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For a Marconian digital archival biography

The objective of the Marconian documentation digital archive project is that of putting together a sort of “digital archival biography”, which highlights a few of the most significant moments of Marconi's life and themes of particular interest relative to his career, supplying the necessary documents to reach a thorough and solid understanding of those facts.

In particular, 24 episodes have been singled out (this outline could change based on how the research evolves).

Each one of these moments and/or themes of Marconian life will be linked to the relative documentation, and will be available (at least partly) in digital format.

Moreover, the digital archive will indicate some important collections on Marconi and the history of the radio (the Marconi Collection, at the Accademia delle Scienze, called XL, along with the Soresini and Cassoli Collections, at the Marconi Foundation); a link will allow direct access to the photo/video documentation stored at the Istituto Luce, consenting the material to be viewed.

1. Family origins

In addition to the core documentation preserved at the Lincei (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi”), within the Bologna State Archive other important sources allow us to trace the family origins and social ascent that occurred during the 1800's: first and foremost the County Estimates (XVII-XVIII), descriptions of the assets belonging to the families of the county, thanks to these we can inquire about the origins of the Marconi family at Capugnano, on the Bolognese Apennines, as early as the XVIIth century, and follow the “fortune” until the last decades of the XVIIIth century. Furthermore the land registers of the late 1700's -1800's (Boncompagni and Gregoriano), that “photograph” the family's properties; the notarial documents, in which sales, inventories, testaments and financial operations are registered. But also the Court Archive regarding State crimes committed in the Reno District (early XIXth century), that contains the file: “Cause of armed banditry and prejudice of the Palmierini brothers of Porretta against Domenico Marconi (Guglielmo's grandfather) (1811)”. Here we find witness interrogations and Domenico Marconi's statement of facts, in which a physical description is also given. By reading the documents enclosed, it is possible to reconstruct Domenico's activity and family events. Worth noting is the presence of a letter handwritten by Antonio Marconi (Domenico's father) on March 11th 1811. Within the Apostolic Legation Archive there are other documents relative to Domenico's activity, in which he is defined as
a wretched man who in a few years time became one of the wealthiest men of the valley). He was considered a doomed figure both in political and criminal matters (…). For these reasons he has been denied the role of town councillor of Porretta.
At the Archiginnasio library, then, in the “Notebooks” of Giuseppe Marconi, it is possible to trace the family's movements between 1857-1901.
The political activity of Guglielmo's uncles (Giambattista and don Arcangelo, respectively mayor of Praduro and Sasso from 1852 to 1857 and town councillor in 1864-65) can be reconstructed thanks to the council's deliberations recorded in the historical Archive of the Sasso Marconi Town Hall.
His brother Luigi instead, was councillor of the Bologna City Hall from 1891-1895 (and thus the historical Archive of the Bologna City Hall can be consulted under Acts of the City Council).

2. Education

The principal documentation in regards to this topic can be found in the Marconi Archive, at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, in particular in part II (Papers of Giuseppe Marconi), where even young Guglielmo's fundamental “notebooks” (and loose papers), compiled between 1890-1894, can be found.
These documents are of particular interest because, prior to the discovery of this material,
no manuscripts had ever been found with direct and detailed testimonies of the work carried out by this 'young enthusiast of electricity'.
Moreover, both in series I (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi pertaining to Guglielmo”) and in series II (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi not pertaining to Guglielmo”, in particular in the “Correspondence of Giuseppe Marconi”), there are a certain number of letters dating back to the 1880's and 1890's from which precious information regarding Marconi's education can be drawn.

3. Marconi and Righi

It is extremely interesting to try and reconstruct the relationship between Marconi and Righi, often referred to as “Marconi's mentor”.
In addition to the “Letters from and about Righi and Dessau, 1903-1911”, found in the Marconi Archives, also worthy of note is the “A. Righi Fund” (one series: “Correspondence”), preserved at the Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze referred to as XL, which encompasses the scientific correspondence between Righi and other physicists and scientists (a total of 1334 documents between the period 1888-1925). Although there is no direct correspondence with Marconi, he is often cited and remembered. In particular, the 22 letters from Oliver Lodge to Righi and the 15 from Antonio Róiti deserve special attention.
All documents of the Righi Fund, in original format, can be easily consulted on  www.archividelnovecento.it.
Furthermore, a small part of Righi's correspondence is preserved in the Physics Museum at the University of Bologna.

