Albert Einstein once remarked: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’.
One person who displayed such a quality and prophesied about the
future of telegraphy and telephony was Sir William Crookes.
In a lengthy article ‘On some possibilities of electricity’, published in the 1st February
1892 issue of the Fortnightly Review, he expounded his thoughts on the ‘new
and astonishing world’ that was opening up as a consequence of the work of
Hertz and Lodge; a world with ‘an almost infinite range of ethereal vibrations
or electric rays, from wavelengths of thousands of miles down to a few feet’.
Crookes observed it was difficult to conceive that this world ‘should contain no
possibilities for transmitting or receiving intelligence’.
Rays of light will not pierce through a wall, nor, as we know only too well, through a
pierce such mediums, which to them will be transparent. Here, then, is revealed the
bewildering possibility of telegraphy without wires, posts, cables, or any of our present
costly appliances. Granted a few reasonable postulates, the whole thing comes well
within the realms of possible fulfillment. At the present time experimentalists are able to
generate electrical waves of any desired wavelength from a few feet upwards, and to keep
up a succession of such waves radiating into space in all directions . .
Crookes was well aware of the need for tuning if confidentiality of message
transmission were required.
I assume here that the progress of discovery would give instruments capable of adjustment
by turning a screw or altering the length of a wire, so as to become receptive of
wavelengths of any pre-concerted length . . .. Considering that there would be the whole
range of waves to choose from, varying from a few feet to several thousand miles
....neither Hertz nor Lodge saw any practical use for their discoveries,
although at the 1888 British Association meeting Lodge prophesied  that ‘the
now recognised fact that light is an electrical oscillation must have before long a
profound practical import’. No patents were sought by either experimentalist.
Both had shown imagination in devising brilliant series of experiments to
show, for the first time ever, the existence of unguided (free-space) and guided
electromagnetic waves – in confirmation of Maxwell’s theory – but both seemed
to lack the imagination necessary to relate their work to a pragmatic advantage,
e.g. signalling. Hertz and Lodge were pure scientists, and the tradition and
ethos of the natural sciences precluded patenting embodiments of ideas and
scientific findings for commercial gain.
For Lodge, the details of implementing practically a system of telegraphy based on
Hertzian waves ‘could safely be left to those who had charge of the Government
monopoly of telegraphs, especially as their eminent Head [Wlm Preece] was known to
be interested in this kind of subject’ . Four years would pass before Crookes’s
scientific prophecies would begin to be realised. Then, curiously, in 1896, Preece
wholeheartedly welcomed an unknown, 21 year old, foreign, amateur inventor
with an interest in wireless into his circle of influence and gave him much
encouragement, and the patronage of the Post Office.
Henry Jackson (1855–1929 - meets Marconi in 1896
March 1896 he was using a more powerful induction coil in his transmitter, and had fabricated a
coherer which comprised a glass tube filled with metal filings and an electric bell trembler. By the
summer of this year he had discarded the glass and pitch lenses he used for focusing the
radiation from his transmitter because he had found that elevated wires (antennas) at the
transmitting and receiving ends of his system gave improved results. With this apparatus he
by the end of the month he had achieved a range  of 54.6 yards (50 m), the maximum working
distance available on HMS Defiance. Also, at the end of the month he met the young Italian inventor named
Mother: Annie’s appeal, which must have been considerable, brought success: her son would be allowed to use
certain university facilities which were under Righi’s control. Guglielmo was permitted to set up experiments in Righi’s laboratory,
Towards the end of the 1895 summer another chance discovery aided Marconi .
I [Marconi] was sending waves through the air and getting signals at a distance of a mile,
or thereabouts, when I discovered that the wave which went to my receiver through the
air was affecting another receiver which I had set up on the other side of the hill. In other
words, the waves were going through or over the hill. It is my belief that they went
through, but I do not wish to state it as a fact.
