latter's plates. The collision is very violent and Marconi is injured in the right eye by shards of glass from the windshield of his car, which shattered in the collision. Admitted to the Military Hospital of La Spezia in Viale Fieschi, Marconi is operated on, after consultation with various luminaries, because of his worsening condition; the doctors are forced to extirpate the injured eye. Later Marconi is forced into a long rehabilitation stay at the same hospital.The curve near the village of Borghetto Vara, the site of the accident, is still called Marconi curve by the old inhabitants.

In 1904 he carried out experiments on Ancona's Capuchin Hill in order to study the influence of the Sun on the transmission of radio waves, showing that they propagated better at night.

On August 3, 1904, the first radio link across the Adriatic Sea was made, connecting the city of Bari with the city of Bar in Montenegro.

On March 16, 1905, he married Beatrice O'Brien, daughter of Edward O'Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin. The couple will have three daughters, Lucia, who survived only three weeks, Degna and Gioia, and a son, Julius. They divorce 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 is demonstrated on January 23, 1909, with the first resounding naval rescue leading to the rescue of the more than 1,700 passengers of the U.S. ocean liner "Republic," which was about to sink after being rammed by the Italian steamer "Florida." Radiotelegraph operator Binns, who worked for the Marconi Company, continued to send out repeated SOSs for fourteen hours, until one was received by the operator of the steamer "Baltic," whose commander ordered a change of course and initiated the rescue operation. The next day in New York harbor, all the passengers saved, Binns is celebrated as a hero, and gratitude involves the figure of the radio operator, accelerating Marconi's popularity.

That same year, on December 10, 1909, in Stockholm, Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with German physicist Carl Ferdinand Braun. Marconi had been nominated before, but that year the rescue of the Republic and Florida passengers made it easier for Gustaf Granquist, his nominator and supporter at the Royal Academy. Internal debate was heated, however, and agreement was found through sharing 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 is called "without any doubt the creator of wireless telegraphy," but Braun was nevertheless a great scientist to whom, among other things, the invention of the cathode ray tube is due.

In the fall of 1911 Marconi visited the Italian colonies in Africa to experiment with long-distance links with the Coltano station; 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 in radio links with Coltano, which gave impetus to the setting up by the Corps of Engineers of the first large-scale military radiotelegraphy service.

When, in 1912, the Titanic sank after sending an SOS signal by radio, Marconi was in the United States of America and rushed to New York Harbor to receive the 705 survivors. He was supposed to be on board, as he was invited on the maiden voyage with his entire family, but, for different reasons, neither he nor his wife Beatrice boarded that ship. Interviewed by the press in New York, he said, "It is worth having lived to have given these people a chance to be saved." Before returning to Italy, an official ceremony was held in which survivors paraded through the streets of New York in columns, bearing a gold plaque, made by sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy, as a token of gratitude to Guglielmo Marconi. The inventor bestowed an award on Titanic's marconist, Harold Bride, who remained at his post to deliver distress messages even when the water had reached the upper deck. His colleague Harold Philips had perished instead in the shipwreck.

It also appears from the matriculation sheet kept at the military district in Bologna that the young Marconi had chosen to be a soldier in the Army for one year; instead, he performed it in the Regia Marina, although he was born in an inland town (he was placed in the Royal Crew Corps as a laborer). Owning a boat in Livorno was helpful for this accomplishment.

He performed military service at the embassy in London from November 1, 1900. Then transferred to Italy he was discharged on November 1, 1901, but due to age was transferred to the army on December 31, 1906.

On June 19, 1915, Marconi enlisted as a volunteer in the Royal Army with the rank of lieutenant in the Engineer Corps, then promoted to captain on July 27, 1916, and, although an army officer, served in the Radiotelegraphic Institute of the Navy; following a regular application, dated Leghorn Aug. 14, 1916, and submitted to the Minister of the Navy, he was appointed Lieutenant Commander of the Regia Marina by R. D. of Aug. 31, 1916, discharged with that rank on Nov. 1, 1919, and promoted to Captain of the Frigate on leave by R.D. March 28, 1920, and then to Captain of the Navy by R.D. July 7, 1931. Both of these promotions were part of the advancement standards for complement officers on leave.

The wartime period, with all the experiments he carried out, fruited Marconi's conviction that long waves should be abandoned in favor of short waves. This, a second wireless revolution, was the move that would later enable the development of a host of radio systems, such as microwave radio links, radio aids, RADAR, etc.