4. Villa Griffone

Villa Griffone, the Marconi family's paternal house, bought in the middle of the 1800's, is a very symbolic place in the scope of Marconian events. It houses the famous “silkworm room” where the young Guglielmo carried out his first experiments.
The villa was purchased by the Marconi brothers (Giuseppe (Guglielmo's father) Giambattista and don Arcangelo in 1849, the year following the death of their father Domenico. The previous owner was the laywer Patuzzi.
In the Notarial Archive (stored at the State Archive of Bologna) it is possible to view the deed of sale; in the historical Archive of the Sasso Marconi town hall (in the register of Family Papers) one finds a record of the amendments, i.e. the extension and transformation, of 1852. At that time the house called “Griffone” was made up of 9 rooms on the ground floor, the same number on the first floor and 5 rooms on the second floor; additionally there was a stable, a tool shed, a woodshed and a “flower greenhouse”.
The Marconi Archive at the Lincei (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi. Group A”, file 6) contains “facts concerning Villa Griffone”, similarly, the Marconi Archives (Ms. 24) safeguard “correspondence, accounts and legal papers relating to Villa Griffone, 1910-1922” (with some photographs of 1900 in attachment); other documents in Ms. 1759.

5. Early English period (1896-1901)

Marconi arrived in England in February 1896. At the Lincei (Marconi Archive, Part I: Papers of GM, Series VII, Miscellaneous) one finds 15 letters (transcribed) that Guglielmo wrote to his father between 1896 and 1899.
In the Marconi Archives this period is extensively documented in the A series (“Personal papers of Guglielmo Marconi”), section 3 (“Early demonstrations and tests”).

6. First collaborations: Preece, Kemp

On William Preece (technical director of the general Post Office): IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology, London), Papers of Sir William Preece; the remaining part of the Marconi – Preece correspondence can be found in the Marconi Archives, series B.13.1 (Ms. 1774).
On George Kemp (Marconi's first collaborator in England): Marconi Archives, Series A. 2 (“Personal papers of George S. Kemp”). A part of “Kemp’s diary” (1896-1899) is available on www.marconicalling.co.uk (“Ephemera”).
Another name of fundamental importance is that of Henry Jameson Davis, Marconi's cousin, who played a decisive role in establishing the Company. The existence of possible documentation in Irish archives (probably private ones) is yet to be determined.

7. The Marconi Company

The Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd. was founded in 1897 as Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Ltd., and changed its name in 1900. It was originally created to allow Guglielmo Marconi to develop and exploit his innovative work on wireless telegraphy.
Series A. and B. of the Marconi Archives provide a detailed documentation of the Company's history.
Numerous letters spanning Marconi's lifetime can be found on www.marconicalling.co.uk (“Ephemera”).

8. The Marconi International Marine Communication Company

The Company was founded in 1900 as a subsidiary of the Marconi Company, in particular to manage the “maritime wireless service”. Relative documentation is found in the C series of the Marconi Archives.

9. Relations with the Italian Navy and other ministries

During the course of his career, Marconi came into contact with numerous Italian governmental offices, in particular the Naval, Postal/ Telecommunications and Foreign Ministries.
With the Naval Ministry, especially in the early years, until 1901, relations were problematic, but subsequently also thanks to Solari, they improved, to the point that, as was written in 1906, “it is the Naval Ministry which prevented radiotelegraphy from leaving our country forever”.
Therefore, historical ministerial archives (beginning with the Naval one), preserved in Italy's ACS (Central State Archive, with the exception of the Foreign and Defense Ministerial archives), merit further investigation.
In particular, the historical archive of the Foreign Affairs Ministry has been recently reorganized, and rearranged in more suitable locales.
Also worthy of note, always in the ACS, the archive of the Royal House Ministry (in particular: “Division I, 1914, file. 'Marconi comm. Guglielmo'”) and additionally the “Prime Minister's Office, Cabinet”.

