Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Invention That Sparked the Radio Revolution

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9780007130054: Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Invention That Sparked the Radio Revolution

Gavin Weightman tells the story of how Guglielmo Marconi invented the wireless - and how it amused Queen Victoria, saved the lives of the Titanic survivors, tracked down criminals and began the radio revolution. The wireless was one of the most fabulous inventions of the 19th century: the public thought it was magic, the popular newspapers regarded it as miraculous, and the leading scientists of the day (in Europe and America) could not understand how it worked. In 1897, when the first wireless station was established by Marconi in a few rooms of the Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight, nobody knew how far these invisible waves could travel through the "ether", carrying Morse coded messages decipherable at a receiving station. (The definitive answer was not discovered until the 1920s, by which time radio had become a sophisticated industry filling the airwaves with a cacophony of sounds - most of it American). Marconi himself was the son of an Italian father and an Irish mother (from the Jameson whiskey family); he grew up in Italy and was fluent in Italian and English, but it was in England that his invention first caught on. Marconi was in his early twenties at the time (he died in 1937). With the "new telegraphy" came the real prospect of replacing the network of telegraphic cables that criss-crossed land and sea at colossal expense. Initially it was the great ships that benefited from the new invention - including the Titanic, whose survivors owed their lives to the wireless.

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About the Author:

Gavin Weightman is an experienced television documentary-maker (producer/director/writer), journalist and author of many books such as The Making of Modern London: 1815--1914, The Making of Modern London: 1914--1939, London River, Picture Post Britain and Rescue: A History of the British Emergency Services (Boxtree). His first book for HarperCollins, The Frozen Water Trade, is published in February 2002.

From Publishers Weekly:

Dapper, aristocratic Guglielmo Marconi doesn't fit the typical inventor stereotype: he lacked wild hair, wasn't absentminded, wore debonair-looking hats and frequently wooed women when traveling by ship. Yet Marconi's aptitude for technology led him to become the father of wireless telegraphy and radio. Born in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Marconi was always fascinated by the nascent technology of electricity and, as a young man, was struck by the idea that he could transmit telegraph messages-then carried by cables-through the air. At a crowded London meeting hall in 1896, he made a dramatic public demonstration of his idea by sending a current from one innocuous-looking box to a receiver he carried around the hall with him, causing it to ring: "No messages were being sent at all-just an invisible electronic signal. But in 1896 that was sensational enough," writes documentary filmmaker and journalist Weightman. Like many other great inventions, wireless was being pursued at the same time by a number of different inventors, including some shameless charlatans-some of whom, like the delightfully crooked Abraham White, give Weightman's dry book some desperately needed spark-and a great deal of Weightman's text is about the juggling for position among the inventors and their respective companies around the turn of the century. Although Weightman has his hands on an extremely exciting subject, there is precious little life to his writing, and even exciting episodes, like the sending of an early type of wireless distress signal from the sinking Titanic, fail to engage. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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