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Adolf Carl Heinrich Slaby

In the spring of 1897 Marconi was working for the Post Office experimenting with his invention over increasing distances of five, ten and fifteen kilometres in the Bristol channel. His scientific discovery had been unveiled to the public several months before, but nobody had the slightest idea of how it worked. Emperor Wilhelm II sent a German engineer, Adolf Slaby, to witness one of Marconi's experiments.

Slaby was born in Berlin in 1849. Professor, consultant and politician, he brought engineering to an important position during the new Reich. He worked on wireless telegraphy from 1897 to 1903 and although a brief period, he was welcomed as the "German Marconi" and the pioneer of "Funkentelegraphie" (spark telegraphy).

The Emperor was a great promoter of wireless telegraphy in Germany because he had a technical and scientific passion for it. He asked Slaby to investigate further into this new technology. After attending Marconi's demonstrations, Slaby decided to launch a research programme at the Technische Hochschule where he worked with Earl Georg von Arco. Slaby devised a system similar to Marconi's - but with features that allowed its independence. He also produced a series of patents and signed a commercial agreement with the company A.E.G.

During this time another German scientist, Karl Ferdinand Braun, invented a wireless telegraphic transmission system and struck a deal with Siemens. Therefore in Germany at the beginning of the 1900's there were two competing systems: the A.E.G. Slaby-Arco and the Braun-Siemens. The union of the two companies, favoured by the Emperor, was ratified in May 1903 with the foundation of a new company: Telefunken.

From then on Slaby's involvement in wireless telegraphy diminished. During his career he received great honours (although not the Nobel prize that he perhaps hoped for), but he was also criticised for the inaccuracy of his technical explanations. He died from complications due to illness in Berlin, in 1913.

In his speech held at the Swedish Royal Academy, Marconi recalled Slaby attending his experiments in Bristol. But many years later however, he regretted having been forced to invite the German professor. This behaviour several years after Slaby's death was quite unusual for a tactful person like Marconi. Perhaps he was exhausted by the long competition that took place between the Marconi Company and its German competitors at the beginning of the 1900's.


























Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton

William Preece received Guglielmo Marconi at the General Post Office in London in 1896. That moment marked the beginning of the Bolognese inventor's public career. In order for a young unknown Italian scientist to be taken seriously, the mediation of an authoritative figure was needed. Alan Campbell-Swinton was undoubtedly that person, taking it upon himself to write a letter of presentation for Marconi and addressing it to Preece.

Born in Kimmerghame (Scotland) in 1863, after his studies in Edinburgh and a year in France, Campbell-Swinton moved to Newcastle in 1882 for an engineering internship. Having ascertained his interests and sharpened his skills in the field of electricity, he decided to settle in London and start up his own Company.

In 1896 he was the first to experiment radiography for medical use. In 1903 he began to design a television prototype, utilizing the Braun tube. The following year he closed his Company and dedicated himself entirely to his research.

After a few years, in 1908, he announced on “Nature” that a new system of communication - “Distant Electric Vision” - was about to see the light. In 1911 he outlined in great detail an electronic scanning television system, specifying that a few ulterior technical acquisitions were needed for the realization.

As an engineer he worked for the W T. Henley Telegraph Works Company, the Charles Parsons’s Marine Steam Turbine Company, and the Crompton Parkinson, Ltd., of which he also became the director. He held numerous prestigious positions in the most important scientific and cultural institutions of the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, the advent of broadcasting had incentivized research and experimental transmissions also in the field of television, thanks especially to the electromechanical system devised in 1925 by another Scottish inventor, John Baird.

Two years after Campbell-Swinton's death (London, 1930), Tedham and McGee developed a purely electronic system based on his theories, which thereby found their confirmation 21 years after being formulated. A couple of years later, the BBC decided to officially adopt the electronic system Marconi-EMI. Guglielmo Marconi, through his Company, had thus ideally settled the debt of gratitude toward Campbell-Swinton.





























Augusto Righi

When Marconi was little more than a boy his parents, noticing his growing passion for physics and electricity, decided to introduce him to professor Augusto Righi. He taught Physics at Bologna university and was considered a great luminary in his field.

Righi was born in Bologna in 1850, and had taught at the universities of Padova and Palermo before returning to teach in his home town, Bologna. He studied the fundamentals of electrology, electromagnetism and physical optics. A great theorist and researcher, he continued Hertz' experiments and thus contributed significantly to prove Maxwell's theory. The famous professor and the self-taught young man, both Bolognese and interested in the hertzian waves, seemed destined to meet and to become student and teacher, but this did not happen.

Marconi visited professor Righi several times, both at the university and his summer house in Sabbiuno, near Pontecchio. He probably saw the equipment devised by Righi in his laboratory. Their relationship consisted of on the one side Marconi trying to explain his ideas and continuously asking Righi questions, and on the other side the professor replying and suggesting that Marconi should continue his education to gain a solid, basic knowledge. But Marconi did not follow his advice; instead he began to experiment on his own. Once he had completed his new system (which would later be called wireless telegraphy) he moved with his mother to London in order to patent his invention and develop its applications.

