Wireless Communication - it all began in Newfoundland with Guglielmo Marconi
Feature by K.J. Mullins for Stephen Weir website
The rapid rise and steady growth of inventions and patents from Marconi forged the communication world that we live in today. One of the youngest of the early innovators to use sound waves in order to achieve wireless communication Marconi was just in his early 20s when he first blazed on the scene. Marconi's achievements are a marvel and yet the man himself has always been a mystery. In Marc Raboy's book 'Marconi' each aspect of the man's life is examined. Extremely well written this massive tome brings to life the legend of a great man of his time and shows the reader how his insights of wireless communication came to be.
The man that author Marc Raboy started to write about when he started the research for his RBC Taylor Prize shortlisted book Marconi is not the same man at all, he found. “I learnt a tremendous amount about the man and surprisingly about myself,” Raboy shared during a conversation late January at a coffee house in Toronto,“Marconi is important and the story of his life was worth doing.”
Many do not know who Marconi is. I was one, unable of the importance of the man who revolutionized long and short waves into a working model for communication. Some feel that he was a thief who stole the ideas and inventions of others. Raboy nodded as we discussed this, saying that there are many that are anti-Marconi and pro-Tesla. “Tesla himself though did not feel he was a thief,” Raboy said. Marconi never took sole credit for the original ideas, even acknowledging the inventors whose ideas he elaborated on. Marconi used those ideas for one process, to use the waves in the air as a means of communication. Communication by wireless means was his main focus throughout his life.
Much of Marconi's early success was due to being in the right place at the right time. He was able to parlay his place in society to several firsts including wireless communication when the Crown Prince of England was in a skiing accident. Marconi set up his system so that the prince was able to keep in touch with his mother the Queen during his recovery. Not only was it a score in achieving a media first it helped to cement a place for his company within the British government.
As a businessman Marconi was very wise in listening and following the advice of those around him. His father's sage wisdom lead him to keep his patents by leasing equipment instead of direct sales. He was able to obtain government contracts that allowed him to develop his vision even further.
Although Marconi was a devout Fascist he left nothing to the government in his will. All of his estate was split between his four children by marriage. Raboy has no doubt that he was devout to the cause but he believes that part of the reasoning behind this was Marconi's age and wanting to be settled down at that time in his life.
Discussing the many photographs that he had looked at that didn't make it into the book Raboy said Marconi always looked a bit sad and alone. That was not an image that his subject would have wanted to be in the public eye. Marconi guarded his image, making sure that who the public saw was exactly what he wanted. That has carried on even in his death. His youngest daughter Elettra, just seven-years-old when Marconi died, has devoted her life to keep a certain aura concerning her father. But honestly how much can a child of that young age truly remember of the man?
As Raboy dove into his research what he found was a man who lived a very interesting life. What makes him interesting according to Raboy it wasn't the social advantages that he had but the level of being “a common man. It's that level that I focused on. Things like why did his first romantic relationship disintegrate?” As Raboy discovered who Marconi was behind closed doors by researching those who knew him, letters and documents and conversations with his family members he found a man who was very complex and sadly, very lonely. “Honestly right now I know Marconi better than anyone else,” Raboy smiled.
What Raboy found was a complex man who never really fit into one box. He was Italian but also Irish. He was was an inventor of technology but used others' research to formulate his discoveries. He was of a high society class but felt most at him with his workers. He loved being in love but once he found love he had a hard time settling down and staying in one place. The public followed his every move but never really knew the man they were following.
The winner of this year's RBC Taylor Prize will be announced at a gala luncheon and awards ceremony at the historic Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, March 6th.