CHAPTER 2

Marquese Guglielmo Marconi and Wave Radio

WIRELESS

Following the work of Nikola Tesla, and by far never able to either duplicate his technology or outdo his demonstrations, came Guglielmo Marconi. In truth, the history of “wireless” begins long before either Tesla or Marconi were born; that term referring to various subaqueous and subterranean communications systems. Dr. C. A. Steinheil (1838) of Munich proved it possible to send telegraphic messages along a single wire when both ends were grounded. He then proved that electrical currents flowed considerable distances away from each end, detecting signals through the ground in complete absence of any metallic connection wires. This was the first recorded instance of wireless electrical signalling. Thereafter, combinations of wires and accidental line breaks showed the possibility that bodies of water, watery grounds, and even special tracts of land could indeed form conductive paths for telegraphic signals. With the development of special break switches and rheostatic tuners, these “conduction wireless” methods gained popularity among telegraph companies. Economical and requiring little maintenance, such natural conductive paths served for years in certain regions, often without need for battery power. As tracts of water and ground grew ever long between telegraph stations, many began exploring other means for establishing signals between stations. These included induction systems which used abrupt shocks applied to aerial metal plates, and large open coils through which to establish magnetoelectric field exchanges (Preece).

Reaching back before the Century’s turn, several experimenters demonstrated the exchange of telephonic signals across canals (Morse, 1842), across very wide rivers (Lindsay 1843), and along large lakes and streams (Highton 1852). Antonio Meucci first demonstrated the actual exchange of telephonic signals through large stretches of seawater. He conducted signalling conduction wireless experiments along stretches of beach as well as across harbor areas. Signals were sent in this manner between Staten Island and Manhattan (Meucci, 1852). In addition, Sr. Meucci devised and experimented with aqueous wireless communications systems for divers and ships. His long distance ranging methods were designed to wirelessly guide ships through rocky harbors in fog. Tone signals would be received on board ships from wireless broadcast stations on land. Matched with harbor maps, pilots could easily follow signal tones along clear and safe routed to harbor.

In the aerial realm, D. Mahlon Loomis first demonstrated the exchange of telegraphic signals across 20 miles through kite-lifted copper screen aerials. Thus, without connective wires or battery power, he was first to establish wireless aerial signals (1862). Notable in these developments was the astounding work of Nathan Stubblefield, who exchanged clarified vocal signals through the ground to very great distances without batteries (1872). Dr. Amos Dolbear patented a wonderful wireless telephonic apparatus in 1888. The design evidences knowledge of undulations and ground waves. Dr. Dolbear transmitted and receive vocal signals through the ground, but used a strange system of elevated condensers. This was the world of wireless achievements into which Marconi came.

Guglielmo Marconi & Wave Radio

Marquese Guglielmo Marconi

Marconi displayed the talent which, in adapting widely published experimental apparatus, brought him into a continual series of conflicts with far more original researchers and inventors. A simple addition or combination of already-existing components very often became, for Marconi, an object of original invention. It was in this misused definition of invention, that Marconi was forever to become enslaved. Through his callous and indifferent implementation of the work of others, an plagiaristic adaptive skill, he consistently made progress. In his early experiments, he made free and unabashed use of Ruh-mkorff induction coils, detector circuits of Branly and Hughes (coherer-relays), parabolic reflectors of Heinrich Hertz, the grounded capacity aerials of Tesla, and the several other wireless components which had already formed the common fare of university laboratories.

His youth was an imitative walk through the wonderland which others had discovered. In later years, he simply rebuilt and patented all of these common laboratory components on a gargantuan scale. By implementing a simple telegraphic key among the sparkgap devices of Tesla, Lodge, and Righi, Marconi succeeded in developing weak wireless signalling devices which worked fairly well across rooms. But these experiments were mere reproductions of examples given him in common experimenter’s books of the day. In this escapade, Marconi implemented all the known components of the wireless science available to any amateur. These “parlor trick” experiments were applauded by his mother, and reported to his august father. Having proven the practical use of his natural philosophy, the elder Marconi gave financial aid to his son’s newfound abilities. The first Marconi experiments simply keyed Lodge sparkgap circuits, by which telegraphic messages could be transmitted across his father’s orchards. In this now developing panache, and with financial encouragement from his parents, Marconi developed his systems until several miles could be wirelessly spanned on the family estate. Marconi ignored the fact that others had already done more formidable work in radiosignalling, having reported the fact some twenty years before him.

At a certain point, his experimental results were thought so marvelous that his father encouraged him to seek the commercialization of the small signalling system. For this first step away from the Villa, his mother’s affiliations in English Society were enlisted. Guglielmo gained what few outsiders could ever hope to achieve. There was arranged for him a rare audience with English military leaders. The several components which appeared in this demonstration of his “Radio” were noticed by the academicians who invented them. These Royal Society members viewed Marconi and his device with quiet, conservative, and contemplative scorn. His coherer detector had been developed by Eduard Branly. The high frequency discharge oscillator and harmonic tuning circuits were clearly invented by Lodge. Combinations of coils and capacitor plates were derived from circuits invented by Hertz, Edison, Thomson, and Houston. High frequency air-core transformers, capacity aerials, ground connections, and the various tuning components had been invented by Tesla. Beam ultra-shortwave transmitters employed Righi oscillators and the parabolic reflectors of Hertz. British military leaders were interested, and sought acquisition of the system for use in the field.