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PERSONALITIES: GUGLEILMO MARCONI

PERSONALITIES  FJ CAMM  FJ AND PW  WELLS COATES  JL BAIRD  MARCONI 

Marconi, the inventor of radio? Well...

Guglielmo Marconi came to Britain from his native Italy as a young man, bringing with him his experimental apparatus for the transmission of electric waves. James Clerk Maxwell had developed his theory of electromagnetic waves in his Electricity and Magnetism (1873). This was of course pure theorizing: Marconi had the honour of being the first to demonstrate the truth of Maxwell's equations.

Or was he? Several others were experimenting at or around the same time and at least one other experimenter, David Hughes, may have succeeded in transmitting signals perhaps twenty years earlier than Marconi. Sir Oliver Lodge also demonstrated transmission at least two years prior to Marconi.

It is also true that the German experimenter Heinrich Hertz generated electromagnetic waves in 1888. In fact, Marconi based his experiments upon those of Hertz and first demonstrated the sending of his radio signals in England on Salisbury plain in 1896, although he had experimented in Italy. At around the same time, A.S. Popov, a Russian experimenter, also successfully sent radio signals. All these early experiments used spark transmission as an interrupted wave and therefore were not capable of carrying speech or music, simply code.

Reginald Fessenden (pictured below left) was a Canadian inventor who used his  continuous wave generator for the world's first audio broadcast ever made, 1906, but this was before amplifying valves were developed and Fessenden could not develop his system to a level of practicality. In fact, Fessenden could be said to be the inventor of radio as we know it, i.e. a continuous high frequency wave modulated by an audio signal.

Fessenden was a prolific and brilliant inventor and never received recognition for his development of radio transmission. This is utterly unfair, but then that's so often the case with inventors who are most often so engrossed with their work that they fail to realise the essential value of self-publicity. Part of the inscription on Fessenden's gravestone reads 'I AM YESTERDAY AND I KNOW TOMORROW'

To find out more about Reginald A. Fessenden, search under his name on the internet.

Marconi, on the other hand, was indisputably a great experimenter though nothing in the order of magnitude of Fessenden but he was crucially also a clever showman and self-publicist. Like Fessenden he foresaw the value of code signals for improved safety and communications from ship to shore and got there first with his cruder system of Morse code transmission. Radio as we know it only became practical through the inventions of Sir Ambrose Fleming (diode thermionic valve) and Lee  DeForest (adaptation of the diode into an amplifying triode valve). These and many others should be given due credit for the invention and development of true radio - speech and music. Why then does the name 'Marconi' spring to mind whenever the invention of radio is discussed? Certainly, Marconi was the first to PUBLICISE his coded transmissions and certainly he was the first to make crucial steps such as the transmission from England to America, against the perceived knowledge of the time that such a feat was impossible due to the curvature of the earth. His grasp of the significance of communication between ship and shore was instrumental in leading his company forward but conversely he tried hard to prevent others from improving or bettering his system. He also patented a device which when examined contained absolutely nothing new, just the inventions of others.

Perhaps most importantly he was possessed of the certainty that he would ultimately succeed, which of course he did.

The foregoing is entirely my personal opinion, gained through many hours of research. The reader is advised to do something similar and then make his or her own mind up!

 

 

REGINALD FESSENDEN

 

 

 

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE