Guglielmo Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909. He received
the award for his remarkable accomplishments in stretching wireless
transmissions from just a signal that went across his father's country
home, to one that crossed the Atlantic. In 1899, he impressed the British
Government with his ability to send a wireless telegraph signal 1.25
miles. He followed that up with a 9-mile transmission, and eventually
shocked the world with a wireless transmission that crossed the English
Though it was thought to be impossible for a wireless transmission to overcome
the curvature of the earth, Marconi persisted, and, once again, proved
successful. On December 12, 1901, using 25 kilowatts of power, he transmitted
a signal from Poldhu, off the coast of Cornwall, across the Atlantic
to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
Marconi considered the ability to transmit a wireless signal across such vast
distances to be a great benefit not just for merchants, the shipping
industry, and warships, but for the people living in isolated areas
around the world. During his lifetime, he saw that wireless transmissions
were useful as a "means of communicating between outlying islands,
and also for the ordinary purposes of telegraphic communications between
villages and towns, especially in the colonies in newly developed countries." Today,
some people have said similar things about the Internet.
Marconi continued his transatlantic experiments for several years. In February
1902, his experiments led to an interesting observation. While sending
a signal from Poldhu to a receiver on the SS Philadelphia, he noticed
that daylight had a detrimental effect on electrical waves, compared
to nighttime. He noted that "for short periods at sunrise and sunset,
and occasionally at other times, a shorter wave can be detected across
the Atlantic in preference to the longer wave normally employed." Shortwave
listeners around the world enjoy long-range communications due to the
experiments and wireless technologies developed by Marconi.
In his Nobel Lecture, Marconi described his first significantly successful
experiment with wireless transmission: "After a few preliminary experiments
with Hertzian waves I very soon became convinced, that if these waves
or similar waves could be reliably transmitted and received over considerable
distances a new system of communication would become available possessing
enormous advantages over flashlights and optical methods, which are
so much dependent for their success on the clearness of the atmosphere." The
flashlights Marconi was referring to were the flashing indicator lights
used in lighthouses and on ships, not what we think of as flashlights
in the US today. Still, I think it's awesome that almost 100 years
ago, Marconi the radio pioneer, thought of wireless transmission and
light communications at the same time.
I believe Marconi would be very pleased at all of the work being done
to enhance wireless technologies and communications today.
You can learn a lot more about Marconi online at the following Web sites:
The Marconi Society
PBS Marconi Biography
Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1909. "Wireless Telegraphic Communication"
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