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Marconi, Guglielmo

Marconi, Guglielmo

Italian Physicist
18741937

Known as the father of radio, Guglielmo Marconi was born April 25, 1874 in Bologna, Italy. He was the younger son of an Italian landowner, Giuseppe Marconi, and Anne Jameson, whose father was the founder of the Jameson Irish whiskey distillery. As a youngster, Marconi spent the winter months in England or Florence, Italy, with his mother, brother, and English relatives. Schooling for the Marconi brothers was divided between their mother, who taught them English and religion, and a tutor, who provided instruction in Italian and other subjects. Perhaps through teaching her sons, Anne Marconi became aware her son's intellectual abilities and his determination to solve problems on his own. She supported Marconi's efforts throughout her life. He began exploring the properties of electricity at a young age by reading scientific publications and duplicating and modifying experiments. This exploration continued throughout his life resulting in the foundational work he did in the field of wireless technology and telecommunications.

Marconi attended primary and secondary schools. He was not noted for his scholarship. Instead of attending university, arrangements were made for him to study with Vincenzo Rosa, a professor of electrophysics. These sessions introduced Marconi to the work of Heinrich Hertz, James Clerk Maxwell, Oliver Joseph Lodge, and others conducting experiments to explain electromagnetic waves. Marconi approached the field with the idea of using these waves for wireless communication. His greatest contribution was applying theoretical and basic discoveries to develop useful applications. To test his ideas, Marconi built the necessary equipment from materials around the estate. His experiments were conducted in a laboratory at his home. The first hurdle to overcome was increasing the distance that a wireless transmission could travel. Marconi achieved greater distances by increasing the range of the transmitters, by improving the sensitivity of the receivers, and by using antennas. His standard message for testing equipment became the three-dot Morse code for the letter "S."

Once his messages were traveling more than a mile across the family estate, it was time to seek funding from the Italian government. His request was denied. The next logical place to apply was England because wireless telegraphy would benefit the country's naval and maritime activities. Also, his English relatives could and would help. In 1896, at age twenty-two, Marconi set out for England. He first applied for an English patent, then met with Sir William Peerce, chief engineer of the English Postal and Telegraph Services. Recognizing the value and potential of Marconi's work, Peerce became an advocate and close friend. Ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore wireless telegraphy was operational the following year and Marconi founded his first company, Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited.

The next hurdle to overcome was sending a message across the Atlantic Ocean. The widely held theory was that the curvature of the Earth made the transmission impossible. Marconi enlisted the expertise of John Fleming to solve the technical problems related to his continuing experiments to transmit across the Atlantic. The first transatlantic transmission from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada, occurred in 1901 proving that the curvature of the Earth did not limit transmissions. He solved the problem of messages going to multiple receivers by using different transmission frequencies and setting the sender and receiver to the same frequency. Marconi continued exploring the possibilities of radio waves for uses beyond telecommunications and is credited with proposing the use of microwaves as a form of physical therapy.

Marconi's approach to patents and business was very conservative. When applying for patents or support for his work, he would explain the function of his invention or outline the improvements over previous methods but did not include a full disclosure of the design until a patent was granted. He followed the same procedures when demonstrating his equipment. This method protected his work from others and allowed him more fully to realize the monetary value of his systems. Many honors were bestowed on him, including the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909, which he shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun who modified Marconi's transmitters to increase their range and usefulness. Marconi's business empire stretched across Europe and the United States, and one result of his international reputation was his appointment to represent Italy at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. (Marconi had served in the Italian Army and Navy during World War I.) He continued being productive until a few years before his death from a heart condition. Marconi died in Rome on July 20, 1937.

see also Geographic Information Systems; Telecommunication; Wireless Technology.

Bertha Kugelman Morimoto

Bibliography

Masini, Giancarlo. Marconi. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1995.

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Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi

The Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) designed and constructed the first wireless telegraph. For this work he received a Nobel Prize.

The son of a wealthy Italian father and an Irish mother, Guglielmo Marconi was born April 25, 1874, in Bologna. He was educated by private tutors and attended the Livorno (Leghorn) technical institute for a short time.

In 1894 Marconi began experiments on electromagnetics near Bologna. Leaving aside the fundamental nature of electromagnetic waves, he directed his attention to the distance over which they could be detected with the possibility in mind that they might be used in a telegraph. He repeated Heinrich Hertz's experiments and rapidly extended the range of detection. Moving out of doors in 1895, he introduced a transmitter sparking between an elevated aerial and earth. For detection he used a "coherer" (a glass tube containing metal filings which becomes, and remains, conducting when an electrical discharge passes through it but which loses its conductivity following mechanical shock), similarly connected between an aerial and earth. By the end of 1895 he was able to detect wireless signals at ranges greater than a mile and out of the line of sight. By interrupting the spark signal, he was able to transmit Morse code. Marconi patented his invention in 1896.

Marconi was unable to interest the Italian government in wireless, so in 1896 he went to England, where he aroused official interest and received support from the British Post Office. Ranges attained by his instrument rose quickly, to 8 miles and then 25 miles and more. In 1899 signals across the English Channel, between Boulogne and Dover, caused a sensation, though the distance was less than that covered by other transmissions. In 1900 Marconi determined to try sending wireless signals across the Atlantic, despite the theoretical conflict between rectilinear propagation of Hertz radiation and the curvature of the earth. He had, however, already received signals at 250-mile range. Using the Poldhu transmitter, an established station in southwestern England, and a temporary aerial supported by a kite on Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland, nearly 1,800 miles away, he received the first transatlantic wireless signals on Dec. 12, 1901.

Also in 1901 Marconi patented his "four-circuit" tuning system. Thus multiplex wireless telegraphy became possible, and the interference of one signal with another was minimized. In 1902 Marconi patented a sensitive magnetic radiodetector to replace the coherer and, in 1905, the horizontal directional aerial, which at once brought improvements in signal strengths and allowed the development of long-distance commercial wireless.

After 1905 Marconi spent much of his time as an entrepreneur, surrounded by a talented staff of engineers and administrators, developing wireless telegraphy. Attempts to introduce a transatlantic wireless press service in 1903 had been premature, but in 1907 commercial communication was established between Marconi stations at Clifden in western Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

During World War I Marconi began experiments on shortwave radio and on aerials designed to transmit along narrow beams to minimize detection by an enemy. The year 1917 saw him as a member of the Italian mission to the United States on its entry into the war, and in 1919 he was a signatory to the Paris Treaty for Italy. He spent much of the next decade continuing the shortwave investigations begun in wartime, making useful discoveries, but none to compete with the great postwar expansion of the radio networks consequent on the development of radiotelephony and voice radio. He was hailed as the father of radio, but, especially in the United States, the real progress was made by a new generation.

Marconi died on July 20, 1937, in Rome of a heart attack. He was a modest man of great scientific integrity, and his uncorroborated word was perhaps more readily accepted than that of any other inventor. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize for physics with K. F. Braun.

Further Reading

Marconi has attracted many biographers, though only two thorough works can be recommended. It should be noted that both were published in his lifetime and both received his imprimatur: B. L. Jacot de Boinod and D. M. B. Collier, Marconi: Master of Space (1935), and Orrin E. Dunlap, Jr., Marconi: The Man and His Wireless (1937). □

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