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Guglielmo Marconi / 1977



1977 Inductee

In is very fitting that 
The National Broadcasters Hall of Fame 
inducted the father of radio in 1977 and the collection and museum is preserved at 
a Wireless Station built by Marconi as a link in his Wireless Girdle Around the Earth.

Being turned down by the Italian Naval Academy was a turning point in the life of young Guglielmo Marconi.  His Irish
mother, Anne Jameson, of the Irish whisky distilling family, and brother, Alfonso, encouraged him to set aside his disappointment and to concentrate instead on his scientific interests.  Even as a child in Bologna, Italy where he was born in 1874, he had displayed a keen interest in physical and electrical science. 

He studied the works of Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz, Lodge, Righi, and others, whose research and discoveries all contributed to the "invention" of radio.  Marconi's contribution was the production and detection of waves over long distances, thus laying the foundations of what would become known as radio.  The ability to control radio waves has had a profound effect on the history of mankind, changing our everyday lives, our habits, and our way of being informed and entertained.

In 1894, the most modern way of sending messages was over telegraph lines.  While at Livorno Technical Institute, Guglielmo had read an article suggesting the possibility of using radio waves to communicate without wires.  This captured his attention.  He began experimenting with the transmission of radio waves from his home in Bologna, Italy.

Radio waves were known as "Hertzian Waves" in those days, named after Heinrich Hertz, who was the first to produce and transmit radio waves.

Marconi's first experiments covered short distances and with improvements in his equipment, he was able to increase the distances. In 1895, Marconi, while experimenting at his father's estate in Pontecchio, succeeded in sending wireless signals to a distance of 1-1/2 miles, thus becoming the inventor of the first practical system of wireless telegraphy.  He was totally convinced that this new system of communication had vast potential.

Young Marconi approached the Italian government in Rome, seeking financial help from the Post and Telegraph Service.  The bureaucracy expressed little interest in his experiments at that time.  He then packed his equipment and headed for London, whereupon he filed his first patent in 1896 for a system of wireless telegraphy.  Hundreds of other patents followed in years to come.  Marconi, with the financial help of his cousin, Henry Jameson-Davis, formed the Wireless Telegraph Trading Signal Company (later changed to Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co.)   In 1898 the first wireless radio factory was established in Chelmsford, England, employing about 50 people.

In 1899 Marconi established wireless communications between France and England across the English Channel and was soon giving wireless reports to the mainland from distances of 5 to 10 miles out to sea.  He erected permanent wireless stations on the Isle of Wight, at Bournemouth and later at Dorset.

He traveled to the U.S. in October of 1899 to supervise reporting by wireless of the America's Cup yacht race between the "Columbia" and the "Shamrock."  The U.S. Navy invited him to demonstrate wireless telegraphy between the cruiser "New York" and the battleship "Massachusetts," which were 35 miles apart.  These demonstrations resulted in the recognition of the value of radio and "Marconi's" then became required installations on all commercial ships. 

It was through wireless distress calls from the Titanic that led to the rescue of over 700 survivors after the ship went down in the North Atlantic. A few days later the survivors of the Titanic presented Marconi with a solid gold medal amid cries of "Ti dobbiamo la vita!"  This touching tribute inspired Marconi's work in the design of a ship radio compass and a means of detecting unseen objects at sea.

Marconi's successful demonstrations in America led to the formation of the American Marconi Company.  The Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Ltd. was established the following year for the purpose of installing and operating services between ships and land stations.

Naval vessels that were installed with the wireless system had a problem - when two transmitters were sending at the same time, all the receiving wires within range would pick up both messages simultaneously and neither message could be read.  This led to Marconi's famous patent No. 7777 for "Improvements in Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy."

This patent enabled several stations to operate on different wavelengths without interference.
By now, Marconi had his eye on transatlantic communication.  Scientists, engineers and physicists of the time believed that over the horizon communication by radio waves was impossible.  Marconi set out to prove that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the earth, and against all odds, fought nature's difficulties as well as skepticism from his fellow scientists.

Building of the Poldhu station, Cornwall, England commenced in 1900.  It was the most powerful telegraph station ever built at that time.  On December 12, 1901,  signals transmitted from Poldhu were received at St. John, New Foundland, a distance of 1200 miles.  This was history's first transatlantic wireless signal.  News of this monumental achievement spread all around the world.

Scientists were astonished.  They did not know why the signal curved with the earth instead of fading away into the atmosphere.  They did not know then about the ionosphere, which was discovered in 1924 by the English physicist, Appleton.  The ionosphere reflects the radio waves like a mirror, bouncing them back to earth.  The ionosphere itself is a layer of ionized gas particles caused by the sun's radiation.  It blankets the earth at a height of about 100 miles. Marconi continued to refine and expand upon his inventions. By 1903, his Company had built a number of stations on shore.  The Belmar, NJ station was completed in 1914. 

On this site, the Marconi Company built a development laboratory, dormitories, two resident houses and other facilities.  The site is listed on the New Jersey Historic Register. The Belmar station was appropriated by the U.S. Navy during WWI and was used as a major military communications link for U.S. troop movements.  The station participated with sister station New Brunswick in the transmission of
President Wilson's appeal to Germany regarding the overthrow or abdication of the Kaiser.  A surviving Marconi tower was salvaged from the Shark River in 1974 and now stands in a small park on Marconi Road near its original position.

Marconi began experimenting with shortwave wireless communication and saw the advantages of shorter wave lengths in an increased signal strength.  This led to the  development of shortwave wireless communication, which is the basis of nearly all modern long distance radio.  In 1931, having set up a shortwave station for the Vatican, Marconi supervised the Pope's first broadcast to Catholics worldwide.

Marconi received many honors, including the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909, which he shared jointly with German physicist Karl Ferdinand Braun.

When he died in Rome on July 20, 1937, Guglielmo Marconi was given the tribute of a two minute silence by all radio stations throughout the world.

Biography research and presentation by Doris Tucker, InfoAge Virtual Volunteer

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