On December 30, 1914, Marconi was appointed senator of the Kingdom of Italy and gained political prominence. He completed several missions for the Italian government, which exploited his popularity. Perhaps the most significant one is his participation in the Paris Peace Conference. The disappointing results for Italy, which he fails to avoid, mark him for later 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 give up, she sends radio messages along with him from the ship Elettra.

In 1920 Marconi's Chelmsford plant is the site of the UK's first publicly announced audio broadcast; it is the concert of Australian singer Nellie Melba. In 1922 the first regular entertainment broadcast service begins 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. Prime Minister Boselli, during the difficult years of World War I, had proposed appointing Marconi as commissioner to take care of Italian diplomatic representation in the United States of America, but the project was not followed through due to resistance from career diplomats.

The question of Marconi's adherence to fascism is very complex and is still being studied. Certainly he was strongly courted, from the beginning, by the regime, as indeed he had been by previous governments, and he decided to join, not so much for the prominent posts in national bodies, which came later, but for the patriotic spirit he seemed to represent in the beginning. The Fascists, influenced by Futurism, had extolled the figure and work of Guglielmo Marconi as an expression of Italian genius, so much so that Mussolini, already in a speech in Trieste on February 6, 1921, had said, "Italy is the tricolor wing of Ferrarin, the magnetic wave of Marconi, the baton of Toscanini, the return to Dante on the sixth centenary of his departure." In 1923, at the urging of the government, the Italian Radio Union (forerunner of EIAR and RAI) was born from the merger of the Italian branches of the British Marconi Company (Radiofono) and American Marconi (SIRAC). Enrico Marchesi, who came from FIAT, was appointed president, while the vice-president was Luigi Solari, a person very close to Guglielmo Marconi's interests.

Weighing negatively on Marconi's image are speeches such as "I claim the honor of having been in radiotelegraphy the first fascist, the first to recognize the usefulness of bundling electric rays, just as Mussolini was the first to recognize in the political field the need to bundle the healthy energies of the country for the greater greatness of Italy." Benito Mussolini, in a speech to the Senate on December 9, 1937, said, "No wonder Marconi embraced, from the eve, the doctrine of the Blackshirts, proud to have him in their ranks." At the 19th meeting of the Italian Society for the Advancement of Science, held jointly in Bolzano and Trento from September 7 to 15, 1930, he began his inaugural address with the words: "My greeting is exultant with the satisfaction of finding myself among the brothers of Trentino in a great and purely Italian event taking place on the soil reconquered to the great Mother under the leadership of the victorious King, while the sign of the Fatherland waves securely over the Brenner Pass and the fulfillment of our destinies is presided over and provided for by the vigilant and alert mind of the Duce."

Beyond these public statements, however, relations between the Duce and the inventor were not easy, especially toward the end, when Marconi tried to convince him in vain not to think about a war with Britain. Marconi died on the very eve of a meeting with the Duce on this subject. Moreover, given the use in war propaganda that fascist and totalitarian regimes made of radio, it seems that Marconi said of his invention, "Have I done good to the world or have I added a threat?"

On June 15, 1927, he married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali. Their daughter is named Maria Elettra Elena Anna. The yacht that housed much research in various parts of the world was also named Elettra. The experiments carried out in the Gulf of Tigullio had as their shore station a tower, located on the peninsula of Sestri Levante, 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." He was joined in these years by assistant Adelmo Landini.

On June 17, 1929, Victor Emmanuel III gave Marconi the hereditary title of marquis.

In 1929, at the request of Pius XI, he was commissioned to oversee the construction of the Vatican's first radio station. The inauguration of what in the following decades would take on the name Vatican Radio took place on the afternoon of Feb. 12, 1931.Marconi wanted to personally introduce the first radio broadcast of a pontiff, Pius XI, announcing over the microphone, "With the help of God, who so many mysterious forces of nature put at the disposal of mankind, I have been able to prepare this instrument that will procure for the faithful of the whole world the consolation of hearing the voice of the Holy Father."

At 4:49 p.m. Pius XI delivered his first radio message in Latin, and Marconi, in direct connection with New York, Melbourne, Quebec and other cities around the world, introduced the pope's words, stating, among other things, "For nearly twenty centuries the Roman pontiff has been making the word of his divine magisterium heard throughout the world, but this is the first time that his living voice can be heard simultaneously over the entire surface of the earth."

