Marconi was born into the Italian nobility as Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi in Bologna on 25 April 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi (an Italian aristocratic landowner from Porretta Terme) and his Irish/Scot wife Annie Jameson (daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle in County Wexford, Ireland and granddaughter of John Jameson, founder of whiskey distillers Jameson & Sons). Between the ages of two and six, Marconi and his elder brother Alfonso were brought up by his mother in the English town of Bedford. After returning to Italy, and at the age of 18 Marconi became a neighbour of University of Bologna physicist Augusto Righi, who had done research on Heinrich Hertz's work. Righi permitted Marconi to attend lectures at the university and also to use the University's laboratory and library. Marconi received further education in Florence at the Istituto Cavallero and, later, in Livorno. Marconi did not do well in school, according to Robert McHenry, though historian Giuliano Corradi characterizes him in his biography as a true genius. He was baptised as a Catholic but had been brought up as a member of the Anglican Church, being married into it (although this marriage was later annulled). Marconi was confirmed in the Catholic faith and became a devout member of the Church before his marriage to Maria Christina in 1927.
During his early years, Marconi had an interest in science and electricity and in the early 1890s he began working on the idea of "wireless telegraphy"—i.e., the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as used by the electric telegraph. This was not a new idea; numerous investigators and inventors had been exploring wireless telegraph technologies and even building systems using electric conduction, electromagnetic induction and optical (light) signalling for over 50 years, but none had proven technically and commercially successful. A relatively new development came from Heinrich Hertz, who in 1888 demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation, at the time commonly called "Hertzian" waves, and now generally referred to as radio waves.
There was a great deal of interest in radio waves in the physics community, but the interest was in radio as a scientific phenomenon, not in its potential as a communication method. Physicists generally looked on radio waves as an invisible form of light, a short range phenomenon which could only travel along a line of sight path, and thus its range was limited to the visual horizon like existing forms of visual signaling, making it unsuitable for long distance communication. Hertz's death in 1894 brought published reviews of his earlier discoveries including a demonstration on the transmission and detection of radio waves by the British physicist Oliver Lodge and an article about Hertz's work by Marconi's teacher, Augusto Righi. Righi's article renewed Marconi's interest in developing a wireless telegraphy system based on radio waves, a line of inquiry that Marconi noted other inventors did not seem to be pursuing.
Marconi, then twenty years old, began to conduct experiments in radio waves, building much of his own equipment in the attic of his home at the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio (now an administrative subdivision of Sasso Marconi), Italy with the help of his butler Mignani. He built on Hertz's original experiments and, at the suggestion of Righi, began using a coherer, an early detector based on the 1890 findings of French physicist Edouard Branly and used in Lodge's experiments, that changed resistance when exposed to radio waves. In the summer of 1894, he built a storm alarm made up of a battery, a coherer, and an electric bell, which went off when it picked up the radio waves generated by lightning.
He continued to work in the attic. Late one night in December 1894 he demonstrated a radio transmitter and receiver to his mother, a set-up that made a bell ring on the other side of the room by pushing a telegraphic button on a bench. Financed by his father, Marconi continued to read through the literature and picked up on the ideas of physicists who were experimenting with radio waves, but did a great deal to develop devices, such as portable transmitters and receiver systems, that could work over long distances, turning what was essentially a laboratory experiment into a useful communication system. Marconi came up with a functional system with many components:A relatively simple oscillator or spark-producing radio transmitter;A wire or metal sheet capacity area suspended at a height above the ground;A coherer receiver, which was a modification of Edouard Branly's original device with refinements to increase sensitivity and reliability;A telegraph key to operate the transmitter to send short and long pulses, corresponding to the dots-and-dashes of Morse code; andA telegraph register activated by the coherer which recorded the received Morse code dots and dashes onto a roll of paper tape.
In the summer of 1895, Marconi moved his experimentation outdoors and continued to experiment on his father's estate in Bologna. He tried different arrangements and shapes of antenna but even with improvements he was able to transmit signals only up to one half mile, a distance Oliver Lodge had predicted in 1894 as the maximum transmission distance for radio waves.
