Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)

Guglielmo Marconi

Year Born: 1874

Year Died: 1937


Marconi, Guglielmo (1874-1937)

Guglielmo Marconi, born of Italian/Irish parents, was educated at home by his mother and a tutor and later enrolled in a technical college at Leghorn. He learned telegraphy and Morse Code from an elderly nearly-blind telegraphist in exchange for reading aloud to him. This aroused his interest in electronics and soon he had built a transmitter and sent a signal across his father’s vineyard in Northern Italy.

When the Italian government declined to help in furthering experiments of Guglielmo’s new invention, his mother, Annie Jamieson, appealed to her father, (of the famous Irish Whiskey Jamiesons) for help, and less than four years later in 1897, The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company had been formed in England where Marconi had gone to perfect his transmitter/receiver.

In 1899, he was successful in sending a signal across the English Channel. Then, the name of the firm was changed to the Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company, and he announced plans to span the Atlantic Ocean.

His crew selected a site in Cornwall, at Poldhu, for the transmission of the signal, and then they went to North America, where three sites were chosen, at Cape Cod, Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Construction was started on both sides of the Atlantic, but just days before the tests were to begin, a violent storm destroyed the installation at Poldhu, and a week later, the Cape Cod site suffered the same fate. Temporary masts were erected in Cornwall, but the signal would be much weaker, so Marconi moved the receiving site to St. John’s, 600 miles closer to Cornwall, again using temporary masts. They too were blown down, so using balloons and kites to hold the antennae aloft, the tests commenced.

After several agonizing days, at just after noon December 12, 1901, three dots, the letter “S”, a pre-arranged signal, were heard by Marconi who passed the ear piece to his assistant, G. S. Kemp for corroboration. It was a success.

The first Trans-Atlantic signal had been received!

There were many doubters. Thomas Edison wanted proof and so did his rivals, the Cable companies whose stocks tumbled at the news. One such company had a contract with the Newfoundland government for all telegraphy in the province. So Marconi had to change locations and was about to move back to Cape Cod, when the Canadian and Nova Scotia Governments stepped in and convinced him to set up shop on Cape Breton Island.

Alexander Graham Bell offered the use of his estate at Baddeck, but Marconi declined as it was too far inland for his purpose. “Table Head” near Glace Bay was selected and construction started in 1902. Meanwhile, Marconi tried more experiments, sending signals from Poldhu to the ship “Philadelphia” on its way from England to New York. These test were successful, and verified by the ship’s Captain and many of the passengers. Marconi’s doubters were quashed.

In 1903, a message was sent from President Teddy Roosevelt to King Edward VII via Cape Cod to Glace Bay to Poldhu, but the return message came by regular cable. The British Government’s Post Office, in charge of telegraphs, would not connect with Marconi’s Poldhu station.

By 1905, Marconi was still having reception problems, both with weather and equipment, and finally decided to move to a location almost 4 miles inland, nicknamed “Marconi Towers”, which was completed in 1907. At the same time, they moved the Poldhu transmitter to Clifden, Ireland, because the Irish Government would allow a hook up to local cable companies which they wouldn’t do in England, causing delays in delivering messages.

1908 saw the first commercial Trans-Atlantic wireless service start on February 6th.

In August 1909, a fire destroyed the Marconi Towers installation but they had it back in business by the following April.

“Duplex Service” was established in 1913, allowing sending and receiving at the same time.This required the separation of the send and receive station. A new “receive-only” facility was set up at nearby Louisbourg.

In 1917, due to World War I, the Marconi Trans-Atlantic was closed to all but “Official Business” and was reopened in March, 1919.

1919 also saw the first Trans-Atlantic voice service. Radio Station XWA in Montreal was licenced that year.

In 1927, Short Wave “Beam Stations” came into use. The Marconi Company set up new stations at Drummondville and Yamachiche, Que., and the Trans-Atlantic service at Cape Breton was closed down. The Louisbourg installation was destroyed by fire. The Marconi Towers site served ships until World War II , when it was again used for “official” business.

Guglielmo Marconi died July 20th 1937.

In 1946, the 600 acre “Marconi Towers” site was sold to a private citizen, including all charts and papers.


“Whisper in the Air: Marconi, The Canada Years, 1902 – 1946”, Mary K. Macleod,

Lancelot Press, Hantsport, NS 1992 ISBN 0-88999-518-4

Written by Ross McCreath – March, 1997