(25 April 1874 – 20 July 1937)
Marchese Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor, best known for his development of a
radiotelegraph system, which served as the foundation for the establishment of numerous affiliated
companies worldwide. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun, "in
recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy". Later in life, Marconi
was an active Italian Fascist and an apologist for their ideology (such as the attack by Italian forces in
Marconi was born near Bologna, Italy, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian landowner,
and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson, granddaughter of the founder of the Jameson Whiskey distillery.
Marconi was educated in Bologna in the lab of Augusto Righi, in Florence at the Istituto Cavallero,
and, later, in Livorno. As a child Marconi did not do well in school. Baptized as a Catholic, he was a
member of the Anglican Church.
During his early years, Marconi had an interest in science and electricity. One of the scientific
developments during this era came from Heinrich Hertz, who, beginning in 1888, demonstrated that
one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation—now generally known as "radio waves", at
the time more commonly called "Hertzian waves" or "aetheric waves". Hertz's death in 1894 brought
published reviews of his earlier discoveries, and a renewed interest on the part of Marconi. He was
permitted to briefly study the subject under Augusto Righi, a University of Bologna physicist and
neighbour of Marconi who had done research on Hertz's work. Righi had a subscription to The
Electrician where Oliver Lodge published detailed accounts of the apparatus used in his (Lodge's)
public demonstrations of wireless telegraphy in 1894.
Early experimental devices
Marconi began to conduct experiments, building much of his own equipment in the attic of his home
at the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio, Italy. His goal was to use radio waves to create a practical system
of "wireless telegraphy"—i.e. the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as
used by the electric telegraph. This was not a new idea—numerous investigators had been exploring
wireless telegraph technologies for over 50 years, but none had proven commercially successful.
Marconi did not discover any new and revolutionary principle in his wireless-telegraph system, but
rather he assembled and improved an array of facts, unified and adapted them to his system.
Marconi's system had the following components:
• A relatively simple oscillator, or spark producing radio transmitter, which was closely
modeled after one designed by Righi, in turn similar to what Hertz had used;
• A wire or capacity area placed at a height above the ground;
• A coherer receiver, which was a modification of Edouard Branly's original device, with
refinements to increase sensitivity and reliability;
• A telegraph key to operate the transmitter to send short and long pulses, corresponding to
the dots-and-dashes of Morse code; and
• A telegraph register, activated by the coherer, which recorded the received Morse code dots
and dashes onto a roll of paper tape.
Similar configurations using spark-gap transmitters plus coherer-receivers had been tried by others,
but many were unable to achieve transmission ranges of more than a few hundred metres.
At first, Marconi could only signal over limited distances. In the summer of 1895 he moved his
experimentation outdoors. After increasing the length of the transmitter and receiver antennas, and
arranging them vertically, and positioning the antenna so that it touched the ground, the range
increased significantly. Soon he was able to transmit signals over a hill, a distance of approximately
1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi). By this point he concluded that with additional funding and research, a
device could become capable of spanning greater distances and would prove valuable both
commercially and militarily.
Finding limited interest in his work in Italy, in early 1896 at the age of 21, Marconi traveled to
London, England, accompanied by his mother to seek support for his work; Marconi spoke fluent
English in addition to Italian. While there, he gained the interest and support of William Preece, the
Chief Electrical Engineer of the British Post Office. The apparatus that Marconi possessed at that
time was strikingly similar to that of one in 1882 by A. E. Dolbear, of Tufts College, which used a
spark coil generator and a carbon granular rectifier for reception. A series of demonstrations for
the British government followed—by March, 1897, Marconi had transmitted Morse code signals over
a distance of about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) across the Salisbury Plain. On 13 May 1897, Marconi sent
the first ever wireless communication over open sea. It transversed the Bristol Channel from
Lavernock Point (South Wales) to Flat Holm Island, a distance of 6 kilometres (3.7 mi). The message
read "Are you ready". The receiving equipment was almost immediately relocated to Brean Down
Fort on the Somerset coast, stretching the range to 16 kilometres (9.9 mi).
Impressed by these and other demonstrations, Preece introduced Marconi's ongoing work to the
general public at two important London lectures: "Telegraphy without Wires", at the Toynbee Hall
on 11 December 1896; and "Signaling through Space without Wires", given to the Royal Institution
on 4 June 1897.
Numerous additional demonstrations followed, and Marconi began to receive international attention.
In July 1897, he carried out a series of tests at La Spezia in his home country, for the Italian
government. A test for Lloyds between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, Ireland, was conducted on 6
July 1898. The English channel was crossed on 27 March 1899, from Wimereux, France to South
Foreland Lighthouse, England, and in the fall of 1899, the first demonstrations in the United States
took place, with the reporting of the America's Cup international yacht races at New York.