A breakthrough came that summer when Marconi found that much greater range could be achieved after he raised the height of his antenna and, borrowing from a technique used in wired telegraphy, grounding his transmitter and receiver. With these improvements the system was capable of transmitting signals up to 2 miles (3.2 km) and over hills. The monopole antenna reduced the frequency of the waves compared to the dipole antennas used by Hertz, and radiated vertically polarized radio waves which could travel longer distances. By this point, he concluded that a device could become capable of spanning greater distances, with additional funding and research, and would prove valuable both commercially and militarily. Marconi's experimental apparatus proved to be the first engineering-complete, commercially successful radio transmission system.
Marconi wrote to the Ministry of Post and Telegraphs, then under the direction of Pietro Lacava, explaining his wireless telegraph machine and asking for funding. He never received a response to his letter, which was eventually dismissed by the Minister, who wrote "to the Longara" on the document, referring to the insane asylum on Via della Lungara in Rome.
In 1896, Marconi spoke with his family friend Carlo Gardini, Honorary Consul at the United States Consulate in Bologna, about leaving Italy to go to England. Gardini wrote a letter of introduction to the Ambassador of Italy in London, Annibale Ferrero, explaining who Marconi was and about these extraordinary discoveries. In his response, Ambassador Ferrero advised them not to reveal the results until after they had obtained the patents. He also encouraged him to come to England where he believed it would be easier to find the necessary funds to convert the findings from Marconi's experiment into a practical use. Finding little interest or appreciation for his work in Italy, Marconi travelled to London in early 1896 at the age of 21, accompanied by his mother, to seek support for his work. (He spoke fluent English in addition to Italian.) Marconi arrived at Dover and the Customs officer opened his case to find various apparatus. The customs officer immediately contacted the Admiralty in London. While there, Marconi gained the interest and support of William Preece, the Chief Electrical Engineer of the British Post Office.
Marconi made his first demonstration of his system for the British government in July 1896. A further series of demonstrations for the British followed—by March 1897, Marconi had transmitted Morse code signals over a distance of about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) across Salisbury Plain. On 13 May 1897, Marconi sent the world's first ever wireless communication over open sea. The experiment, based in Wales, witnessed a message transversed over the Bristol Channel from Flat Holm Island to Lavernock Point in Penarth, a distance of 6 kilometres (3.7 mi). The message read "Are you ready". The transmitting equipment was almost immediately relocated to Brean Down Fort on the Somerset coast, stretching the range to 16 kilometres (9.9 mi).
Impressed by these and other demonstrations, Preece introduced Marconi's ongoing work to the general public at two important London lectures: "Telegraphy without Wires", at the Toynbee Hall on 11 December 1896; and "Signaling through Space without Wires", given to the Royal Institution on 4 June 1897.
Numerous additional demonstrations followed, and Marconi began to receive international attention. In July 1897, he carried out a series of tests at La Spezia, in his home country, for the Italian government. A test for Lloyds between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland, was conducted on 6 July 1898. The English channel was crossed on 27 March 1899, from Wimereux, France to South Foreland Lighthouse, England. Marconi set up an experimental base at the Haven Hotel, Sandbanks, Poole Harbour, Dorset, where he erected a 100-foot high mast. He became friends with the van Raaltes, the owners of Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, and his sailing boat, the Elletra, was often moored on Brownsea or at the Haven Hotel, when he was not conducting experiments at sea.
In December 1898, the British lightship service authorized the establishment of wireless communication between the South Foreland lighthouse at Dover and the East Goodwin lightship, twelve miles distant. On 17 March 1899 the East Goodwin lightship sent a signal on behalf of the merchant vessel Elbe which had run aground on Goodwin Sands. The message was received by the radio operator of the South Foreland lighthouse, who summoned the aid of the Ramsgate lifeboat.
In the autumn of 1899, the first demonstrations in the United States took place. Marconi had sailed to the U.S. at the invitation of the New York Herald newspaper to cover the America's Cup international yacht races off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The transmission was done aboard the SS Ponce, a passenger ship of the Porto Rico Line. Marconi left for England on 8 November 1899 on the American Line's SS Saint Paul, and he and his assistants installed wireless equipment aboard during the voyage. On 15 November Saint Paul became the first ocean liner to report her imminent return to Great Britain by wireless when Marconi's Royal Needles Hotel radio station contacted her 66 nautical miles off the English coast.
