Born to wealth -- ever hear of Jameson's Irish Whiskey? The founder was his great-grandfather -- there was no particular reason for Guglielmo Marconi to ever actually do anything and as a child, he seemed headed for a life of genteel idleness; he wasn't much of a student, apart from a mild interest in physics and science generally.
That changed in 1894, when Heinrich Hertz died young. Hertz had remarked that his work with Maxwell's predicted electromagnetic radiation was "of no use whatsoever."
Young Marconi, not quite 20 years old, read the obits and was of a different opinion. In the later 1890s, it was "steamboat time" for wireless; all the components and basic notions were there for a working system, and somebody was going to be first.
He set to work in his attic and backyard and, eventually, had a working system. So much for the "idle rich!"
Marconi first approached the Italian government, patriotically feeling that the advantage such an advance in communications conferred should go to his own country. They turned him down -- quite flatly, by some accounts. He headed for Britain and the rest, as they say, is history.
There is no lack of controversy; Marconi was not an original researcher, rather a man who could discern what components of the state of the art were useful in a working system and get them to function together. Even the company he went on to found had a reputation for technological conservatism. And when Italy embraced the successful inventor of radio, his enthusiastic response included open support of the Fascists; Benny the Moose was his best man at his second marriage and designed his tomb when he died in 1937.
Still, the man who could put Maxwell's theories to work had admirable qualities as well as faults. His influence on subsequent major players in the radio business -- notably, RCA's David Sarnoff -- set the style and tone of the technology for decades to follow.
So, happy birthday, Senatore.
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