Marconi sailed to the United States at the invitation of the New York Herald newspaper to cover the
America's Cup races off Sandy Hook, NJ. The transmission was done aboard the SS Ponce, a
passenger ship of the Porto Rico Line.  According to the Proceedings of the United States Naval
Institute by the United States Naval Institute, the Marconi instruments were tested around 1899 and
the tests concerning his wireless system found that the "[...] coherer, principle of which was
discovered some twenty years ago, [was] the only electrical instrument or device contained in the
apparatus that is at all new".
Around the turn of the century, Marconi began investigating the means to signal completely across
the Atlantic, in order to compete with the transatlantic telegraph cables. Marconi established a
wireless transmitting station at Marconi House, Rosslare Strand, Co. Wexford in 1901 to act as a link
between Poldhu in Cornwall and Clifden in Co. Galway. He soon made the announcement that on 12
December 1901, using a 152.4-metre (500 ft) kite-supported antenna for reception, the message was
received at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland (now part of Canada) signals transmitted by the
company's new high-power station at Poldhu, Cornwall. The distance between the two points was
about 3,500 kilometres (2,200 mi). Heralded as a great scientific advance, there was — and continues
to be — some skepticism about this claim, partly because the signals had been heard faintly and
sporadically. There was no independent confirmation of the reported reception, and the
transmissions, consisting of the Morse code letter S sent repeatedly, were difficult to distinguish from
atmospheric noise. (A detailed technical review of Marconi's early transatlantic work appears in John
S. Belrose's work of 1995.) The Poldhu transmitter was a two-stage circuit. The first stage operated
at lower voltage and provided the energy for the second stage to spark at a higher voltage. Nikola
Tesla, a rival in transatlantic transmission, stated after being told of Marconi's reported transmission
that "Marconi [... was] using seventeen of my patents."
Feeling challenged by skeptics, Marconi prepared a better organized and documented test. In
February, 1902, the SS Philadelphia sailed west from Great Britain with Marconi aboard, carefully
recording signals sent daily from the Poldhu station. The test results produced coherer-tape reception
up to 2,496 kilometres (1,551 mi), and audio reception up to 3,378 kilometres (2,099 mi).
Interestingly, the maximum distances were achieved at night, and these tests were the first to show
that for mediumwave and longwave transmissions, radio signals travel much farther at night than in
the day. During the daytime, signals had only been received up to about 1,125 kilometres (699 mi),
less than half of the distance claimed earlier at Newfoundland, where the transmissions had also
taken place during the day. Because of this, Marconi had not fully confirmed the Newfoundland
claims, although he did prove that radio signals could be sent for hundreds of kilometres, despite
some scientists' belief they were essentially limited to line-of-sight distances.
On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada,
became the first radio message to cross the Atlantic from North America. On 18 January 1903, a
Marconi station built near South Wellfleet, Massachusetts in 1901 sent a message of greetings from
Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States, to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom,
marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States. However,
consistent transatlantic signaling was difficult to establish.
Marconi began to build high-powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate with
ships at sea, in competition with other inventors. In 1904 a commercial service was established to
transmit nightly news summaries to subscribing ships, which could incorporate them into their on-
board newspapers. A regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service was finally begun on 17 October
1907 between Clifden Ireland and Glace Bay, but even after this the company struggled for many
years to provide reliable communication
The two radio operators aboard the Titanic - Jack Phillips and Harold Bride - were not employed by
the White Star Line but by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company. Following
the sinking of the ocean liner, survivors were rescued by the Carpathia of the Cunard Line. When it
docked in New York, Marconi went aboard with a reporter from the New York Times to talk with
Bride, the surviving operator. On 18 June 1912, Marconi gave evidence to the Court of Inquiry into
the loss of the Titanic regarding the marine telegraphy's functions and the procedures for emergencies
at sea. Britain's postmaster-general summed up, referring to the Titanic disaster, "Those who have
been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi...and his marvelous invention."
Marconi's work built upon the discoveries of numerous other scientists and experimenters. His "two-
circuit" equipment, consisting of a spark-gap transmitter plus a coherer-receiver, was similar to those
used by other experimenters, and in particular to that employed by Oliver Lodge in a series of widely
reported demonstrations in 1894. There were claims that Marconi was able to signal for greater
distances than anyone else when using the spark-gap and coherer combination, but these have been
disputed (notably by Tesla).