At the turn of the 20th century, Marconi began investigating the means to signal completely across the Atlantic in order to compete with the transatlantic telegraph cables. Marconi established a wireless transmitting station at Marconi House, Rosslare Strand, Co. Wexford in 1901 to act as a link between Poldhu in Cornwall, England and Clifden in Co. Galway, Ireland. He soon made the announcement that the message was received at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland (now part of Canada) on 12 December 1901, using a 500-foot (150 m) kite-supported antenna for reception—signals transmitted by the company's new high-power station at Poldhu, Cornwall. The distance between the two points was about 2,200 miles (3,500 km). It was heralded as a great scientific advance, yet there also was—and continues to be—considerable scepticism about this claim. The exact wavelength used is not known, but it is fairly reliably determined to have been in the neighbourhood of 350 meters (frequency ≈850 kHz). The tests took place at a time of day during which the entire transatlantic path was in daylight. We now know (although Marconi did not know then) that this was the worst possible choice. At this medium wavelength, long distance transmission in the daytime is not possible because of heavy absorption of the skywave in the ionosphere. It was not a blind test; Marconi knew in advance to listen for a repetitive signal of three clicks, signifying the Morse code letter S. The clicks were reported to have been heard faintly and sporadically. There was no independent confirmation of the reported reception, and the transmissions were difficult to distinguish from atmospheric noise. (A detailed technical review of Marconi's early transatlantic work appears in John S. Belrose's work of 1995.) The Poldhu transmitter was a two-stage circuit.
Feeling challenged by skeptics, Marconi prepared a better organised and documented test. In February 1902, the SS Philadelphia sailed west from Great Britain with Marconi aboard, carefully recording signals sent daily from the Poldhu station. The test results produced coherer-tape reception up to 1,550 miles (2,490 km), and audio reception up to 2,100 miles (3,400 km). The maximum distances were achieved at night, and these tests were the first to show that radio signals for medium wave and longwave transmissions travel much farther at night than in the day. During the daytime, signals had been received up to only about 700 miles (1,100 km), less than half of the distance claimed earlier at Newfoundland, where the transmissions had also taken place during the day. Because of this, Marconi had not fully confirmed the Newfoundland claims, although he did prove that radio signals could be sent for hundreds of kilometres, despite some scientists' belief that they were limited essentially to line-of-sight distances.
On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada became the world's first radio message to cross the Atlantic from North America. In 1901, Marconi built a station near South Wellfleet, Massachusetts that sent a message of greetings on 18 January 1903 from United States President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. However, consistent transatlantic signalling was difficult to establish.
Marconi began to build high-powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate with ships at sea, in competition with other inventors. In 1904, a commercial service was established to transmit nightly news summaries to subscribing ships, which could incorporate them into their on-board newspapers. A regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service was finally begun on 17 October 1907 between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, but even after this the company struggled for many years to provide reliable communication to others.
The role played by Marconi Co. wireless in maritime rescues raised public awareness of the value of radio and brought fame to Marconi, particularly the sinkings of the RMS Titanic on 15 April 1912 and the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915.
RMS Titanic radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were not employed by the White Star Line but by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company. After the sinking of the ocean liner on 15 April 1912, survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia of the Cunard Line. Also employed by the Marconi Company was David Sarnoff, who later headed RCA. Wireless communications were reportedly maintained for 72 hours between Carpathia and Sarnoff, but Sarnoff's involvement has been questioned by some modern historians. When Carpathia docked in New York, Marconi went aboard with a reporter from The New York Times to talk with Bride, the surviving operator.
On 18 June 1912, Marconi gave evidence to the Court of Inquiry into the loss of Titanic regarding the marine telegraphy's functions and the procedures for emergencies at sea. Britain's postmaster-general summed up, referring to the Titanic disaster: "Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi...and his marvellous invention." Marconi was offered free passage on Titanic before she sank, but had taken Lusitania three days earlier. As his daughter Degna later explained, he had paperwork to do and preferred the public stenographer aboard that vessel.
Over the years, the Marconi companies gained a reputation for being technically conservative, in particular by continuing to use inefficient spark-transmitter technology, which could be used only for radio-telegraph operations, long after it was apparent that the future of radio communication lay with continuous-wave transmissions which were more efficient and could be used for audio transmissions. Somewhat belatedly, the company did begin significant work with continuous-wave equipment beginning in 1915, after the introduction of the oscillating vacuum tube (valve). The New Street Works factory in Chelmsford was the location for the first entertainment radio broadcasts in the United Kingdom in 1920, employing a vacuum tube transmitter and featuring Dame Nellie Melba. In 1922, regular entertainment broadcasts commenced from the Marconi Research Centre at Great Baddow, forming the prelude to the BBC, and he spoke of the close association of aviation and wireless telephony in that same year at a private gathering with Florence Tyzack Parbury, and even spoke of interplanetary wireless communication.
