Chevalier G. Marconi

'Wireless Telegraphy'

Chevalier Guglielmo Marconi’s speech at the Whitefriars Club Annual Dinner, held in the Empire Hall of the Trocadero Restaurant on 19th February 1904.

From Whitefriars Journal, vol. II, no. 5, March 1904, pp. 117-18.

Chevalier Marconi, who also responded [to the toast], said he regretted that the task of replying for ‘Science’ had not fallen upon one who could respond in a better manner. Science, it was true, had done very much for modern civilisation – so much indeed that they could hardly conceive or contemplate civilisation existing without it. It would be useless for him in a gathering like that to attempt to show what they owed to Science, any more than it would be possible for him to demonstrate how much was owed by Science to Literature. He thought it was pointed out only recently by Sir William Ramsay, who had been teaching them so much with regard to the wonderful discovery of Radium, that most recent inventions and discoveries in Science had been foreseen, and in many cases described, by literary men, who, if they could not be termed inventors in the way it was understood at present, had encouraged scientists to pursue certain lines of research by the fascinating descriptions of what certain inventions, if made possible, might achieve.

His own connection with Science had mostly referred to the propagation through space of certain effects which they termed electric waves. Wireless telegraphy had certainly exercised a great influence on the imagination of certain writers, especially in the daily papers, judging from the contradictory reports one saw.

One read sometimes on one side of a paper that wireless telegraphy was unreliable, that its messages got mixed up, that the whole thing was a failure, and that it would never have any practical application. On the other side of the paper, or perhaps in another column on the same page, they read that its practical application on a large scale was assured, if not achieved, that ordinary telegraphs were of no use, and that all those who had invested in cables were certain not to see their money again. (Laughter.)

From what he had seen of wireless telegraphy – and he was in rather a good position to follow its developments – (laughter and applause) – its progress, and especially its application to shipping and navigation was exceedingly rapid. Already there were 200 ships and liner stations equipped with apparatus for the service of the Navy, or for the convenience of passengers, and they had lately learned that the Government had determined to install wireless telegraphy on all the lightships round the Kingdom. (Applause.) The opposition to the efforts made to communicate from continent to continent was considerable, and it was generally caused by the attitude of the cable companies, which saw a certain danger to their interests if those communications should become real and practical.

Now there was another form of opposition raised by a number of people who had got into their heads that wireless telegraphy was the cause of all the bad weather they had had for the last few months or years. (Laughter.) It was impossible for him from a scientific point of view to take this suggestion seriously, especially when they considered that the power used in those experiments was only two or three horse power, whereas the horse power developed by storms was of many millions. It would be a pretty form of perpetual motion to employ two or three horse power of energy to produce some billions of energy in storms. It was incredible that there could exist people ready to believe that.

At the same time modern civilisation was organised in such a way that he was safe, even in Cornwall – (laughter) – at any rate, if the police were near, whatever might have happened early in history. For himself, he liked the weather. (Laughter.) He had spent most of his time in Italy, and knew what fine weather was, and if anybody could prove he was spoiling the English weather or climate – or what was left of it – he would be quite ready to stop work and sell his apparatus to Australia or to Egypt, where rain was so often badly wanted. (Laughter.) He wondered whether some company promoter would take up this idea of his, and form an Australian Rain-producing Company, Limited. (Laughter.)

Another suggestion was made to him by a gentleman connected with the lighthouse department of Trinity House. He said: ‘You are a fine fellow: you first make a system which is supposed to help ships in distress, and then you put up another apparatus to make a storm last the whole year round.’ (Laughter.)

His hope was that wireless telegraphy might increase in value to shipping and navigation, and facilitate and maintain communication between distant parts where at present it was very expensive to communicate with the methods of cabling. He believed with wireless telegraphy communication could be effected more cheaply than with cables. Whether this was so time would show. Of course, he knew those interested in cable companies did not believe in it at all.

He thanked the Whitefriars Club for the honour they had done him in inviting him, and for the kind way in which they had accepted the toast. (Applause.)