Guglielmo Marconi. April 25, 1874 – July 20, 1937. Italian radio engineer, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics. Popov’s competitor.


Life and Work:

1. In 1971, an American journalist discovered what he called “the Popov effect.” After looking into a dozen national encyclopedias, the journalist found out that each country had its own radio inventor: Karl Ferdinand Braun in Germany, Édouard Branly in France, Nikola Tesla in Yugoslavia, Aleksandr Popov in Russia. Italian Marconi and German Braun stand out from the crowd – just because they became the Nobel Prize winners.


2. Guglielmo Marconi was lucky to be born in a wealthy family of a major landowner from Bologna. The mother of the future Nobel Prize laureate had Scottish-Irish origins and was the granddaughter of John Jamieson, the founder of a whiskey distillery named after him.


3. The wealthy family hired the best teachers for their boy. Marconi noted that his love for physics was developed by a teacher from Livorno. A man from the neighboring estate, professor at the University of Bologna Augusto Righi told him about Hertz waves. Twenty-year-old Guglielmo read the works by Heinrich Hertz and even started attending neighbor’s lectures at the University of Bologna, but did not graduate from it.


4. Marconi began to conduct experiments in radio waves in his parents’ villa near Bologna. His brother Alfonso was running through fields with a receiver and a white flag to show signal detection. Then he took a hunting rifle and disappeared behind a mountain. The shot meaning that the signal had been received announced the birth of a new communication system.


5. In 1895, Marconi sent a wireless signal from his garden to a field over a distance of three kilometers. After making sure about his success, he offered the use of wireless communication to the Ministry of Post and Telegraphs, but his idea was rejected. The endorsement on his letter was: “To the Longara.”


6. People believed Marconi’s ideas behind the English Channel: he was doing his further work in Great Britain. They say that he came across some challenges on his way too: an English customs officer became interested in the device and asked if it was a bomb. The mother accompanying Guglielmo proudly replied: “Yes, but it will not destroy the world – it will destroy its walls.” The customs officer did not understand anything and broke the device just in case.


7. In Great Britain, Marconi quickly found an ally, i.e., a high-ranking postal official, and, with official’s assistance, applied for a UK patent for Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus Therefor. Also in 1896, Marconi made the first demonstration of his system on the Salisbury Plain by transmitting radiograms over a distance of 2.5 kilometers.


8. Having received the patent, Marconi immediately established a joint stock company and invited scientists and engineers to work there. The navy pinned special hopes on the marconigrams: it is impossible to hang wires between ships at sea!


9. One cannot say that Marconi’s work was perceived with exceptional delight in the very beginning. There was some mockery too: for example, one newspaper wrote: “An Italian has come to us, with a concertina but without a monkey.” The attitude changed after the Daily Express newspaper had published the results of a rowing regatta broadcast on the radio in 1898. Marconi’s company shares immediately soared.


10. One year later, the South Foreland lighthouse received a marconigram from a grounded ship. This was the first time when the radio had saved people. In 1905, dozens of ships were equipped with radio transmitters.


11. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt’s marconigram to King Edward VII went to Great Britain from a station built in Massachusetts, USA. However, consistent transatlantic radio communications were established only in several years.


12. In 1909, Guglielmo Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun for their “contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.”


13. In 1912, Marconi’s company supplied radio equipment and radio operators to Titanic. The sinking ship managed to send a distress signal via the radio to save hundreds of people. Then Marconi said in his interview: “It is worth living to give these people a chance to survive.”


14. In 1914, Marconi’s merits were recognized by his homeland: the Nobel laureate was appointed senator for life in Italy.


15. During World War I, Marconi volunteered for the army – he was in charge of radiotelegraphy in the navy. In 1929, Marconi was ennobled as a Marchese by King Victor Emmanuel III.


16. He set up Vatican Radio for Pope Pius XI in 1931. In the same year, Marconi was directing the lighting of the newly erected statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro right from Rome. However, there is another version too: the signal got lost and did not reach the target, so the Brazilians coped with the problem on their own.


17. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini appointed Marconi President of the Royal Academy of Italy.


18. On the day of Marconi’s death, all shops on the street in Rome where he had lived were closed for mourning. All BBC transmitters fell silent for two minutes during the hour of his funeral.