Marconi, Guglielmo 1874–1937

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Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian physicist, inventor, and pioneer in wireless telephony. Extending the work of James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) and the work in electromagnetism by Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894), Marconi showed that messages could be carried wirelessly around the curvature of the earth—a departure from then-known geophysical theory, and a discovery with a wide range of communications implications for market intelligence, shipping, trade, and finance.

With homemade apparatus, Marconi achieved ever-greater distances for the transmission of electromagnetic waves. In 1895 he sent long-wave signals over a distance of more than a mile. He patented his system in England (1896), organized a wireless telegraph company to develop its commercial applications (1897), and in 1899 transmitted signals across the English Channel. He formed the American Marconi Company in 1900, and the following year, using a 400-foot kite-supported antenna, transmitted the first transatlantic wireless signals—from Cornwall, England, to St. John's, Newfoundland.

Before World War I the Marconi Company developed the first commercially viable two-way transatlantic wireless telegraph service, and patented wireless improvements that enabled several transmission stations to operate on different wavelengths without interference. In so doing, Marconi pioneered the technology of the radio broadcasting boom that began in the 1920s.

Marconi was born in Bologna to a well-to-do family, had little formal education, and died a man of worldwide fame. Popularly called the "father of radio," Marconi shared the Nobel Prize for physics with Karl Braun (1850–1918) in 1909.

SEE ALSO Information and Communications; Italy.


Coe, Lewis. Wireless Radio: A Brief History. Jefferson City, NC: McFarland and Company, 1996.

Weightman, Gavin. Signor Marconi's Magic Box. New York: Dacapo Press, 2003.

Peter E. Austin