MARCONI AND THE “INVENTION” OF WIRELESS
"All the essential features of signalling by Hertzian waves were really outlined in scientific laboratories long before any idea of utilising then for commerce had occupied prominent attention. It is true that the suggestion was cursorily thrown out by one or two leaders of science that Hertzian waves night be used for signalling, but this suggestion was never more than a bald idea conveying no practical directions as to its detailed working and it was generally received with curiosity rather than with any serious idea of putting it into practical use. All honour is due to Signor.Marconi for having been first to bring prominently forward the possibility, and indeed the eminent practicability, of using Hertzian waves for telegraphy between two places not connected by an electrical conductor".
The above passage is quoted from THE ELECTRICIAN of October 14th 1898. By that date Marconi had not only taken out the world's first wireless patent but was a director of the world's first wireless manufacturing company and the phrase "to bring prominently forward the possibility" was putting the case rather mildly. Otherwise the matter, which has been the subject of international argument ever since, could not today be more clearly summed up. Marconi did more than pronounce a possibility, he seized upon an idea and made it work. Marconi himself never claimed more than this concerning his initial steps which, in his own life time, led to such sweeping changes in world conditions that today their scope would be difficult to define.
His own words on the subject in later days were these:
"By the time I was twenty years old I was fairly well acquainted with the published results of the work of the most distinguished scientists who had occupied themselves with the subject of electric waves, men such as Hertz. Branly, Lodge, Righi whose valuable book on electromagnetic radiations was well known, and many others. With regard to Professor Righi, much criticism was levelled at me in the early days because in my first experiments I used a form of oscillator which had been devised by him and which was itself a modification of Hertz's oscillator. By availing myself of previous knowledge and working out theories already formulated I did nothing but follow in the footsteps of Howe, Watt, Edison, Stephenson and many other illustrious inventors. I doubt very much whether there has ever been a case of a useful invention in which all the theory, all the practical applications and all the apparatus were the work of one man”
Invention consists in overcoming the practical difficulties of a problem, not merely talking vaguely about a thing that might be done but actually doing it and in such a way that obstacles are removed from the path of those who come after, who thus find themselves with knowledge of a method or an appliance which was not previously available.
Marconi was no mathematician, no scientist in the accepted sense of the word, but a close observer with an enquiring and open mind, who recognised the limits of current knowledge and ever questioned a theory which others might be over-apt to accept as dogma. To this characteristic approach to his problems were due many of the fundamental developments in radio-communication which resulted from his later work.
Of Marconi's boyhood and his early experiments on his father's estate in Northern Italy much has been written. Only such essential facts which are supported by authentic evidence need here be recorded.
Guglielmo Marconi was born in the Piazza San Salvatore, Bologna, Northern Italy, on April 25th 1874. His father Giuseppe Marconi (1823-1904) was an Italian country gentleman of substantial means who in 1864 had married Miss Annie Jameson a daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle, County Wexford, Ireland. He had been previously married, his first wife having died leaving him with one son, Luigi. Of this second marriage the issue was two sons, Alphonso born in 1865 (d.1905) and nine years later, Guglielmo.
During his boyhood he was brought on frequent visits to his relatives in England and Ireland and at an early age spoke both Italian and English with almost equal facility.
He was educated at Bologna and Leghorn but is reported to have been happiest in the private pursuit of knowledge rather than in the life of a schoolboy. His family circumstances permitted indulgence of this preference and much of his time was spent in studies at his father's country house, the Villa Grifone at Pontecchio.
His special interests lay in scientific, particularly electrotechnical, subjects and in music. The latter was a taste inherited from his Irish mother who was an accomplished musician. He did not receive any very serious scientific training but he did attend a series of lectures on Physics at the Lyceum in Livorno by Professor Vincenzo Rosa. He was acquainted with Professor Righi and studied the latter's work but the statement that he was one of Righi's pupils, which has been often repeated, is without foundation.
It was Spring of 1895, Marconi himself has stated, that the idea occurred to him that the laboratory demonstrations of Hertz, Righi, Lodge and others with Hertzian Waves embodied the basis for a means of communication by signalling the 'dots and dashes' of the Morse Code as used for ordinary land-line telegraphy. He decided to investigate this idea, also the practicability of increasing to really useful distances the range at which detection of the waves was possible.