In 1914, Marconi was made a Senator in the Italian Senate and appointed Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in the UK. During World War I, Italy joined the Allied side of the conflict, and Marconi was placed in charge of the Italian military's radio service. He attained the rank of lieutenant in the Italian Army and of commander in the Italian Navy. In 1929, he was made a marquess by King Victor Emmanuel III.
Marconi joined the Italian Fascist party in 1923. In 1930, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini appointed him President of the Royal Academy of Italy, which made Marconi a member of the Fascist Grand Council.
Marconi died in Rome on 20 July 1937 at age 63, following a series of heart attacks, and Italy held a state funeral for him. As a tribute, shops on the street where he lived were "Closed for national mourning". In addition, at 6 pm the next day, the time designated for the funeral, all BBC transmitters and wireless Post Office transmitters in the British Isles observed two minutes of silence in his honour. The British Post Office also sent a message requesting that all broadcasting ships honour Marconi with two minutes of broadcasting silence as well. His remains are housed in the Villa Griffone at Sasso Marconi, Emilia-Romagna, which assumed that name in his honour in 1938.
In 1943, Marconi's elegant sailing yacht, the Elettra, was commandeered and re-fitted as a warship by the German Navy. She was sunk by the RAF on 22 January 1944. After the war, the Italian Government tried to retrieve the wreckage, to re-build the boat, and the wreckage was removed to Italy. Eventually, the idea was abandoned, and the wreckage was cut into pieces which were distributed amongst Italian museums.
In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision on Marconi's radio patents restoring some of the prior patents of Oliver Lodge, John Stone Stone, and Nikola Tesla. The decision was not about Marconi's original radio patents and the court declared that their decision had no bearing on Marconi's claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, just that since Marconi's claim to certain patents were questionable, he could not claim infringement on those same patents. There are claims the high court was trying to nullify a World War I claim against the United States government by the Marconi Company via simply restoring the non-Marconi prior patent.
Marconi had a brother, Alfonso, and a stepbrother, Luigi.
As recorded above, Marconi became friends of Charles van Raalte and his wife Florence, the owners of Brownsea Island; and of Margherita, their daughter, and in 1904 he met her friend, the Hon. Beatrice O'Brien (1882–1976), a daughter of Edward O'Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin. On 16 March 1905, Beatrice O'Brien and Marconi were married, and spent their honeymoon on Brownsea Island. They had three daughters, Degna (1908–1998), Gioia (1916–1996), and Lucia (born and died 1906), and a son, Giulio, 2nd Marchese Marconi (1910–1971).
In 1913, the Marconis returned to Italy and became part of Rome society. Beatrice served as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elena. The Marconis divorced in 1924, and, at Marconi's request, the marriage was annulled on 27 April 1927, so he could remarry. Beatrice Marconi married her second husband, Liborio Marignoli, Marchese di Montecorona, on 3 March 1924 and had a daughter, Flaminia.
On 12 June 1927 (religious 15 June), Marconi married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali (1900–1994), only daughter of Francesco, Count Bezzi-Scali. They had one daughter, Maria Elettra Elena Anna (born 1930), who married Prince Carlo Giovannelli (1942–2016) in 1966; they later divorced. For unexplained reasons, Marconi left his entire fortune to his second wife and their only child, and nothing to the children of his first marriage.
Later in life, Marconi was an active Italian Fascist and an apologist for their ideology and actions such as the attack by Italian forces in Ethiopia.
Marconi wanted to personally introduce in 1931 the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI, and did announce at the microphone: "With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man's disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father".In 1909, Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Braun for his contributions to radio communications.In 1918, he was awarded the Franklin Institute's Franklin Medal.In 1920, he was awarded the IRE Medal of Honor, now the IEEE Medal of Honor.In 1929, he was made a marquess by King Victor Emmanuel III, thus becoming Marchese Marconi.In 1931, he was awarded with John Scott Medal by wireless telegraphyIn 1934, he was awarded the Wilhelm Exner Medal.In 1975, Marconi was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.In 1977, Marconi was inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.In 1988, the Radio Hall of Fame (Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago) inducted Marconi as a Pioneer (soon after the inception of its awards).In 1990, the Bank of Italy issued a 2000 lire banknote featuring his portrait on the front and on the back his accomplishments.In 2001, Great Britain released a commemorative British two pound coin celebrating the 100th anniversary of Marconi's first wireless communication.Marconi's early experiments in wireless telegraphy were the subject of two IEEE Milestones; one in Switzerland in 2003 and most recently in Italy in 2011.In 2009, Italy issued a commemorative silver €5 coin honouring the centennial of Marconi's Nobel Prize.In 2009, he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.The Dutch radio academy bestows the Marconi Awards annually for outstanding radio programmes, presenters and stations.The National Association of Broadcasters (US) bestows the annual NAB Marconi Radio Awards also for outstanding radio programs and stations.A funerary monument to the effigy of Marconi can be seen in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence but his remains are in near the Mausoleum of Guglielmo Marconi in Pontecchio Marconi, near Bologna. His former villa, adjacent to the mausoleum is the Marconi Museum (Italy) with much of his equipment.A statue of Guglielmo Marconi stands in Church Square Park in Hoboken, NJ.A Guglielmo Marconi sculpture by Attilio Piccirilli stands in Washington, D.C.A large collection of Marconi artefacts was held by The General Electric Company, p.l.c. (GEC) of the United Kingdom which later renamed itself Marconi plc and Marconi Corporation plc. In December 2004 the extensive Marconi Collection, held at the former Marconi Research Centre at Great Baddow, Chelmsford, Essex UK was donated to the nation by the Company via the University of Oxford. This consisted of the BAFTA award-winning MarconiCalling website, some 250+ physical artefacts and the massive ephemera collection of papers, books, patents and many other items. The artefacts are now held by The Museum of the History of Science and the ephemera Archives by the nearby Bodleian Library. Following three years work at the Bodleian, an Online Catalogue to the Marconi Archives was released in November 2008.A granite obelisk stands on the cliff top near the site of Marconi's Marconi's Poldhu Wireless Station in Cornwall, commemorating the first transatlantic transmission.
The asteroid 1332 Marconia is named in his honour. A large crater on the far side of the moon is also named after him.
ItalyBologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (IATA: BLQ – ICAO: LIPE), of Bologna, is named after Marconi, its native son.Open University Guglielmo Marconi in Rome, Italy (Università Telematica "Guglielmo Marconi")Ponte Guglielmo Marconi, bridge that connects Piazza Augusto Righi with Piazza Tommaso Edison, in RomeDepartment of Electrical, Electronic and Information Engineering "Guglielmo Marconi" (DEI), Università di Bologna
AustraliaAustralian football (soccer) and social club Marconi Stallions
CanadaThe 'Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada' (now CMC Electronics, of Montreal, Canada, was created in 1903 by Guglielmo Marconi. In 1925 the company was renamed to the 'Canadian Marconi Company', which was acquired by English Electric in 1953. The company name changed again to CMC Electronics Inc. (French: CMC Électronique) in 2001.The Marconi National Historic Sites of Canada was created by Parks Canada as a tribute to Marconi's vision in the development of radio telecommunications. The first official wireless message was sent from this location by the Atlantic Ocean to England in 1902. The museum site is located in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, at Table Head on Timmerman Street.
As of 2016 the Canadian Marconi Company and CMC Electronics no longer exist. Most bought up by Esterline in Ottawa. The Marine Service Group was acquired by MacKay Marine but many of the employees left the group at transition.
CaliforniaMarconi Conference Center and State Historic Park, site of the transoceanic Marshall Receiving Station, Marshall
MassachusettsMarconi Beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, located near the site of his first transatlantic wireless signal from the United States to England. There are still remnants of the wireless tower at this beach and at Forest Road Beach in Chatham, Massachusetts.
New JerseyNew Brunswick Marconi Station, now the Guglielmo Marconi Memorial Plaza in Somerset, NJ. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech was transmitted from the site in 1918.Belmar Marconi Station, now the InfoAge Science History Center in Wall Township, NJ.
New YorkLa Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi on New York City's Upper East Side
PennsylvaniaMarconi Plaza, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Roman terrace-styled plaza originally designed by the architects Olmsted Brothers in 1914–1916, built as the grand entrance for the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition and renamed to honor Marconi.