In 1900 Alexander Stepanovich Popov stated to the Congress of Russian Electrical Engineers that:
"[...] the emission and reception of signals by Marconi by means of electric oscillations [was]
nothing new. In America, the famous engineer Nikola Tesla carried the same experiments in 1893."
The Fascist regime in Italy credited Marconi with the first improvised arrangement in the
development of radio. There was controversy whether his contribution was sufficient to deserve
patent protection, or if his devices were too close to the original ones developed by Hertz, Popov,
Branley, Tesla, and Lodge to be patentable.
While Marconi did pioneering demonstrations for the time, his equipment was limited by being
essentially untuned, which greatly restricted the number of spark-gap radio transmitters which could
operate simultaneously in a geographical area without causing mutually disruptive interference.
(Continuous-wave transmitters were naturally more selective and less prone to this deficiency).
Marconi addressed this defect with a patent application for a much more sophisticated "four-circuit"
design, which featured two tuned-circuits at both the transmitting and receiving antennas. This was
issued as British patent number 7,777 on 26 April 1900. However, this patent came after significant
earlier work had been done on electrical tuning by Nikola Tesla and Oliver Lodge. (As a defensive
move, in 1911 the Marconi Company purchased the Lodge-Muirhead Syndicate, whose primary asset
was Oliver Lodge's 1897 tuning patent. This followed a 1911 court case in which the Marconi
company was ruled to have illegally used the techniques described under Lodge's tuning patent.)
Thus, the "four-sevens" patent and its equivalents in other countries was the subject of numerous
legal challenges, with rulings which varied by jurisdiction, from full validation of Marconi's tuning
patent to complete nullification.
In 1943, a lawsuit regarding Marconi's numerous other radio patents was resolved in the United
States. The court decision was based on the prior work conducted by others, including Nikola Tesla,
Oliver Lodge, and John Stone Stone, from which some of Marconi patents (such as U.S. patent
763,772 ) stemmed. The U. S. Supreme Court stated that,
The Tesla patent No. 645,576, applied for 2 September 1897 and allowed 20 March 1900, disclosed a
four-circuit system, having two circuits each at transmitter and receiver, and recommended that all
four circuits be tuned to the same frequency. [... He] recognized that his apparatus could, without
change, be used for wireless communication, which is dependent upon the transmission of electrical
Over the years, the Marconi companies gained a reputation for being technically conservative, in
particular by continuing to use inefficient spark-transmitter technology, which could only be used for
radiotelegraph operations, long after it was apparent that the future of radio communication lay with
continuous-wave transmissions, which were more efficient and could be used for audio
transmissions. Somewhat belatedly, the company did begin significant work with continuous-wave
equipment beginning in 1915, after the introduction of the oscillating vacuum tube (valve). In 1920,
employing a vacuum tube transmitter, the Chelmsford Marconi factory was the location for the first
entertainment radio broadcasts in the United Kingdom—one of these featured Dame Nellie Melba. In
1922 regular entertainment broadcasts commenced from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle.
In 1914 Marconi was made a Senator in the Italian Senate and appointed Honorary Knight Grand
Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in the UK. During World War I, Italy joined the Allied side of the
conflict, and Marconi was placed in charge of the Italian military's radio service. He attained the rank
of lieutenant in the Italian Army and of commander in the Italian Navy. In 1924, he was made a
marchese by King Victor Emmanuel III.
Marconi joined the Italian Fascist party in 1923. In 1930, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini appointed
him President of the Royal Academy of Italy, which made Marconi a member of the Fascist Grand
Marconi died in Rome in 1937 at age 63 following a series of heart attacks, and Italy held a state
funeral for him. As a tribute, all radio stations throughout the world observed two minutes of silence.
His remains are housed in the Villa Griffone at Sasso Marconi, Emilia-Romagna, which assumed that
name in his honour in 1938.
On 16 March 1905, Marconi married Beatrice O'Brien (1882–1976), daughter of Edward Donough
O'Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin, Ireland. They had three daughters--Degna (1908–1998), Gioia (1916–
1996) and a third who lived only a few weeks--and a son,Giulio (1910–1971). They divorced in 1924
and the marriage was annulled in 1927. On 15 June 1927, Marconi married Maria Cristina Bezzi-
Scali (1900–1994); Premier Benito Mussolini was Marconi's best man at the wedding. They had one
daughter, Elettra (born 1930). Marconi had a brother, Alfonso, and a stepbrother, Luigi.
In 1915 his friend Mrs. Mary Cummins Brown of New York perished in the sinking of the British
luxury liner RMS Lusitania off the Irish coast, a fact he wrote about two days later in The New York