The following twelve months were taken up by this work of detail improvement and oft repeated tests at Villa Grifone, work in which he received the utmost encouragement from his mother and, once he had convinced his father of the practical nature of his ambitions, all the financial support which he needed. This last, as he was ever ready to admit, was of considerable help.
By the end of 1895 he was obtaining reliable detection and recording of signals from his transmitter at distances of more than one and a half miles, as compared with the few yards over which the mere existence of the waves had been previously demonstrated.
The greatest stride forward at this stage was made by his introduction of an elevated aerial and earth connection at both the transmitter and receiver. This was perhaps his first really original contribution as distinct from modifications and detail improvements in the design and construction of the scientist's laboratory apparatus. The absolute novelty of this idea, as Professor (later Sir Ambrose) Fleming wrote in his book ELECTRIC WAVE TELEGRAPHY. “is rather to be measured by its non-obviousness to experts than by the simplicity of the device and its proved utility".
There was no longer any doubt in Marconi’s mind that, given sufficient power and with further improvements which experience would suggest to him, he would be able to send messages over distances that would be reckoned in tens, perhaps hundreds, of miles.
But not yet, as he himself admitted in later years, had he fully realised the enormous and universal importance for humanity which this development was to assume in a few short years. For there are certain inventions that seem to quicken or to change the direction of human destinies. The advent of wireless, particularly in its use at sea, and as the means of mass communication into which it developed within a generation, seems to belong in the same category as do the invention of printing - the progenitor of human liberty - and, shall we say, the discovery of gunpowder.
Marconi's mother sought the advice of her Irish relatives who recommended that Guglielmo should come to London where capital to launch the invention could more easily be raised. Not wishing to leave Italy without first approaching the Italian Government however, Marconi consulted the Italian Ambassador in London through a family friend and medical adviser. Dr. Gardini. The Ambassador, General Ferrero, recommended that the young inventor should first take out world-wide protection of his system but in making any arrangements for the large financial backing necessary to launch such an important invention, which could not long remain secret, he should reserve for himself full liberty of action regarding the interests of the Italian Government.
Apart from the advice of his British friends and relations, Marconi was no doubt also influenced by the knowledge that his system would make its first and most unopposed appeal in its use at sea and Britain was then the supreme maritime power in the world and at the zenith of its industrial lead.
Thus, towards the end of February 1896 Guglielmo Marconi arrived in London with his apparatus and made contact with his elder cousin Henry Jameson Davis, an experienced business man and milling engineer with extensive Irish connections and an office in London.
Under his guidance the world's first patent application for a system of telegraphy using the Hertzian electromagnetic waves was filed. The British Patent No. 12039 dated June 2nd 1896 was granted.
In the meantime Marconi had met Mr A A Cambell Swinton, a well-known electrical engineer, who gave him a letter of introduction to Mr (later Sir) William Preece the Chief of the Engineering Department of the General Post Office. This letter is to~day filed in the archives o the Postmaster General.
Mr. Preece, in his official capacity, had been investigating ways of telegraphy without wires by means of electromagnetic induction with limited success, for communicating over shallow sea channels and the like where submarine cables had proved expensive and difficult to maintain.
His interest in what Marconi had to say of his Hertzian wave method was immediate and he arranged for an early demonstration to be given by the transmission of telegraphic signals from the Post Office roof at St Martins-le-Grand to that of another building on the Embankment.
This demonstration proved so successful that arrangements were made to carry out a further series of tests on a larger scale, the site chosen being on Salisbury Plain. At a place known as The Bungalow on Three Mile Hill tests took place during three days from September 2nd, watched by Captain Jackson R.N. on behalf of the Navy and Major Carr of the Army as well as by the Post Office representatives. Captain (later Admiral Sir Henry) Jackson had himself been in charge of independent and secret naval experiments in the use of Hertzian waves for communication, with which he was reported to have made some progress, and he was probably better able to gauge the real significance of Marconi's achievements than any other spectator.
At this demonstration Marconi showed good results at a range of one and three-quarter miles.
Mr. Preece, with commendable promptitude and unselfishness gave the young inventor every encouragement and support by the technical resources of his department. He gave an historic public lecture at Toynbee Hall on the subject, at which Marconi took charge of the illustrative experiments. Much astonishment was aroused at the ringing of a bell on the receiver, while it was being carried round the hall, every time a button was pressed by the lecturer at his table on the platform.