At the end of the ceremony Pius XI decorates him with the insignia of the Grand Cross of the Order Piano, also awarding him a diploma of membership in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. During this period he conceived and had a radio control built with which Pope Pius XI could operate the lighting of the votive stele dedicated to Our Lady of the Letter in Messina for the first time.

From the center of Coltano, but ordered by Marconi from Rome, came the signal, in 1931, that lit 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 as the first president of CIRM, which had been established on his and his doctor Dr. Guido Guida's initiative.

Also in 1933 he showed in the vicinity of Castel Gandolfo to some senior army officers a radio apparatus that could detect metal objects in the vicinity (the passage of cars), in fact an early sketch of the radar that Marconi had preconized as early as 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 nevertheless continued by naval officer Ugo Tiberio. He would be the first to theorize the RADAR equation and produce an early version of it. But the Italian General Staff will not find it interesting.

On October 28, 1934, in the studios of the Italian Radio Broadcasting Corporation, Marconi inaugurated radio transmissions with the United States with a historic conversation with the president of the Radio Corporation of America, D. Sarnoff.

The world's first regular television service was inaugurated in London by the BBC on November 2, 1936; after a brief trial of the two systems (the mechanical scanning system of Scotsman John Logie Baird and the electronic system of Marconi-EMI Television), the BBC would definitely adopt the Marconi-EMI electronic system from February 1, 1937. The BBC itself, in 1935, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, had banned Marconi on political grounds from broadcasting.

He will be awarded 16 honorary degrees (including two in law), 25 high-ranking honors, 13 honorary citizenships.By Royal Decree of July 18, 1936, Marconi was promoted to rear admiral in the reserve for exceptional merit.

Death

In Rome, on the morning of July 19, 1937, Guglielmo Marconi accompanied his wife, who was headed to Viareggio to celebrate their daughter Elettra's seventh birthday, to the station, then returned to his father-in-law's house on Via Condotti, where he suffered a heart attack. After his personal physician, Dr. Cesare Frugoni, informs him of the seriousness of his condition, Marconi has a priest called, receives last rites and dies at 3:45 a.m. on July 20. As a sign of mourning, radio stations around the world simultaneously stopped broadcasting for two minutes that same day.

The state funeral, held in Rome on July 21, was attended by most of the political and academic authorities, including 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 is laid to rest at the Certosa, pending final burial, in the presence of the Duke of Genoa representing the sovereign and Giuseppe Bottai representing the government.

His remains are now enshrined in Sasso Marconi in a mausoleum located at his father's home in Villa Griffone, where a museum and foundation dedicated to him are also housed.

In Italy, a Committee for the First Centenary of the Invention of Radio was established by Prime Ministerial Decree of May 30, 1991. The preamble to the decree states:

There is a clear stance on attributing the invention of radio to Marconi.

Law No. 156 of February 14, 1992 Celebrating the first centenary of the invention of radio, however, uses a different wording:

Thus, the need to foster relations of international cooperation is emphasized, pointed out as a means of overcoming the dispute involving the scientific circles of many nations: the need for international study of Guglielmo Marconi's work is freed from 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 contested by Nikola Tesla. In 1943, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognized Nikola Tesla's authorship of the radio patent.

Long before that, in 1911, the British High Court, in the person of Mr. Justice Parker, had ruled in a similar case on the validity of Marconi's patents, and in the years before 1943, many other rulings had been made with ups and downs for the parties involved. There is criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court case, due in part to the fact that at the time the Marconi Company had an ongoing lawsuit with the U.S. Army, and the Supreme Court's ruling rendered the Marconi Company's claims on the Army's alleged intellectual violations null and void. In fact, this is not entirely true, as the U.S. government paid the then sum of about $43,000, plus interest, to Marconi's company for a patent Oliver Lodge had bought from the latter.

Marconi always claimed that he was not aware of Tesla's work before he obtained his first patent. It is well understood that patent affairs are another matter from the analysis of real scientific contributions.

Nikola Tesla, in March 1900, patented (delivered in 1897) an electrical power transmission system that could also be used to transmit radio signals. In 1898 he patented a multichannel radio control that allowed, over short distances, to command vessels and whose basic control system consisted of four circuits tuned to the same frequency.

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