Signor Marconi's Magic Box

Signor Marconi's Magic Box by Gavin Weightman Read Free Book Online

Book: Signor Marconi's Magic Box by Gavin Weightman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gavin Weightman
Quickly making up my mind, I travelled to England, where the Bureau of Telegraphs was undertaking experiments on a large scale. Mr. Preece, the celebrated engineer-in-chief of the General Post-Office, in the most courteous and hospitable way, permitted me to take part in these; and in truth what I there saw was something quite new. Marconi had made a discovery. He was working with means the entire meaning of which no one before him had recognised. Only in that way can we explain the secret of his success.
    Slaby hurried back to Germany with Marconi’s secret, and set to work replicating as best he could the brilliant success of the Bristol Channel experiment.
    Having returned to my home, I went to work at once to repeat the experiments with my own instruments, with the use of Marconi’ s wires. Success was instant . . . Meantime
the attention of the German Emperor had been drawn to the new form of telegraphy . . . For carrying out extensive experiments, the waters of the Havel River near Potsdam were put at my disposal, as well as the surrounding royal parks - an actual laboratory of nature under a laughing sky, in surroundings of paradise! The imperial family delight to sail and row on the lakes formed by the Havel; therefore a detachment of sailors is stationed there during the summer, and I was permitted to employ the crews as helpers.
    And so it was that Marconi’s first benefactor, William Preece, had unwittingly enabled the nation which was for many years to be a bitter rival of Britain in the development of wireless telegraphy to indulge in a blatant piece of industrial espionage. With the backing of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who wanted Germany to excel in all fields of technology, and demanded that scientists be given state backing, Professor Slaby joined forces with others to develop a Teutonic version of the Italian’s new and quite magical means of communication. Meanwhile, Preece established his own induction wireless link across the Bristol Channel, and remained sceptical about the potential of Marconi’s use of Hertzian waves.
    However, the City of London was mightily impressed. The potential value of what Marconi had demonstrated out on Salisbury Plain and at Toynbee Hall, and now across the Bristol Channel, lay, as far as the City investor was concerned, almost entirely in the patent rights. If an exclusive legal claim to the mechanism in the magic boxes could be established, this patent could be sold around the world, bringing instant riches. As early as March 1896, barely a month after his arrival in London, Marconi was writing to his father at the Villa Griffone with details of offers that were being made to him by various members of the extensive family contacts of the Jamesons. There was a Mr Wynne, who was related to his cousins the Robertsons, offering £2400 if Marconi would allow him to set up a company in which he would be given half the shares. Then there was another cousin, Ernesto Burn, a
lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, who told Marconi he had a friend who had been paid £10,000 by the British government with a stipend of £2000 a year for ‘a discovery useful to the army’.
    While Marconi, staying in Bayswater with his mother, conducted a frantic round of meetings in an effort to find a backer for his invention, his father offered advice which reflected his hope that Guglielmo would cash in as fast as he could and return with his spoils to buy a property near the Villa Griffone. Some solace from home arrived in two barrels of Griffone wine, which Marconi arranged to have bottled. In his letters home he pleaded not for wine but for the funds to pay for patent rights not only in England but in Russia, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, India and the United States. In January 1897 he had written to his father:
    I met two American gentlemen who are willing to acquire my patent rights for the United States of America . . . I understand they would give me £10,000 divided as follows:

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