A Science Odyssey
People and Discoveries

Guglielmo Marconi
1874 - 1937

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Italy in 1874 to a rather wealthy Italian father and Irish mother. He was educated privately and then went to the Livorno Technical Institute. While there, he read an article that grabbed his attention.

The article suggested the possibility of using radio waves to communicate without wires.The year was 1894, and the most modern way to send a message was over telegraph wires. (Heinrich Herz, for whom the units hertz and megahertz are named, had discovered and first produced radio waves in 1888.)

Marconi jumped right on the problem. He began experimenting at his family's home near Bologna. Within a year he had sent and received signals beyond the range of vision (including over a hill) and then over increasingly great distances -- up to two miles! He took out a patent in 1896. The Italian government was not interested in Marconi's work, but the British Admiralty was, and it installed Marconi's radio equipment in some of its ships. Radio transmission was pushed to greater and greater lengths, and by 1899, Marconi had sent a signal nine miles across the Bristol Channel and 31 miles across the English Channel to France. Most people believed that the curvature of the earth would prevent sending a signal much farther than 200 miles, so when Marconi was able to transmit across the Atlantic ocean in 1901, people were stunned. It opened the door to a rapidly developing wireless industry.

Marconi continued to refine and expand upon his inventions in the next few years, and then turned toward the business aspects of his work. In 1909 he won the Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun whose modifications to Marconi's transmitters significantly increased their range and usefulness.

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