Invention of the Radio: Guglielmo Marconi's Genius And His Brushes With Death

By Jacob Shelton
Guglielmo Marconi, portrait, head and shoulders, facing left. (Pach Brothers/Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1874 in Bologna, Italy, Guglielmo Marconi was the great-grandson of the founder of Jameson's Irish Whiskey. His father's side of the family was incredibly wealthy, so he grew up learning from the finest tutors before traveling to study at the the Livorno Technical Institute and the University of Bologna.

When he was only 20 years old, Marconi began investigating the so-called "invisible waves" discovered by German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. To convince his mother that he was serious about radio technology after he returned to his family's estate in Italy, he created a radio transmitter and receiver setup that rang a small bell when he pressed a button on a bench in the home.

His family was supportive enough to push him to keep working and even provided him with a lab that allowed him to build out his experiments. He ended up transmitting waves up to half a mile away, which was then considered the maximum transmission distance. He constructed a more impressive version of his wave-generating machine in an attempt to find government contracts for his experiments, but when that didn't work out, he went elsewhere.