10. The Nobel Prize (1901-1910)

Although Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909, he had already been nominated for it in 1901, 1902, 1903, 1908 and also after having received the prize (in 1929 and in 1933). To reconstruct these events, one can further their research at the Archive of the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm.
As previously stated above, the Marconi Archives (ms. 37) also safeguard documentation pertaining to the Nobel Prize (1901-1912).

11. Marconi and Solari (Marconi Office, Marconi Factories)

Relations between Marconi and Luigi Solari (his lifelong friend and collaborator since 1901, in addition to being his Italian agent) are scarcely documented, but there is information to be gathered from the numerous books written by Solari himself, as well as documents found in the Trumpy Fund (see link in this website).

12. Marconi and banks (1906-1922)

Marconi, on Nitti's recommendation, was nominated president of the Italian Bank of Sconto, from 1914 to 1922, which unfortunately proved to be a source of aggravations, especially after its bankruptcy.
Related documents can be found in the Senate Archive, High Court 234 Papers of the trial against the Administrators of the Italian Bank of Sconto. Folders 1 to 56 bis (contain the defendants' “Memoirs”, including Marconi's.)
In the Historical Archive of the Intesa Bank, in the Comit branch (Banca Commerciale Italiana), there are records of Marconi's activity as advisor to the Antivari Companies from 1906 to 1909 on behalf of Comit.

13. The Republic, the Titanic and other rescues (1909, 1912...)

In the Marconi Archives: Series A.8.2 “Sea Disasters and rescues: the RMS Titanic, 1904-14”; Series A.8.3 “Other sea disasters and rescues, 1909-34”; Series B.13.1 (Mss. 1795-1796). “Titanic messages” can be read on www.marconicalling.co.uk.

14. Marconi senator (1914-1937)

Marconi was named Senator of the Kingdom of Italy in 1914.
The historical Archive of the Senate preserves his personal file, which documents his activity as senator and contains, among other things, his birth certificate, the request of vital statistics on behalf of the Rome City Hall, correspondence between Marconi and the President of the Senate, telegrams and letters relative to the senator's death, the commemoration speech in the Senate, commemorative articles from various newspapers, the subfile “UNF Senate”.
Additionally, on the Senate website (www.senato.it) there is a text on Guglielmo Marconi.
In the Foreign Ministry Archive (Farnesina), there is an archive regarding the Peace Conference (1919-1921), in which Senator Marconi participated.
In this regard, in the Marconi Archives (ms. 21) one finds the file “Papers relating to Marconi’ service as Italian Delegate Plenipotentiary to the Peace Conference, 1919-20”.
Marconi's relations with politics, as his daughter Degna also describes in her Marconian biography, cannot disregard Francesco Saverio Nitti, who was his principal political point of reference, in addition to being a family friend.
Nitt was Minister of Agriculture from 1911 to 1914, Minister of Treasury from 1917 to 1919 and Prime Minister from 1919 to 1920. Nitti's archive, which might contain references to Marconi, is stored, both in the State Central Archive in Rome (the official documents) and in the Luigi Einaudi Foundation in Torino (private papers).

15. Marconi and D’Annunzio (1915-1937)

The friendship between Marconi and D'Annunzio most likely began in the early 1900's but it is only documented as of 1915.
The Vittoriale Archive of Gardone Riviera (Brescia) safeguards the Marconi-D'Annunzio correspondence.
Other papers relative to D'Annunzio (and also some of his letters) are found in the Marconi Archives (ms. 40).

16. Elettra (1920-1937)

The yacht Elettra was purchased by Marconi in 1919, and became from then on a mobile laboratory for his experiments.
At the historical Postal and Telecommunications Museum in Rome there are documents relative to the transmission experiments conducted on the Elettra, and other various documents.
In the Marconi Archives: “Papers relating to the SY Elettra” (mss. 25-26: “includes photographs, plans, correspondence, papers about work to the yacht, papers about its possible sale”).
At the Lincei (“Part I. Papers of Guglielmo Marconi”): series V: “Business regarding yacht Elettra”.