A second series of tests was carried out in March 1897 at the same site on Salisbury Plain. This time longer aerials supported by kites were used and communication was maintained at distances up to four and a half miles, the receiver being mounted on a cart for convenience in varying the range, During these tests Marconi noted for the first time the fact that the slope of the kite-supported aerial had a directive influence on the transmission, a fact of which he was later to make considerable use in connection with long distance communications.
One of the sites of Mr. Preece's own experiments with inductive methods had been across the Bristol Channel from Lavernock Point to Brean Down in Somerset. Here he arranged for Marconi to try out his own system in order to make a direct comparison.
This was done during May 10th-14th 1897 and again on May 18th. Communication was successfully established from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island in the estuary a distance of 3.3 miles and to Brean Down, a distance of 8.7 miles, which constituted a record at that date.
In the following month Mr. Preece concluded a lecture to the Royal Institution with the following.words:
"It has been said that Mr. Marconi has done nothing. He has not discovered any new rays; his transmitter is comparatively old; his receiver is based on Branly's coherer. Columbus did not invent the egg but he showed how to make it stand on its end and Marconi has produced, from known means, a new electric eye more delicate than any known electrical instrument and a new system of telegraphy which will reach places hitherto inaccessible".
In later years Marconi never ceased to acknowledge his debt for the support extended to him in those first months by Mr. Preece. It was a source of much regret to Marconi that the decision to form a company for the commercial development of his patent made it necessary for their technical association to cease.
For, as a public servant, Mr. Preece could not involve his department in any form of commercial undertaking and he had perforce to withdraw any further support of the venture.
The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Ltd., as it was first called, was registered on July 20th 1897. In 1900 this name was changed to the form it still holds, namely “Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd.”.
THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST WIRELESS MANUFACTURING COMPANY
For the commercial exploitation of his already patented system of 'telegraphy without wires' Guglielmo Marconi received the advice and assistance of his cousin, COL. HENRY JAMESON DAVIS of Enniscorthy, Northern Ireland. The latter was the son of Mr. A. Grubb Davis who married Marconi’s maternal aunt, a Miss Jameson.
Col. Davis was a flour milling engineer whose London Office was at 12 Mark Lane. It was from among some of the principal Irish millers, with whom his business was mainly conducted, that he sought financial backing for the purpose of launching the new enterprise. Hence the predominance of Corn Factors or Merchants among the nine original subscribers at the foundation of the Company.
These subscribers were:-
James Fitzgerald Bannatyne of Limerick, ° Gentleman.
H. Jameson Davis of Mark Lane E.C.' Milling Engineer.
Thomas Wiles, 2 Catharine Court, E.C.
Henry Obre, 6 Crosby Square, E.C.
lM.T. Goodbody. 6 Crosby Square, E.C.
C. F. Bennet, 6 Crosby Square, E.C.
S.W.E11erby, Southsea House, Threadneedle St., E.C.
R. A. Patterson, Southsea House, Threadneedle St., E.C.
Frank Wilson, Southsea House, Threadneedle St., E.C.
The seven last named above were all Corn Factors or Merchants.
The terms on which agreement was reached for the purchase of all Marconi's patent rights by the Company on its formation were as follows:
Marconi was to receive an immediate cash payment of £15,000 from which was deducted the legal and other expenses of forming the Company. In addition, Marconi was to receive, as fully paid shares, 60,000 of the 100,000 Shares of £1 each which comprised the authorised capital. The balance of 40.000 shares was to be put on the market for public subscription the proceeds of which were to be used to pay Marconi the £15,000 for his patents and to provide £25,000 as working capital.
On these terms the new company was incorporated on July 20th 1897 as 'The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Co.Ltd.' with registered Office at 28 Mark Lane, E.C.
The Board of Directors had to comprise not less than three or more than ten persons, qualifications for a Director being the holding in his own right of not less than 100 shares in the Company.
There were five 'First Directors':-
James Fitzgerald Bannatyne
Henry Jameson Davis (First Managing Director)
The last named held the right himself to appoint one additional Director before lst February 1898 and this right was exercised in the appointment of Mr. William Woodcock Goodbody.
The name of the Company was changed to “Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd.”, by a Resolution passed at the Annual General Meeting of shareholders on February 23rd 1900, the new name being registered on March 14th.