Guglielmo Marconi - Building the Wireless Age
This is the detailed story of Marconi's intense, five year struggle to develop a reliable and practical wireless communication system. It was a constant search for distance and reliability, often in the face of appalling weather. Step by step he overcame countless technical difficulties, battling seemingly insurmountable problems of physics and engineering as his embryonic system began to take shape.
It was also a battle for public, press, commercial, military and scientific acceptance. It quickly became a war of money and ideas as Marconi fought against international and state sponsored competitors who deployed every form of industrial espionage and legal challenge. Each was determined to claim a piece of the new science and try to take control of what was becoming a new industrial revolution.
In the end it was only Marconi who won through. He had the vision, self belief and force of character to build a working system and prove it under the harshest of climates. In doing so he built a huge company and a whole new industry, straight from the laboratory bench.
But it was a close run thing. Many times during the first five years he nearly lost the race to tame Heinrich Hertz's wireless waves. But what he achieved on bleak windswept cliffs and basement laboratories around Britain's shores changed the world as we know it.
Five years that changed the world
On 12th December 1896, a young Italian inventor, just 22 years of age, stood on the stage at Toynbee Hall in East London. He was assisting the then 62 year old Chief Engineer of the British Post Office, William Preece. Preece’s lecture to a packed audience in the Hall was to be the first public demonstration of Guglielmo Marconi’s new communication system. It did not need wires to send messages.
Marconi delighted the audience by ringing a bell on demand as he walked through the audience, sometimes over ten yards away from the 'transmitter'. The amazing thing was that there were no wires connecting the two boxes. Commonplace today, in 1896 it was almost 'a kind of magic'.
Five short years later, after an almost continual and exhausting series of experiments, trials, tests, demonstrations and developments throughout the world, the young Italian now stood on a remote headland in the New World. Through a driving storm, he strained to listen for Morse code signals sent from his huge transmitter station at Poldhu on the south Cornish coast. He had risked everything, including his Company and reputation, to try to get a wireless signal to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
It was a huge leap of 2,170 miles and it was a long way from simply ringing a bell across a crowded Hall. When he sailed to Newfoundland the best range Marconi had so far achieved was just 255 miles, but on 12th December 1901, at 12.30pm, Marconi heard his signals. The Morse letter S, three dots repeated twenty-five times. It was a kind of magic and the wireless age had begun. Marconi achieved all this and gave birth to the new age of wireless communication on land, sea and in the air in just five hectic years. He had also changed the world forever.
Twelve years in the writing and with twenty years of research behind that – the goal of the new book was 'simply' to fully document the first five years of the young Guglielmo Marconi's career. My long held passion was to pull the whole story together, step by step and site by site to tell the complete story of the difficult birth and desperate battles that took place to make a practical system of wireless communication a reality.
The very young Guglielmo Marconi, was an amazingly complex man, aloof, brilliant, stubborn, self confident, but also a driven workaholic, natural leader and a true entrepreneur. With little formal education the half Italian, half Irish inventor, with no reputation, commercial experience or proper financial backing took on the established and incredibly strict and hierarchical scientific establishment of late Victorian England, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, shook it and then turned it upside down. People referred to him as a 'magician' and 'weaver of magic waves'.
He started a revolution and built a new industry that would change the world for everyone.
Flying in the face of scientific, commercial and huge financial risk, he also faced blatant national prejudice, fraud, theft and industrial espionage, but he met rejection, objection, technical failures and outright hostility head on. For five long years he undertook what I consider to be one of the most committed and continued period of risk taking by a single man in the history of scientific development.
Guglielmo Marconi - Building the Wireless Age is the story of that search for a reliable and practical wireless communication system. It was a search for distance and reliability and a search for public and scientific acceptance. It was also a fight for finance and against competitors who deployed every form of industrial espionage and legal claim to grab a piece of the new science. There were many others who worked with wireless waves at the same time and there are other claimants to the title of the 'father of wireless'. But it was only Marconi who had the vision, self belief and force of character to drive his ideas home and build a company and a whole new industry, straight from the laboratory bench. With it he changed the world as we know it. That in itself was 'A Kind of Magic.'
I cannot conceive of a technology, system or idea that took such a dedicated effort to bring it to fruition. Marconi risked everything; his future, his family’s entire fortune, his reputation and career and perhaps even the future of radio.
But even when he achieved his first successes, when he could have sat back and reaped the rewards he still chose to press on with his impossible ideas and wild schemes.
And he won.
He turned his magic into the new wireless age.
NOW Available. 760 pages, 750 photographs.
Hardback. rrp £25.00 plus p&p
Price £25.00 + postage. Email for p+p rates - book is heavy at 2.3KG!