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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Guglielmo Marconi


He was born into the Italian nobility as Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi in Bologna on April 25, 1874.

Guglielmo was the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, who was an Italian aristocratic landed proprietor from Porretta Terme.

His Irish/Scots mother, Annie, was 17 years younger than her husband. She was from a prosperous Irish whiskey family (her grandfather was John Jameson, founder of whiskey distillers Jameson & Sons). Annie Jameson had come to Italy to study opera singing and ended up marrying Giuseppe.

Between the ages of two and six Giuseppe, along with his elder brother Alfonso, was brought up by his mother in the English town of Bedford.

After returning to Italy Guglielmo received his early education privately in Bologna in the lab of electromagnetism pioneer Augusto Righi, in Florence at the Istituto Cavallero and, later, in Livorno.

Giuseppe studied under a number of Italian professors but never enrolled for a university course.

Due to his father's dislike of his immature hobby of morse code, the 10-year-old Giuseppe set up a laboratory in the attic, among his mother's trays of silkworms. He fiddled around with his early electrical transmitters, making his signals travel further and further. All of Marconi's messages were in Morse code. He had no idea they would lead to broadcasting.


During his early years, Marconi had an interest in science and electricity. From an early young age he was experimenting night after night with sending signals through the air without waves. His mother was awoken one night by an excited Guglielmo who proceeded to demonstrate how he could make a bell ring in one room by pressing a Morse key in another room without any wires running between them. He’d discovered that radio waves could carry a message in Morse code across the room.

In 1895 Marconi began laboratory experiments at his father's country estate at Pontecchio and he achieved a wireless communication of over a mile using morse code.

Marconi's first transmitter, consisted of a copper sheet capacitive antenna connected to a Righi spark gap. It was powered by an induction coil with a telegraph key to switch it on and off.

Marconi's first transmitter

The young electronics boffin's family began to realize the value of what young Guglielmo was up to and they asked their local priest and doctor what they should do. They were advised to submit young Guglielmo's findings to Italy's Minister of Post & Telegraph. Unfortunately this nearsighted Minister was not interested, so Marconi and his mother set off in February 1896 for England where she had connections.

On their arrival in England in 1896 Marconi and his mother were stopped by Customs. In searching through the equipment, the wires, batteries, condensers etc, were damaged. So huge repairs had to be undertaken before everything was ready for submission for the patent. During this period they stayed at 71, Hereford Road, Bayswater in London.

The Chief Engineer of the Post Office, Mr. (later Sir) William Preece, was impressed and gave Marconi facilities for his work.

In 1897 Marconi formed in England Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd, (which became the Marconi Company in 1900), He originally intended his "Wireless Telegraphy " to be a system, which supplemented the telegraph at sea and on land, where an ordinary telegraph with wires couldn't be used.

On May 13, 1897, Marconi sent the world's first ever wireless communication over open sea. The experiment, based in Wales, witnessed a message transversed over the Bristol Channel, a distance of 3.7 miles (6 kms). The message read "Are you ready."

British Post Office engineers inspect Marconi's radio equipment on May 13, 1897. By Cardiff Council Flat Holm Project - Wikipedia Commons

Patent no 12,039 for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor" was granted for Marconi's wireless transmitter on July 2, 1897.

Marconi transmitted the first signals across the English Channel on March 27, 1899, from Wimereux, France to South Foreland Lighthouse, England.

At the turn of the 20th century, Marconi began investigating the means to signal completely across the Atlantic, in order to compete with the transatlantic telegraph cables and prove that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the Earth. He established a connection on December 12, 1901 between a 164 foot antenna in Poldhu, Cornwall and a receiver in St John's, Newfoundland using the 3 morse dots of "s".

Marconi demonstrating apparatus similar to that used by him to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean, 

Marconi shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy."

During World War I, Marconi was placed in charge of the Italian wireless service. He developed shortwave secret communication transmissions during this time.

The role played by Marconi Co. wireless in maritime rescues, particularly the RMS Titanic in 1912 and the RMS Lusitania in  May 1915 raised public awareness of the value of radio and brought fame to Marconi.


In 1920 Marconi's Chelmsford factory was the location of the first officially publicized sound broadcasts in the UK, one of them featuring Dame Nellie Melba.

In 1922 the World's first regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment commenced from the Marconi Research Center at Writtle near Chelmsford.

There were many early doubters. Radio pioneer David Sarnoff said “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"


In 1919 Marconi was appointed by the Italian King as the Italian Delegate to the 1919 Peace Conference. In this capacity he signed the peace treaties with Austria and Bulgaria.

Marconi joined the Italian Fascist party in 1923. He was in charge of scientific research under Benito Mussolini until his death.

Marconi made fascist speeches on the radio in a number of countries.


Marconi had dark grey, contemplative keen eyes, brushed back blondish slicked hair, a broad exposed forehead,. He was small to medium height and stocky. Marconi inherited his mother's Irish coloring.

He lost the use of his right eye in an automobile accident in 1912.

A dandy, Marconi favored a tweed deerstalker hat.

He spoke good English in a quiet voice because of his mother's Irish background. It was almost impossible to fault his English accent.


On March 16, 1905 Marconi married Beatrice O'Brien, daughter of Edward Donough O'Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin, Ireland. They had three daughters, one of whom lived only a few weeks, and one son.

Marconi with his wife c. 1910

In 1913, the Marconis returned to Italy and became part of Rome society. Beatrice served as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elena.They divorced in 1924.

On June 15, 1927, he married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali in Rome; Mussolini was his best man. They had one daughter, Maria Elettra Elena Anna Marconi.


Baptized as a Catholic, he was brought up as a member of the Anglican Church, and married into it. Before his second marriage to Maria Christina in 1927, Marconi was confirmed in the Catholic faith and became a devout member of the Church.

Marconi personally introduced in 1931 the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI.


Marconi was fond of music, especially piano playing.

From 1921, Marconi lived aboard his yacht, Elettra  cruising in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. It served as a home, laboratory and receiving station.

Marconi, so adored his research ship that he named a daughter after her - Elettra -instead of the other way around. The ship was destroyed in World War II,


Marconi died in Rome on July 20, 1937 at age 63, following a series of heart attacks, and the Italian nation held a state funeral for him.

When he died all Radio Stations went off the air for two minutes, the first ever airwave silence since Marconi established the wireless.

Marconi's remains are housed in the Villa Griffone at Sasso Marconi, Emilia-Romagna, which assumed that name in his honor in 1938.

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