Wireless communication. It’s a mainstay of our modern world. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this right now, in fact, the vast majority of things we do on a daily basis rely on the innovations of Guglielmo Marconi and his forward thinking concepts of instantaneous communication. 

Born in Bologna, Italy in 1874 to a family of nobility. As a child, he did not attend formal school, rather, his parents hired a great many private tutors to educate him at home. From an early age, Marconi had a major interest in science, specifically electricity. Marconi would later note that one of his tutors in particular, a man named Vincenzo Rosa, truly fostered his love of electricity by exposing him to new “radical” ideas about electricity and magnetism that were beginning to be explored at this time.

By 1894, Guglielmo Marconi, now a fully grown adult, was fully enthralled with Rudolf Hertz’s discovery of “invisible waves” emanating from certain electromagnetic interactions. Soon, Marconi would construct his very own equipment to generate these “invisible waves”. 

Working out of his father’s country estate, Marconi threw himself into his work, spending many years tinkering with transmitters and other radio devices. His most ambitious contraption was a radio transmitter that would send a signal to a bell which would then ring upon the pushing of a “telegraphic button”.

Marconi with an early version of his radio. Taken sometime in the late 1890s.

After his success with short range transmissions, Marconi sought to expand the scope of his experiments. In 1895, he would have his first breakthrough. As he experimented with different types of antennas, he found that increasing their height allowed for signals to be sent over much greater distances. 

Following his success in the laboratory, Marconi desired to further his research. He began soliciting funds from the Italian government, unfortunately, they were unable to fund his discoveries.

Unfazed, Marconi would take his experiments to the United Kingdom, hoping to find more support for his ideas in a more industrialized nation. Almost immediately, Marconi would find multiple sponsors for his experiments, even including the British Post Office. 

Postal workers investigating Marconi’s radio device before a mass demonstration. C.A. 1898.

Beginning shortly after his arrival in England he held mass demonstrations of his new technology. He’d begin his new wave of experimentation by sending a signal a distance of 6 kilometers and soon after was able to increase the range to 16 kilometers. 

All of this success was not enough for Marconi, though. Before long, he began investigating the plausibility of sending a radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean. Marconi set up a transmission station at the aptly named Marconi House in Rosslare Strand, County Wexford, Ireland. The signal was to be received at another aptly named location, Signal Hill in St. Johns, Newfoundland. 

Marconi House, County Rosslare, Ireland. The originating point of the first Trans-Atlantic radio transmission.

Marconi’s message was heralded as a massive feat of humanity during his time. He opened the door for radically fast communication, helping to link nations together in a new, globalized era. Marconi still had much more he wanted to accomplish in the field of communication. He’d go on to refine his radio transmission equipment greatly, giving him the ability to send messages between places as far apart as England and Australia. 

In 1909, Marconi was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics. Additionally, he was made a senator in Italy and a Knight in the United Kingdom. Following his honors, Marconi would go on to found a radio operating company, one which would lend its resources to the rescue of those few survivors on board the Titanic. 

Guglielmo Marconi was truly an innovator. His invaluable contributions to wireless communication helped usher in the fast-paced world we live in today. Such rudimentary beginnings of bells and waves may be far from the minds of modern texters and tweeters, but messages that only take an an instant are, in a way, nearly two centuries in the making.

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