Today is the 142nd birthday of the inventor Guglielmo Marconi. If you are reading this, you can thank him for it. His work created the foundation for everything you cannot live without in your life today: connectivity. His likeness is on money. I rest my case. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Through his experiments in wireless telegraphy, Nobel Prize-winning physicist/inventor Guglielmo Marconi developed the first effective system of radio communication.
Born on April 25, 1874, in Bologna, Italy, into a wealthy family, and educated largely at home, Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with electromagnetics as a student at the Livorno Technical Institute. Incorporating the earlier findings of H.R. Hertz, he was able to develop a basic system of wireless telegraphy, for which he received his first patent in England.
Marconi founded the London-based Marconi Telegraph Company in 1899. Though his original transmission traveled a mere mile and a half, on December 12, 1901, Marconi sent and received the first wireless message across the Atlantic Ocean, from Cornwall, England, to a military base in Newfoundland. His experiment was significant, as it disproved the dominant belief of the Earth’s curvature affecting transmission.
Beginning in 1902, Marconi worked on experiments that stretched the distance that wireless communication could travel, until he was finally able to establish transatlantic service from Glace Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada, to Clifden, Ireland. For his work with wireless communication, Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Braun in 1909. Not long after, Marconi’s wireless system was used by the crew of the RMS Titanic to call for assistance.
Marconi held several positions in the Italian Army and Navy during World War I, starting the war as a lieutenant in 1914 and finishing as a naval commander. He was sent on diplomatic missions to the United States and France. After the war, Marconi began experimenting with basic short wave radio technology. On his beloved yacht, Elettra, he conducted experiments in the 1920s proving the efficacy of the “beam system” for long-distance communication. (The next step would lead to microwave transmission.) By 1926, Marconi’s “beam system” had been adopted by the British government as a design for international communication.
In addition to his groundbreaking research in wireless communication, Marconi was instrumental in establishing the British Broadcasting Company, formed in 1922. He was also involved in the development of radar.
Marconi continued to experiment with radio technology in his native Italy until his death, on July 20, 1937, in Rome, from heart failure.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Marconi’s radio patent invalid because work by other scientists, including Nikola Tesla, predated some of his findings.
Marconi married for the first time in 1905, to Beatrice O’Brien, the daughter of Edward Donough O’Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin. He and Beatrice had three children—a son, Giulio, and two daughters, Degna and Gioia—before their union was annulled in 1927. That same year, Marconi wed Countess Bezzi-Scali of Rome, with whom he had one daughter, Elettra, named after his yacht.