Guglielmo Marconi was born on April 25, 1874 near Bologna, Italy.
The second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian landowner, and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson, granddaughter of the founder of the Jameson Whiskey distillery. Guglielmo was educated in Bologna, Florence and Livorno. As a young child Marconi didn't do very well in school.
During his early years, Guglielmo had an interest in science and electricity. One of the scientific developments during this time came from Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, who, in 1888, demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation, now generally known as "radio waves", although at the time they were known as "Hertzian" or "aetheric" waves. Hertzs' death in 1894 brought forth reviews of his earlier discoveries and sparked an interest in Guglielmo. Many authors claim that Marconi was permitted to briefly study the subject under Augusto Righi, a physicist at the University of Bologna who had done research on Hertzs' work but, in truth, Marconi never did study under Righi (see the Righi short history). He did listen to some of Righis' lectures though, which inspired himand gave him "food for thought".
Marconi began to conduct experiments, building much of his own equipment (no Maplins about then!) in the attic of his home in Pontecchio, Italy. His goal became to find a way to use radio waves to create a practical system of "wireless telegraphy". This was not a new idea, many experimenters had been exploring various wireless telegraph technologies for over 50 years, but none had yet proven commercially successful. Marconi did not discover any new and revolutionary principle in his wireless telegraph system, but rather he assembled and improved an array of facts, unified and adapted them to his system. Marconis' system had the following components:
Similar configurations using spark-gap transmitters and coherer receivers had been tried before, but many were unable to achieve transmission ranges of more than a few hundred metres. At first, Guglielmo could only signal over limited distances. However, in the summer of 1895, he moved his experimentation outdoors, increased the length of the transmitter and receiver antennas, and arranging them vertically, positioned the antenna so that it was allowed to touch the ground. The transmission range increased significantly. He was soon able to transmit signals over the crest of a hill to a distance of approximately 1.5 km (about 1 mile). At this time he concluded that, with additional funding and research, a device could become capable of spanning even greater distances and would prove valuable both commercially and for military use.
Finding only limited interest in his work in Italy, Guglielmo traveled to London, England, with his mother (he spoke fluent English in addition to Italian). He gained the interest and support of William Preece, the Chief Electrical Engineer of the British Post Office. The apparatus that Marconi used was a spark coil generator with a granular carbon rectifier for reception. A series of demonstrations for the British government followed. By early 1897, Marconi had transmitted Morse code signals over a distance of about 6 km (4 miles) across the Salisbury Plain and by May had spanned the Bristol Channel from Lavernock Point, South Wales to Brean Down, a distance of 14 km (8.7 miles).
On 12 December 1901 a message was received at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland from signals transmitted by the companys' new high-power station at Poldhu, Cornwall. The distance between the two points was about 3,500 km (2,100 miles). There was some skepticism about the claim because the signals had only been heard faintly and sporadically. In addition, there was no independent confirmation of the reported reception, and the transmitters signals were difficult to differentiate from the noise made by atmospheric static discharges. The Poldhu transmitter was a two-stage circuit, the first stage had a low voltage and provided the energy for the second stage in resonance. Nikola Tesla, a rival in transalantic transmission, stated, after being told of Marconi's reported transmission, that "Marconi was using 17 of my patents!".
In February 1902 Guglielmo made better, more documented and verified tests. The S.S. Philadelphia sailed west from Great Britain with him aboard, carefully recording signals sent daily from the Poldhu station. The test results produced coherer-tape reception up to 2,496 km (1,551 miles) and audio reception up to 3,378 km (2,099 miles). Interestingly, he discovered that the maximum distances were achieved at night, and thus these tests were the first to show that, for mediumwave and longwave transmissions, radio signals travel much farther at night than during the day. During the daytime, signals had only been received up to about 1,125 km (700 miles), which was less than half of the distance claimed earlier at Newfoundland, where the transmissions had also taken place during the day. Because of this, Guglielmo had not fully confirmed the Newfoundland claims, although he did successfully prove that radio signals could be sent for hundreds of km, in spite of the fact that some scientists had believed they were essentially limited to line-of-sight distances.
On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the first radio message to cross the Atlantic in an eastward direction. On 18 January 1903, a Marconi station near Wellfleet, Massachusetts, sent a message of greetings from Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States, to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States. However, consistent transatlantic signalling turned out to be very difficult to establish. Further experimentation followed, with the setting up of a commercial service (1904) to transmit nightly news summaries to ocean going ships. A regular transatlantic radiotelegraph service was finally announced in 1907 but was not successful due to unreliability of the signals.
On 16 March 1905, Guglielmo married Beatrice O'Brien, daughter of Edward Donough O'Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin, Ireland. They had three daughters (one of whom lived only a few weeks) Degna (1908-1998), Gioia (1916-1996), and a son, Giulio (1910-1971). They divorced in 1924 and the marriage was annulled in 1927.
In 1914 Guglielmo was both made a Senatore in the Italian Senate, and appointed Honourary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in the United Kingdom.
During World War I, Italy joined the Allied side of the conflict, and Guglielmo was placed in charge of the Italian military's radio service.
In 1923 Guglielmo joined the Italian Fascist party.
In 1924, he was made a marchese by King Victor Emmanuel III.
On 15 June 1927, Guglielmo married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali (Benito Mussolini was his best man), they had a single daughter, Elettra born in 1930.
In 1930, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini appointed him to be the President of the Accademia d'Italia, which also made Guglielmo a member of the Fascist Grand Council. Guglielmo was a participant in rallies that fostered fascist beliefs and composed fascist propaganda. Guglielmo also made speeches as an apologist for the actions of the fascist regime in Italy.
In 1935 Guglielmo made numerous radio speeches supporting the unprovoked attack by Italian forces on the African nation of Ethiopia, resulting in near universal condemnation of Italy. The BBC banned him from talking about the subject. Guglielmo was pro-war, in the era between the First and Second World War, and he was condemned for such beliefs by many.
Following his death on July 20, 1937 in Rome, Italy at age 63, Italy held a state funeral commemorating Marconis' life. As a tribute, many radio stations throughout the world observed two minutes of silence.