Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Everybody loves Guglielmo!

I've put off writing about Marconi for over a year. He's the main man of radio, but with all the contributors before and after, I am left wondering why he still gets top billing. There are thousands of pages written about the man, so I wont re-tell you his life story. But let me cover three major highlights that are usually skipped in his lionization. but first ... the obligatory introduction:

Many scientists and inventors contributed to the invention of radio, Oliver Lodge, Hans Christian ├śrsted, Michael Faraday, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, Jagadis Chandra Bose, Alexander Popov, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Alva Edison, Nathan Stubblefield, to name a few...

But it was Marconi's practical system that first achieved widespread use, so gets the championship belt that reads "father of radio." Marconi made his first wireless transmission across water May 13th 1897, from Lavernock Point, South Wales to Flat Holm Island. His famous trans-Atlantic broadcast at Signal Hill in Canada was in 1901. But Marconi's system was based primarily on Nikola Tesla's system. His first test were based entirely on notes from lectures that Tesla had been giving in that era. Later revisions drew on the work of a contemporary radio geek David E. Hughes.

FACT: At the time his contemporaries thought that a radio wave could only be transmitted in the line of sight. No signal could travel between points beyond the curve of the earth. Marconi didn't buy into this. To silence critics he built a spark-gap transmitter to produce a signal with a frequency of approximately 500kHz and a power a peak pulse power of several tens of megawatts. To reach Newfoundland the signal would have to bounce off the ionosphere twice. The supposed success of the transatlantic attempt was recently contested by Dr Jack Belrose. Belrose is no crank, he actually went as far as to reenact the experiment. He believes that Marconi heard only random atmospheric noise and mistook it for the signal. This is pretty believable when you realize that the letter "S" was the message and that in more code that's just three dots. ". . ."

FACT: Marconi joined the Italian fascist party in 1923. Benito Mussolini made Marconi President of the Accademia d'Italia, which also made him a member of the Fascist Grand Council. This was no technicality. He insisted that his correspondence was addressed to "His Excellency the Senator Marchese Guglielmo Marconi, president of the Royal Academy of Italy, Member of the Fascist Grand Council". He attended pro-fascist rallys, wrote pro-fascist articles, made fascist speeches on the radio in a number of countries. Then in 1935 a greatly ironic turn of events, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Marconi found himself [as a national of a country subject to sanctions imposed by the League of Nations] prevented from delivering a talk about the invasion on the BBC.. the broadcasting corporation he had helped to found. ...They don't teach that part in history class.
FACT : Marconi didn't know Tesla, but he did know David E. Hughes through a man named William Henry Preece. Sometime after 1896, Marconi befriended Preece, both of them were experimenting with transmissions across the Conwy estuary. This is the same site he would later transmit Morse code signals to Australia. Preeca had discovered radio induction while developing a telephone system in 1895. While Hughes did not intend to aid Marconi, Preece certainly did. Preece solicited financial assistance from the Post Office to help expand Marconi's work. He was one of Marconi's most ardent early supporters. More here.

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