In those two rooms at the top of the Villa Griffone Marconi made with, his own hands most of the apparatus he used. The result of his untutored efforts was not neat. But this was not because Marconi was not deft with his fingers, but because scarcely any of the devices that he required where manufactured; practically everything which he used had to be home-made or contrived. This mattered little, however, for his purpose was fixed and his purpose keen.
Hertz had contended that there was proof that electric waves when radiated into space could be detected by means of metal hoop. This theory was the basis of Marconi’s experiment-and the intricate structure of his high ambition.
“It seemed to me at this time,” Marconi says, that if this radiation could be increased, developed and controlled, it would most certainly be possible to signal across space for every considerable distances my chief trouble was that the idea was so elementary, so simple in logic, that it seemed difficult to me to believe no one else had thought of putting it into practice. A problem is always simple-when solved. To radiate was not easy, and there were a thousand and one things to make the pioneer’s path difficult. From the beginning I aimed at interfering with the radiation from the oscillator, breaking the emission up into short and long periods, so that the semblance of a ‘dot’ and ‘dash’ could be transmitted. It was in December, 1895 that I first succeeded with my radiation problems.”
At the Villa Griffone, the Signora always kept an eye on the light that burned at the top of the house half the night, and mounted the stairs from time to time to knock on the locked door. Occasionally a maid would accompany her, bringing a tray of food to the young man, who sometimes forgot that meal times existed.
One December night, she had retired to bed, leaving the Villa in quiet and darkness, except for the light in the attics. Guglielmo had promised, when she knocked on his door, that he would not be long that night before he, too, was in bed. She had been asleep for some hours when a hand, shaking her shoulder, woke her. By her bed she saw Guglielmo, with a candle in his hand. That firm mouth of his was firmer, and the wavy brown hair that dragged over his solemn forehead was in more than customary disorder.
“Come Mother,” he urged, “let me show you.”
With the signora, there was no need for explanations. She knew. Clothing herself in a dressing-grown, she slipped her arm through that of her son, and together they climbed the stairs.
“You’re cold boy,” she said.
“I have finished now, Mother, for night,” Marconi told her absently, “I want you to see.”
The long attic rooms were lit by lamps, and in the yellow half-light Signora Marconi saw at one end a mass of apparatus that even her sympathy could not make her begin to comprehend. A triangle of writing loomed above this apparatus. Through the archway, in the attic beyond, was a compact group of batteries, zinc rods, and coils. At their side, as they stood, was a small table on which was a key.
“Listen, Mother,” said the boy. He pressed the key.
From the far end of the attics came a buzzing. The Signora, shivering in her peignoir, waited for more. But that, it seemed, was all. “It’s wonderful!” she said.
With an arm round her shoulders, Marconi took her back to bed. And wonderful it was. He had succeeded in making an electric bell ring. This had been done by means of a radiation at a distance of some 30 feet across space.
Later, this young man was destined to bridge the English Channel with message carried in a manner unknown to the world on that cold December night, when he burned his light late into the night in order to turn his dreams into indisputable facts. Later still, the vast Atlantic Ocean was to be bridged. But it would be scarcely true to say that even these two great epoch-making events gave him a greater thrill than when the electric bell connected with his experimental set tinkled out its shrill note.
D.M.B Collier and B. L. Jacot’s
Marconi, Master of Space