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Guglielmo Marconi: The "Wireless" Inventor

Portrait of Guglielmo Marconi
Photo by Pach Brothers. Image retrieved from Library of Congress.

Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi was born #OnThisDay April 25 in 1874 to his wealthy family in Bologna, Italy. He is known for being one of the forefathers of the radio and wireless telegraph. Since a young age, Marconi was interested in the sciences and admired the work of German physicist Heinrich Hertz who proved the existence of radio waves in the late 1880s. In 1895, he developed a wireless telegraph system, and the following year moved to England to propose his invention. According to a newspaper article published in the Brandon Daily Sun on January 18, 1902, radio telegraphy could only be transmitted for a distance of two miles (approximately 3.2 km) prior to 1896. The year 1897 was a huge turning point in his career. While living in England, Marconi was granted a patent for his invention in March and succeeded in getting financial support which allowed him to establish the “Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company” in July with his cousin Henry Jameson Davis. He would later rename the company to “The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company” in 1900.

June 2, 1897: Marconi successfully patented his first device for wireless telegraphy

In less than five years, Marconi was able to increase his range to fourteen and a half miles (approximately 22.5 km) in 1896 to thirty-two miles (approximately 51. km) in 1897. This increase was significant as he was able to demonstrate and become the first to establish a radio telegraph link across the English Channel from South Foreland Lighthouse, England to Wimereux, France in 1899. That same year, he got on a ship and travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States to demonstrate his invention to the United States Army and Navy, and coincidentally, to demonstrate its operation at the annual international yacht competition. On December 12, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi conducted his most well-known experiment, which is particularly well-known in Canada. On Signal Hill located in Newfoundland and Labrador, Marconi was the first to transmit communication over the Atlantic Ocean to Poldhu, England. It was said that the Morse code letter "s" was sent from a station in Cornwall, England, and it took 2175 miles (approximately 3500 km) for it to reach Signal Hill, where Marconi's apparatus was stationed. This work was published all over the world, but many were skeptical that it happened. This new technology also faced resistance especially from the Anglo-American Telegraph Company as it threatened its monopoly in Newfoundland. Though the Canadian government saw his potential and was quick to offer Marconi a suitable site for one of his wireless telegraphy stations at Glace Bay on Cape Breton Island.

ARCONI'S NEW PLANS. f | —————. . ■ Photograph by Rookwood, New York. William Marconi, of w ireless telegraph fame, is in this country striving to in terest the navy department in his invention. He claims that his system is now on a practical basis and will establish stations on our seacoast, while here, to en able us to signal to incoming vessels. The above picture shows the apparatus used in wireless telegraphy. Marconi expresses disappointment that America.
Wauwatosa News April 6, 1901: Marconi's new plans in North Amreica.

It wasn’t just the Canadian government that saw potential in his invention. During the years Marconi was increasing the potential of wireless telegraphy in 1899 to 1902, the South African War (also known as the Boer War), erupted between Great Britain and the Boers in South Africa. As the British War Office saw Marconi’s wireless equipment in action just months prior, they ordered and deployed Marconi’s invention to South Africa for the Boer War. According to The Weekly Examiner dated July 20, 1901, over 35 British ships installed Marconi’s invention.

“Many lives and much property have been saved with its assistance.” (pg. 1)

This invention also saved the lives of 700 people during the Titanic disaster in April 1912.

Eventually, in 1907, Marconi finally launches the first regular public radiotelegraph service between Europe and America. His accomplishments were recognized in 1909 when he received a Nobel Price Award in Physics along with Karl Ferdinand Braun “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”.



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