This passage and the next one are taken from a biography of Guglielmo Marconi, the great inventor of wireless telegraphy. One night in the summer of 1894, as Marconi lay sleepless in a bed in an Alpine hotel, he suddenly got an idea that electric signals could be sent through the air from one place to another. The idea completely possessed him. Encouraged by his mother, he carried out of his first successful experiment, which, small through it may seem, because the foundation of his wonderful works later on.

During the summer of 1849, he went with his brother and half-brother to the mountains of Biellese, and whilst in these Italian Alps an idea came to him. From that moment in which he lay, half awake, half asleep, in a strange bed in that Alpine hotel he was convinced that electric signals could be sent through the air from one place to another. He was, he says, finding sleep elusive, and with the smell of the pine-trees in his nostrils and the creaking of timbers about the old inn, it seemed likely that he would still be awake when the sun was up.

From worrying about this minor detail, his mind turned to thoughts of Hertz and his experiments, and it was as he considered and contemplated upon what Hertz had achieved that a conviction came to him. When he awoke in the morning, the thoughts of the night before had not vanished entirely, as is so often the case in such circumstances. He thought again and felt more than ever convinced that wireless telegraphy was a practical possibility, and not merely an inventor’s dream. From that moment, he set about making it a reality in this world, with a painstaking application to detail which was indeed worthy of his father-Giuseppe.

Of this ambition, Marconi says, “The idea of transmitting message through space by means of etheric waves came to me suddenly as a result of having read in an Italian electrical journal about the work and experiments of Hertz. It was a long and interesting article; Hertz had just died-actually in the preceding January. The idea obsessed me more and more, and in those mountains of Biellese I worked it out in imagination. I did not attempt any experiments until we returned to the Villa Griffone in the autumn, but then to large rooms at the top of the house were set aside for me by my mother. And there I began experiments in earnest.”

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Marconi had the key of these rooms, and even when he was working in them on his experiment, he kept the doors locked. He rose early to get back to his work, and he worked later. His mother was concerned to see, night after night, a light burning at the top of the house, and she would often knock softly on the door before retiring to bed. A disheveled, untidy young man would open the door for her and draw for inside, showing her his batteries, the home made apparatus, the seemingly endless tangle of wire and coils.

“I think you should go to bed,” his mother would say.

“I will when I’m tired,” was his invariable answer. Signora Marconi was allowed inside the room, but no one else. Old Giuseppe was provoked to mild complaint when he learned that servants were only permitted inside the rooms on rare occasions, strictly

“What is there about these things he is making that call for a state of siege?” the old man asked.

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“Other people disturbed his experiment,” Marconi’s mother explained, “it is not much to give him two attics for himself.”

“He is never out of those rooms. Perhaps he has told you what his idea is; for my part, I must confess that he leaves me entirely in the dark.”

And on that memorable occasion Signora Marconi sat herself on the arm of her husband’s chair. “His idea,” she said softly, “is that it is possible for signals, voices even, to be sent from place to place through the air . . .”

The old man had wrinkled his brow and was on the point of expressing his disbelief in the subject of voices in the air, when he stopped himself abruptly. There was something in the signora’s eyes, put there by faith in her son: the Signora’s was a lovely woman and her eyes were by no means for worst feature. Marconi had his first and for all types his most faithful, disciple in the signora, his mother.

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“Well, let him experiment,” the old man allowed, gruffly. “Yet, it would be pleasant occasionally to see something of one’s son.”

Adapted from

D.M.B. Collier and B.L. Jacot’s

Marconi, Master of Space