Lemelson-MIT Program
Who We Are Awards Outreach News
Invention Dimension Search Site Map Contact Us
Inventor of the Week

Inventor of the Week Archive

Browse for a different Invention or Inventor


Wireless Communication


Radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, on April 25, 1874, to an Italian father and Irish mother. Educated in physics at the technical school in Leghorn, by the age of 20, Marconi had become very interested in the works of Heinrich Herz, who had discovered and first produced radio waves in 1888. Marconi became convinced that communication among people was possible via wireless radio signaling. He began to experiment in 1895 at his fatherís home in Pontecchio, where he was soon able to send signals over one and a half miles.

Marconi traveled to England in 1896 to seek a patent for his apparatus. One was granted to him that year ≠ the first ever for a system of wireless telegraphy. After demonstrating the systemís ability to transmit radio signals across the Bristol Channel, he established the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Limited (in 1900 this was re-named Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited).

In 1899 Marconi was able to transmit signals across the English Channel, from Britain to France. A year later he received his patent for "tuned or syntonic telegraphy.Ē This patent, number 7777, allowed simultaneous transmissions on different frequencies. Thus stations next to one another were able to operate without interfering with the othersí signals. Adjacent stations were now able to operate without interfering with one another and ranges were increased.

Marconiís most significant breakthrough was yet to come. In December of 1901, he proved the skeptics wrong when he successfully transmitted wireless waves across the Atlantic Ocean ≠ between Poldu, Cornwall, and St. Johnís, Newfoundland. This distance of 2100 miles disproved the widely held theory that the curvature of the earth would prevent the waves from reaching their destination.

In 1902, Marconi patented a magnetic detector, which became the standard wireless receiver for years to come. In 1905 he patented the horizontal directional aerial. During these early years Marconiís invention was proving itself a lifesaving technology to a particular group of people: those at sea. Marconi had hoped from the beginning that the system would end their isolation and give them a way to call for help. The first incident that demonstrated this potential was in 1899 when a vessel rammed by a steamship in heavy fog used it to call for a lifeboat. In 1909, when the S.S. Republic collided with an Italian steamer, the Marconi radio operator onboard the Republic was able to guide rescuing ships to its position to save more than 1,700 passengers. And when the Titanic sank in 1912, calls for help came through the Marconi equipment on board so that some passengersí lives were spared.

In 1909, Marconi won the Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun, who had modified Marconiís transmitters to increase their range and practicality. Marconi was decorated with numerous other awards and honors throughout his life. In 1914, he became a Lieutenant in the Italian Army. He was later promoted to Captain and in 1916 became a Commander in the Navy. In 1919, he received the Italian Military Medal for his war service. His systems had gradually made their way into the workings of the military. Meanwhile he continued to experiment, opening in 1932 the worldís first microwave radiotelephone link, and later introducing the microwave beacon for ship navigation.

In the 1920s, Marconiís company was very involved in advancing television transmission in England. In 1934 its television interests were merged with those of EMI Ltd in a company called The Marconi-EMI Television Co. Ltd. In 1946, Marconiís Wireless Telegraph Company was taken over by English Electric, and in 1968 English Electric merged with the General Electric Company (GEC). In 1999, GEC was renamed Marconi plc.

Marconi moved to Rome in 1935. He died there on July 20, 1937.

[February 2004]

Invention Dimension
Inventor of the Week Inventor of the Week
Inventor's Handbook Inventor's Handbook
Games & Trivia Games & Trivia
Links & Resources Links & Resources