When Marconi became famous, the two Bolognese scientists met on various public occasions and always declared their mutual respect. To the many people who considered Professor Righi the real inventor of wireless telegraphy, he replied that he had not been Marconi's teacher and that Marconi had carried out his research autonomously. At the same time he considered Marconi's scientific contribution nothing more than a «useful application». When Marconi was awarded the Nobel prize in 1909, Righi, who had been candidate for the prize for fifteen years without winning, could not deny his disappointment.

During his speech at the Swedish Royal Academy, Marconi cited Righi together with Hertz and Branly as those scientists whose studies had inspired the beginning of his career. However he failed to dedicate any words of affection to them or recount any personal memories.

Augusto Righi died in Bologna in 1920.



























Aleksandr Stepanovič Popov

Aleksandr Popov was born in 1859 in a village in the Urals. Despite family tradition expecting him to pursue a career in the church, he cultivated an interest in the exact sciences, moving to St Petersburg where he graduated brilliantly from his studies. He then worked as a teacher and researcher for the Navy's Torpedo School at Kronstadt.

Popov was considered an authority in the electrical sector and he served regularly as a consultant and technician with the Russian Navy. He was up-to-date with the works of Hertz, Branly and Lodge and in 1895 he invented a device which was able to receive and record electrical oscillations. It was a forerunner to the wireless communication system. Sometime later Popov heard of Marconi's experiments, which he realised were very similar to his own.

In 1897, encouraged by the Navy, Popov carried out some experiments with wireless telegraphy and from 1898 he worked with the French engineer and businessman Eugène Ducretet. They began building telegraphic stations based on the Popov-Ducretet system and received many orders from the Russian Navy. In 1899 Popov invented a telephone receiver for the acoustic reading of telegraphic messages and from 1900 he began installing wireless telegraphic equipment on Russian war ships.

The war against Japan had a terrible impact on Popov. In 1904, the Russian fleet that was moving towards the Pacific Ocean needed twenty four wireless stations, but their order was given to the German company Telefunken because Kronstadt's factory could not produce the goods quickly enough. Popov was devastated when in 1905 Russia was defeated in the Tsushima battle, where many of his students were killed. A few months later Popov died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage.

Following his death, the Russian authorities declared Popov to be the real inventor of wireless telegraphy despite the fact that Popov himself had only ever claimed to have made a contribution to the invention, acknowledging Marconi as the rightful inventor. Infact in the summer of 1902 Popov met Marconi, who had arrived at Kronstadt on the cruiser Carlo Alberto where he had been carrying out some experiments. The Italian King, Victor Emmanuel III, who had been invited to the wedding of the Czar's son was on the same boat. It is claimed that on that occasion Popov publicly welcomed Marconi as the «father of radio».


 A.S. Povov Museum of Communications - St. Petersburg


























Edouard Branly

«Mr. Marconi sends to Mr. Branly his regards over the Channel through the wireless telegraph, this nice achievement being partly the result of Mr. Branly's remarkable work.»

With this telegram, sent from Dover on March 29th 1899, soon after the first wireless communication was made between France and England, the young Marconi paid homage to his illustrious colleague.

Branly's contribution is briefly accounted for by Marconi ten years later, in his Nobel Lecture, where he explains to have used, in his early experiments, a Branly coherer as a detector, which he slightly modified to increase its stability.

The crossbreed is interesting: the term “coherer” was coined by Lodge, Branly always rejected the concept, preferring “radioconductor”. Marconi, it seems, adopted Lodge's term/concept (quite diffused by then), but utilized Branly's apparatus.

Branly was born in Amiens in 1844. He studied at the Sorbonne and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. For more than 50 years he was professor of Physics at the Catholic University in Paris, becoming a scientific celebrity, especially in France, where for a long time he was considered the true inventor of wireless.

In 1890 he published the first results of his researches that showed that the electric spark had the power at a distance to change the conductivity of the powdered conductors: this is his discovery, hotly contested by Calzecchi Onesti, who also greatly underestimated the importance of power at a distance. Having devised his “radioconductor”, Branly continued his research on electrical conductivity, with little participation in the future developments of wireless telegraphy.

He thought of himself, above all, as an experimenter, and even if in some instances he served as a consultant and collaborator, he was never seriously attracted to carrying out applied research, to the point that when in 1912 Marconi offered him a job as a technical consultant of his Company (by then well established), Branly kindly refused.

With a degree also in medicine, as of 1896, for about twenty years, he practiced electrotherapy in his own laboratory. He became interested in the “psychic sciences” and telemechanics. In 1900 he was nominated Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and in 1911 became a member of the Academy of Sciences.

He died in Paris in 1940, after having dedicated his entire life to scientific studies.




























Paolo Fabbrifabbri

I'd like to say that we reread Marconi beginning with the future. Speaking of Mc Luhan, we reread the present in the past; speaking instead about real time of electronics, we reread the past beginning with the future. The correct interpretation is that the future, through the present, moves towards the past. This is a new concept for humanity.


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