Education and early work.
Receiving little encouragement to continue his experiments in Italy, he went, in 1896, to London, where he was soon assisted by Sir William Preece, the chief engineer of the post office. Marconi filed his first patent in England in June 1896 and, during that and the following year, gave a series of successful demonstrations, in some of which he used balloons and kites to obtain greater height for his aerials. He was able to send signals over distances of up to 6.4 km on the Salisbury Plain and to nearly 14.5 km across the Bristol Channel. These tests, together with Preece's lectures on them, attracted considerable publicity both in England and abroad, and in June 1897 Marconi went to La Spezia, where a land station was erected and communication was established with Italian warships at distances of up to 19 km.
There remained much skepticism about the useful application of this means of communication and a lack of interest in its exploitation. But Marconi's cousin Jameson Davis, a practicing engineer, financed his patent and helped in the formation of the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, Ltd. (changed in 1900 to Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd.). During the first years, the company's efforts were devoted chiefly to showing the full possibilities of radiotelegraph. A further step was taken in 1899 when a wireless station was established at South Foreland, England, for communicating with Wimereux in France, a distance of 50 km; in the same year British battleships exchanged messages at 121 km.
In September 1899, Marconi equipped two U.S. ships to report to newspapers in New York City the progress of the yacht race for the America's Cup. The success of this demonstration aroused worldwide excitement and led to the formation of the American Marconi Company. The following year the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Ltd., was established for the purpose of installing and operating services between ships and land stations. In 1900 also, Marconi filed his now-famous patent No. 7777 for Improvements in Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy. The patent, based in part on earlier work in wireless telegraphy by Sir Oliver Lodge, enabled several stations to operate on different wavelengths without interference. (In 1943 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned patent No. 7777, indicating that Lodge, Nikola Tesla, and John Stone appeared to have priority in the development of radio-tuning apparatus.)
In spite of the rapid and widespread developments then taking place in radio and its applications to maritime use, Marconi's intuition and urge to experiment were by no means exhausted. In 1916, during World War I, he saw the possible advantages of shorter wavelengths that would permit the use of reflectors around the aerial, thus minimizing the interception of transmitted signals by the enemy and also effecting an increase in signal strength. After tests in Italy (20 years after his original experiments with reflectors), Marconi continued the work in Great Britain and, on a wavelength of 15 m (49 feet), received signals over a range of 30-160 km (20-100 miles). In 1923 the experiments were continued on board his steam yacht Elettra, which had been specially equipped. From a transmitter of 1 kilowatt at Poldhu, Cornwall, signals were received at a distance of 2,250 km (1,400 miles). These signals were much louder than those from Caernarvon in Wales on a wavelength several hundred times as great and with 100 times the power at the transmitter. Thus began the development of shortwave wireless communication that, with the use of the beam aerial system for concentrating the energy in the desired direction, is the basis of most modern long-distance radio communication. In 1924 the Marconi company obtained a contract from the post office to establish shortwave communication between England and the countries of the British Commonwealth.
A few years later Marconi returned to the study of still shorter waves of about 0.5 m (1.6 feet). At these very short wavelengths a parabolic reflector of moderate size gives a considerable increase in power in the desired direction. Experiments conducted off the coast of Italy on the yacht Elettra soon showed that useful ranges of communication could be achieved with low-powered transmitters. In 1932, using very short wavelengths, Marconi installed a radiotelephone system between Vatican City and the pope's palace at Castel Gandolfo. In later work Marconi once more demonstrated that even radio waves as short as 55 cm (22 inches) are not limited in range to the horizon or to optical distance between transmitter and receiver.
Marconi received many honours and several honorary degrees. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (1909) for the development of wireless telegraphy; sent as plenipotentiary delegate to the peace conference in Paris (1919), in which capacity he signed the peace treaties with Austria and with Bulgaria; created marchese and nominated to the Italian senate (1929); and chosen president of the Royal Italian Academy (1930).
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