Friday, August 01, 2008


What a pity that I missed the unveiling of the statue of the physicist and inventor of wireless transmission - Guglielmo Marconi at the end of April this year. Appropriately the event took place in the new Marconi Plaza on ‘International Marconi Day’ which is celebrated worldwide annually on the Saturday nearest the great man’s birthday on 25th April 1874.

The impressive bronze statue was the creation of that brilliant sculptor Stephen Hicklin who finished it in 2003. It was housed for the last five years in Chelmsford’s Essex Record Office. Chelmsfordians know the famous story of Marconi who arrived from Bologna, Italy with his mother in 1896. He brought his equipment with him, patenting his system in June that year. The confident 22-year-old demonstrated his wireless system publicly with the assistance of the Post Office, and his firm - Wireless Telegraph & Signal Co. Ltd that was formed in 1897. By 1901 he had changed it to Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Co Ltd and was operating from an old silk mill factory in Hall Street.

Here were fashioned the small spark-wireless sets for the Royal Navy from 1900; also for merchant ships and great liners. Parts were made for the first transatlantic test using a new high power station at Poldhu, Cornwall to send out the signal that Marconi heard in his earphones at Signal Hill in Newfoundland on 12 December 1901. That signal was the first step towards the commercial transatlantic wireless service in 1908. Morse code (telegraphy) was used on these early services and researched. at experimental stations at Poole Harbour and Broomfield.

Marconi moved in June 1912 to a new purpose-built wireless factory in New Street which had been constructed in a record 17 weeks by a workforce of 500. Here, he and his associates carried out much of the early research into wireless telegraphy and the 450-ft masts became a feature of Chelmsford’s skyline. All the great Atlantic liners were fitted with Marconi’s equipment including the ill-fated Titanic. During World War I the firm made important contributions to the war effort, especially with naval wireless stations, direction finders, aircraft sets and later trench sets.

Marconi’s life and achievements are spectacular and much has been recorded and written. He died at his home in Rome on 20 July 1937. His character was summed up by Professor Quirino Majorana, professor of physics at Bologna University:
Guglielmo Marconi was not satisfied with his first success, which would have been sufficient to assure him perpetual celebrity; he always led the way in improving his already outstanding system…
The world was his experimental laboratory and he persevered with confidence in the experimental method, though he often struggled against ‘official’ scientific opinion. This capability distinguished him from other pretenders for the title of ‘inventor of wireless telegraphy'.