Motivated by his progress and aware that financial support and commercial
development would be needed to further his work Marconi sought the advice
of his parents. Giuseppe Marconi consulted friends in the district and learnt
Dr Gardini, the family
physician, knew the Italian Ambassador in
General Ferrero, and was willing to request him to approach the Italian
Government on Guglielmo’s behalf.
influences. Her eldest sister’s son, Colonel H. Jameson-Davis, who was a professional
with an office at
good contacts in both the scientific and the financial circles of the capital and
was prepared to assist the young inventor
Marconi filed an application for a patent to protect his invention. It was filed at the
Patent Office on 5th March The patent ) was subsequently abandoned –
possibly it was inadequately drafted – and no details have survived.
Colonel Jameson-Davis was the contact that led to A.A. Campbell Swinton,
electrical engineer, being given a private demonstration of Marconi’s equipment
in the Bayswater rooms. Swinton, on 30th March, wrote to W.H. Preece, of the
"I am taking the liberty of sending to you with this note a young Italian of the name of
Marconi, who has come over to this country with the idea of getting taken up a new
system of telegraphing without wires, at which he has been working. It appears to be
based upon the use of Hertzian waves, and Oliver Lodge’s coherer, but from what he
tells me he appears to have got considerably beyond what I believe other parties have
done in this line."
Marconi did not meet Preece until July. Meantime, in May, Marconi had written to the
War Office and declared that he ‘had discovered electrical devices which enabled him
to guide or steer a self propelled boat or torpedo from the shore or from a vessel without any person
on board the said boat or torpedo’. Since the coastal defence of the
responsibility of the army, Marconi presumably felt that his ‘invention’ would be of interest to them.
However, the officer, Major C. Penrose, deputed to investigate Marconi’s system was interested more
in the wireless telegraphy aspects of the invention than in the method of torpedo control.
Demonstration , arranged by Preece, was given on 27th July, before members of the GPO’s administrative staff.
Signals were successfully transmitted from the roof of one of the GPO’s buildings at St Martins le Grand
to a receiver on the
roof of the Savings Bank in
had decided to spare no expense in experimenting with the apparatus.’
Henry Jackson immediately saw the potential of the new system and reported
to the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport that ‘for military purposes, as an
auxiliary signal for fog, and transmitting secret intelligence, its adoption would
be almost invaluable’. Again, the apparatus ‘would be invaluable for friendly
torpedo boats to signal their approach’ to units of the fleet. Using the new
communication means an Admiral in his flagship would be enabled to maintain
contact with all the ships under his command even ‘when the ships were not
visible, or even aware of their proximity to each other’. The application to
collision avoidance at sea was obvious
By July 1897 reports of Marconi’s successes had reached the Italian Government:
was summoned to return to
at Spezia and showed that wireless telegraphy was possible between the San
Bartolemeo shipyard, Spezia, and the cruiser San Martino 12 miles (19.3 km)
distant. This was followed by another successful demonstration (in August),
by the King and Queen of
of the Marconi system by the Italian Navy
Set up his own company:
The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited was established on 20th
July 1897 with the objective of developing commercially the Marconi system. It
had a nominal capital of £100,000, comprising 100,000 £1 shares. Marconi was
handsomely rewarded for his efforts and received 60,000 shares, the balance of
40,000 being available for public subscription. In addition out of the proceeds
from the sale of these shares Marconi was awarded £15,000 for his patents
Marconi began to surround himself with a group of very able engineers and scientists.
And a potentially valuable market.... The Corporation of Trinity House
had long wanted some reliable means of communicating with their off-shore
lighthouses and lightships but none existed.
the Marconi International Marine Communication Company (MIMCC) declared that ships
installed with its apparatus would not, except in an emergency, communicate with ships or
shore stations employing the equipment of a competitor.
In 1904 the British Government, anxious to prevent the unregulated growth
of wireless telegraphy, enacted the Wireless Telegraphy Act. This provided that
no person should establish or work a wireless telegraph apparatus in Great
Internationalisation of WT
Action to oppose a world monopoly of wireless telegraph services was also
taken diplomatically. There seemed to be an opinion, and a fear, particularly in
wireless telegraph services which would parallel those of the very extensive,
world-wide, British cable services. And so, when proposals were put forward for
the amalgamation of the Slaby-Arco and Marconi interests and were rejected,
the German Government took diplomatic steps to protect their national
In 1903 the German Government organised, as stated previously, an International
Conference on the subject of International Legislation of Wireless
Telegraphy . It was held at the Imperial Post Office in August 1903 and was
by representatives of
The German proposals were outlined by Herr Sydow, the Under Secretary of
the Post Office. They were predicated on the basis that all wireless telegraph
messages to and from ships should be accepted and transmitted by all systems of
WT; that is a ship equipped with a German set should be able to send messages
to, and receive signals from, a Marconi shore station.