17. Presidency CNR (1927-1937)

Guglielmo Marconi was nominated president of the National Research Council (CNR) in 1927.
The principal fund connected to Marconi's work at the CNR can be found in the ACS, CNR, Presidency Marconi. This file contains, for example, reports on the CNR's activities and relative problems, which Marconi periodically sent to Mussolini.
Papers of the Physics Committee are found in the personal archive of Secretary Enrico Bompani at the “Accademia dei XL”. Other relative material is stored in the ACS, Prime Minister's office Fund, “Secretariat of the duce”, in the ministerial and personality archives.
At the Lincei: Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, series III (“Academic, scientific and political activity”).

18. Presidency Accademia d’Italia (1930-1937)

Marconi's presidency at the Accademia d’Italia began in 1930. The relative documentation can be found in the Archive of the Accademia, at the Lincei. Also at the Lincei: Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, series III (“Academic, scientific and political activity”).
In the historical archive of the Banca d’Italia there are papers which document Marconi's activity as academic "d'Italia” (for example his election as President). Other papers, also headed “R. Accademia d’Italia” are stored at the Csvi (Consorzio sovvenzioni su Valori Industriali) fund.

19. Presidency of the Italian Encyclopedia Institute (1933-1937)

Marconi was nominated president of the Italian Encyclopedia Institute in 1933: in the historical Archive of the Institute there is a series entitled Presidency Marconi, “Correspondence”.
It contains papers relative to Guglielmo Marconi, in addition to documentation regarding Luigi Solari and Umberto di Marco, his collaborators, Luigi Carnera, author of the encyclopedia entry on Annibale Ferrero, as well as the one on John Mac Rae, Marconi's English cousin.
Additional documentation, most likely, in the Archive of Federzoni, who became president of the Institute after Marconi's death.
At the Lincei: Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, series III (“Academic, scientific and political activity”).

20. Marconi and Fascism

Marconi adhered to the fascist movement as of 1923, and later was also part of the Grand Council of Fascism.
In the Marconi Archives (ms. 21) there is a file entitled: “Papers relating to Marconi’s membership of the Fascist Party”.
Also, to consult: ACS, Secretariat of the Duce (Ordinary and Private Correspondence), and further documentation at the Giovanni Gentile Foundation and the Italian Encyclopedia Institute (Federzoni Fund).
At the Lincei: Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, series III (“Academic, scientific and political activity”).

21. Private life

In the Paresce Archive, Degna Marconi Fund, there is extensive documentation relative to Marconi's first wife, Beatrice O’Brien, who he married in 1905, and his first daughter (Degna Marconi). Worthy of note is a series of letters sent from Marconi to Beatrice in the period 1916-1927. The correspondence ends in 1927, year in which his first matrimony was annulled.
Also in the Marconi Archives: “Family correspondence” (ms. 17), “Miscellaneous personal and family papers” (ms. 22).

22. Correspondence from the 30's

To be consulted in particular: Lincei, Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, Series I: Correspondence with people (408 correspondents); Series II: Correspondence with institutions, companies, newspapers (223 correspondents).

23. Patents

Series B.2.1 of the Marconi Archives (“Patents and trademarks”) is entirely dedicated to patents. Marconi's “original patent for a system of wireless telegraphy” can be found on www.marconicalling.co.uk.
Additionally: ACS, Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Patent office. (Patents obtained in England were also registered in Italy).

24. Marconi's death

In particular: Lincei, Papers of Guglielmo Marconi, series VII (Miscellaneous). As stated in the inventory: «The majority of the minute books and other corporate records of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company are believed to have passed to BAE Systems on its formation in 1999».

[Giancarlo Dalle Donne - Barbara Valotti]


John A. Flemingfleming

Marconi had a large-scale vision and great faith in the future world of the radio since the first years of its invention. With that vision, he wielded an immense suggestive power infusing great enthusiasm in his collaborators, who not once doubted the ultimate success of their teacher.

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