In 1895, a 21-year-old contacted the Italian Telegraph Board. He had been doing experiments transmitting telegraphic messages over a distance of two kilometers without cables. Now he was looking for help with funding for technical development. Could it be of any interest?

The Telegraph Board did not think so. The Italian telegraphic network was extensive and worked well, and the board could see no reason for investing money in developing a version that did not need cables, if indeed it were really possible.

The young man, Guglielmo Marconi, did not give up easily; nor, more to the point, did his mother Annie, who came from Ireland and was a member of the extremely wealthy Jameson family of whiskey distillers. Annie Marconi traveled to England with her son and, with the help of her kinfolk, was soon able to introduce him to William Preece, the head of engineering at the British Post Office who 18 years earlier had introduced Bell’s telephones to Europe. Preece was impressed by Marconi, introducing him to British scientists and the army and navy.


The following year, on June 2, 1896, Marconi took out a patent on his invention of the “wireless telegraph by means of electric impulses” in England; a year later he was able to establish a wireless telegraphic connection with a range of 15 kilometers across the Bristol Channel. In 1898 the first stations for wireless telegraphy across the English Channel were built; in 1901 the first telegraph signals were sent by wireless across the Atlantic from Cornwall in England to Newfoundland in Canada, a distance of 3,350 kilometers.

The cable companies of the day were not keen on these new ideas and prohibited their customers from using Marconi’s equipment. Marconi then shifted his experiments to his mother’s native country, Ireland, where the government allowed him to use the existing telegraph cables to assist his trials.

Marconi soon became famous around the world, receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics at the age of 35 in 1909. Up until his death in 1937, he contributed many innovations and business ideas to this new industry. By 1902, Marconi’s company had already established 25 coastal stations for radio telegraphy and equipped 70 vessels with radio equipment. When the Titanic sank in 1912, radio equipment constructed by Marconi enabled the rescue of 705 of its passengers.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn



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