In 1906 the German Government organised another International Convention
on Wireless Telegraphy . It was attended by representatives from
conference discussed, article by article, the text of a protocol outlining draft
regulations for the international control of radiotelegraphy. Of these articles,
Article 3 provided that coastal stations and ship stations should be compelled to
exchange wireless telegrams regardless of the system used to transmit them.
were sufficiently well advanced to enable Marconi to send the following
I beg to inform you that I have established wireless telegraphic communication between
including one from the Governor General of
than one month later, on
the President of the
(by Marconi’s transatlantic wireless telegraph)
In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity
which has been achieved in perfecting the system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on
behalf of the American people the most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and all
the people of the
These successes appeared to indicate that all was now ready for a commercial
service across the
The Glace Bay–Clifden wireless link was opened for a limited public service
in October 1907, and an unrestricted service was operative from February 1908.
In March 1910 MIMCC submitted to HM Government a plan for an radio communications
network throughout the Empire (‘wireless’ was replaced by ‘radio’ at the 1903 German Conference).
Probably, the news, early in 1910, that MIMCC’s main rival, the Telefunken company, had
a contract to install its equipment in two stations in
According to the plan MIMCC would construct 18 radio stations on British
soil at key positions in the Empire.
The first broadcasters were the radio amateurs or ‘hams’, whose hobby it
was to communicate with other radio hams. Their activities were curtailed in
essential communications would occur, but in the United States their hobby
was given some encouragement by the work of Dr F. Conrad, a well respected
engineer of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company (WEM),
I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a household utility in the
same sense as a piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring music into the home by
wireless. . . . Should the plan materialise, it would seem reasonable to expect sales of
424 Communications: An international history of the formative years
1,000,000 ‘radio music boxes’ within a period of three years. Roughly estimating the
selling price at $75 per set, $75,000,000 can be expected.
Conrad re-commissioned his amateur wireless telegraph station and converted it to transmit and receive wireless telephony signals. He
found that his broadcasts were being received by a number of radio amateurs.
As H.P. Davis, the Vice-President of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company has recalled
the programs sent out by Dr Conrad caused the thought to come to me that the efforts
that were then being made to develop radio telephony as a confidential means of communications
were wrong, and that instead its field was really one of a wide publicity, in
fact, the only means of instantaneous collective communication ever devised. Right in
our grasp, therefore, we had that service which we had been thinking about and
endeavouring to formulate.
Here was an idea of limitless opportunity if it could be ‘put across’. . . .
Resulting from this was my decision
to install a broadcasting station at
and to initiate this service. This decision, made in 1920, created the present huge radio
industry. Not until fall, however, was the equipment ready for operation.
This initiative touched off an immediate boom in radio broadcasting
and in the formation of transmitting stations. Eleven stations were
transmitting in September 1921, 23 in October and 32 in December. After the
turn of the year the numbers increased considerably: 58, 72, 99 and 187 at the
ends of the first four months respectively of 1922 . By 1st May there were
registered radio stations in the
commentaries, weather and stock market reports, lectures and music.
