Gugielmo Marconi

In our day-to-day existence, we hear the term "wireless" repeatedly. In most cases, it has to do with communication. Wireless communication has revolutionized the world in ways that we have yet to imagine. For this, in many ways, we have Gugielmo Marconi to thank. Though he is not considered to be the inventor of radio and wireless technology, he is considered to be the father of it, because it was his work that advanced the ideas that were mere fantasy around the turn of the twentieth century.   Marconi was born on April 25, 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi and Annie Jameson. He was privately educated in Bologna, Florence, and Leghorn, and later went to Livorno Technical Institute. From a young age, he was interested in physical science and electricity, and was particularly taken with the works of Maxwell, Hertz, Righi, and Lodge.   In 1895, Marconi began experimenting with the wireless transmission of electromagnetic waves. At first, he was only able to transmit signals very short distances, and he became frustrated. So he turned his studies toward electrical storms, during which he attached strips of metal to his detecting equipment because it made the equipment more sensitive. He eventually realized that these crude aerials could make his transmitters more efficient because the current was conducted upward, and electromagnetic energy radiated out from them. Thus he began using transmitting and receiving antennae.   Marconi's first successful transmission was 100 meters, between his house and the end of the garden. Unfortunately, this was of little consequence in the scientific community, the majority of whom contended that there were two major problems with the idea of wireless communication. The first was the belief that, if there were an obstacle between the transmitting and receiving antennae, the transmission would be disrupted. The second was that the curvature of the earth would present a problem to long distance transmission, since it was believed that the electromagnetic waves would travel only in a straight line. Marconi set out to dispel these theories by placing a receiving antenna three kilometers away behind a hill. He sent a message consisting of the three dots in the letter "S" of the Morse alphabet. When his brother received the transmission, he signaled receipt by firing a gunshot into the air. What they did not know at the time was that the ionosphere, which is a layer of the earth's upper atmosphere, reflects electromagnetic waves. It allows radio signals to reach any part of the earth's surface after a series of reflections between the ionosphere and the earth.   General skepticism must have lent to the Italian government's disinterest in Marconi's radio transmitter because, when he presented it to the Italian Minister of Post and Telegraph, he was dismissed offhand. So he went to England, where he was able to receive financing, and was granted the first ever patent for wireless telegraphy. So different was his reception in England that the British Admiralty installed Marconi's radio equipment in some of its ships. Though he did not know it at the time, this was to foretell a turning point in his career. In July of 1897, Marconi started The Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd., which would later be re-named Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company. It was this business that opened the first radio factory at Chelmsford, England in 1898. Slowly, his radiotelegraphy began to catch on, and in 1899, wireless stations were established at The Needles, Isle of Wight, at Bournemouth, and later at the Haven Hotel, Poole, Dorset. However, still, transmissions were taking place over relatively short distances, and Marconi felt challenged to push for more.   On December 12, 1901, transmission successfully took place between Poldhu in Cornwall to Newfoundland, a distance of approximately 1800 miles. This was a major breakthrough in one-way long distance communications. Marconi continued to push forward, though, and by January 18, 1903, he successfully transmitted a 48-word message from Cape Cod to England, and received a reply. This marked the first two-way transoceanic communication, and the first wireless telegram between the United States and Europe, a distance of approximately 3,000 miles. By 1907, after several tests that were of greater and greater distances, the first transatlantic commercial service was opened between Glace Bay and Clifden, Ireland. Wireless communication was well on its way to being commonplace.   Marconi was honored in 1909 when he won the Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun, whose modifications to Marconi's transmitters increased their range and usefulness. However, it is perhaps the tragic events of April 12, 1912, that elevated Marconi's status as a contributor to the betterment of humankind. On that horrible day, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Were it not for the fact that the great ship was equipped with a radio, it is likely that every passenger would have perished. However, using their radio, the ship was able to send out a distress signal, which caused other ships in the area to come to the rescue. As a result, 711 people survived the horrific tragedy. Marconi was internationally hailed as a hero, and the Titanic Inquiry led to legislation requiring every ship in the world to carry wireless communication equipment. Not only was he greatly honored, but also Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. was swamped with work.   Marconi was not complacent, however, and continued his research. He was interested in shorter waves, and by 1923 had established a beam system for long distance wireless communication. Because of his continued efforts, the first microwave radiotelephone link was established in 1932, between the Vatican City and the Pope's summer home in Castel Gandolfo. By 1935, Marconi's research into short waves let him to give a demonstration on the principles of radar, which he had been talking about since his lecture to the American Institute of Radio Engineers in New York in 1922.   Gugielmo Marconi died on July 30, 1937 in Rome. He left behind as his legacy the groundwork for all of the communication technology that we use today. His work has contributed to modern society in incalculable ways. Without the wireless communication technology that we use today, things that we take for granted, such as the use of the internet, or trading stocks in an instant, would be impossible. Surely, even given his remarkable vision, he never knew the extent to which his work would influence the modern world.