Such was the growth in demand for receivers that manufacturers had difficulty
satisfying the public need. One commentator, writing in May 1922 noted:
The rate of increase in the number of people who spend at least a part of their evening in
listening in is almost incomprehensible. To those who have recently tried to purchase
receiving equipment, some idea of this increase has undoubtedly occurred as they stood
perhaps in the fourth or fifth row at the radio counter waiting their turn, only to be
told, when they finally reached the counter, that they might place an order and it would
be filled when possible. . . . It seems quite likely before the movement has reached its
height . . . there will be at least five million receiving sets in this country.
further 99 stations went on the air in that month (May), and by the end of 1924
there were 530
to broadcast on a world-wide basis and to show potential customers that in technical developments the British company
was not lagging behind its American counterparts and that only Government restrictions prevented a more
usage of broadcasting in
broadcast concert by Dame Nellie Melba, On
of the 15 kW
transmitter. The broadcast was heard at places as far away as
and receivers of wireless signals were required to possess a licence, the terms and conditions of which
were determined by the General Post Office. Wireless Sub-committee of the Imperial Communications Committee
Office did not want chaos of
in the hands of the Marconi Co.
of 63 wireless societies, on
They voiced a national resentment that public services such as wireless time and telephony should be
left to our neighbours to provide, and that permission to transmit weather reports, news and music by wireless
telephony should not be refused to companies competent and willing to do so without interference with the
defensive services of the country.
GPO now relented and on
period of half-an-hour already authorised a programme of 15 minutes’ telephony (speech and music) in the
by the General Post Office were far from generous.Apart from the very limited transmission time, and power
the station had to close down for three minutes in every ten to allow the engineer-in-charge to listen-in for
instructions to close the station if it was causing interference to other services.
Its call sign was 2MT, or in telegraphese, ‘Two-Emma-Tock’. The station, erected under the direction of Captain P.P. Eckersley,
station would be operational until
seeking similar advantages, and, by the middle of May 1922, more than 20 companies had applied to the
GPO for broadcasting licences. The response of the Postmaster General (PMG), Mr Kellaway, was to invite
their representatives to a conference at which their views could be expressed. Twenty four firms attended the
meeting held at the General Post Office on 18th May1922. The PMG explained that if licences were granted to each company chaos
could occur, and so it was essential that if a satisfactory broadcasting service were to be implemented it should be undertaken by a single authority.
Broadcasting arrangements in various foreign countries
Regulations in regard to broadcasting are laid down in the Enactment of the Austrian Federal
of Commerce and Communications No. 346 of
Broadcasting is conducted under a concession from the Government by a private firm, the ‘Austrian
Radio Traffic A.G.’ in which the State has an interestby the possession of shares and by representation
the administrative and executive Councils of the Company. Only one transmitting station (at
Relay stations are in course of construction. In addition every licensee has to pay an annual ‘user’
charge to the broadcasting company whether he intends to listen to the broadcast programmes or not.
(obtainable at local
parts if none for sale. Dealers have to be licensed and keep records of all sales.
Government has assumed control through [the] Minister of Public Works. Licences (issued at
Telegraph and Post Offices) are required for all stations. Government has nominated a Council representing
all the interested parties – actors, authors, elocutionists, wireless amateurs, manufacturers, pressmen – to control the amusement and
instructive sides of the programmes. All other transmissions are controlled by the State Telegraph Department. Transmitting stations are rented by the
Council from the Telegraph Department or the Army. Apparatus with loudspeaker in public place £10. Full fees must be paid for any portion of financial year.
On payment of fee for receiving licence mark is issued for attachment to set
State monopoly under [the] Minister of
Posts and Telegraphs. Decree
Authority [is] required to establish wireless sending or receiving stations. Tour Eiffel – operating experimentally and another in
course of erection. Two private stations allowed to broadcast temporarily without Royalty Transmitting: no royalty at present.
Receiving: If a receiving set is used for public performance (with charge for admission) an annual royalty not exceeding 200 Frs. is charged.
monopoly administered by Postal Authorities. Licence for sending or receiving
sets required by Decree of
P.O. erects and maintains stations and leases to broadcasting Cos. 9 main stations, 3 relay stations.Transmitting: co. pays a fixed monthly
and a further charge according to hours of working.
collected by Postmen in monthlyinstalments of 2 Reichmarks
The British Broadcasting Company’s stations, August 1925
City/town Date of opening Wavelength
High power station (maximum power 25 kW)
Main broadcasting stations (maximum power 3 kW)
Relay broadcasting stations (maximum power 200 W)
Stoke on Trent 21st October 1924