Marconi's Private Life & Death

A summary of the later life of Guglielmo Marconi, his political activity, recognition and his death.

Guglielmo Marconi Biography Includes:

Guglielmo Marconi     Spanning the Atlantic     Technology developments     Last days     Facts & quotes    

Apart from his life of development and technology, Marconi also had his private life.

In many ways, Marconi was quiet and unassuming, although it is said that he was a strong silent man, but one who had made some world class ground breaking achievements.

In addition to this, Marconi received many awards in his life for the work he had undertaken pioneering the field of radio communications, and in later life he entered politics.

Marconi's father

Marconi's father Guiseppe was much older than his mother and in 1904 Guiseppe died.

The time when he died was an important time for Guglielme Marconi, and in addition to this the young Marconi was very focussed on his long distance radio communications business that was experiencing difficult times. It took up all of his time and thought because although he was a leader in technology, radio communications was a new area and was only giving a very small return on the huge investments made.

As a result, Guglielmo did not attend the funeral in Bologna - a decision he much regretted later.

Marconi marries

In many ways, Marconi was a very eligible bachelor. Twice he became engaged to American girls while he was on one of his many transatlantic voyages to test out or monitor the progress of his radio communications equipment.

When he eventually married, it was on 16 March 1905 to a nineteen year old Irish girl named Beatrice O'Brien who was known as Bea for short. Although she was the daughter of late 13th Lord lnchiquin, a descendant of Brian Boru, warrior king of Ireland, the family was poor.

Bea's family was Anglican (Protestant) and initially disapproved of Marconi because he was not from an aristocratic line, but as he was not a practising Catholic he became accepted, his mother-in-law calling him "Marky".

Although smitten with Bea, the business pulled him away on many occasions - even their honeymoon was curtailed so he could return.

Titanic journey narrowly avoided

Marconi was a frequent transatlantic traveller in support of all the transatlantic radio communications links. In view of their status and frequent travel, they had been invited to be guests on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the new prestige liner.

However Marconi himself had to transfer to an earlier sailing to enable him to meet his business commitments leaving Bea to travel on the Titanic.

Fortunately at the last moment Bea had to cancel her place because their two and a half year old son was taken ill. Marconi and his wife had four children, three girls and one son. Of these, their first daughter, Luicia only lived a few months. Their other two daughters were named Degna and Gioia, and their son was Vittorio.

Despite the fact that Bea frequently travelled with her husband their relationship was on a downward trend. Marconi always put his radio communications business first and this placed a considerable strain on their marriage.

Honours and rejections

With the many successes of Marconi's radio communications business he received many honours. The greatest of these was in 1909 when he was presented with the Nobel Prize in physics which shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun, who had modified Marconi's transmitters to increase their range and practicality.

In July 1914, Marconi was honoured in Britain by King George V with the honorary title of Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. However as war was declared his situation changed considerably. Being an Italian he was treated as an alien because Italy was diplomatically linked to Germany.

After a time Marconi was able to move to Rome and as he was now over forty, the minimum age, he was able to take up his seat on the Italian Senate having been appointed as a Senator in the spring of that year.

Later when Italy entered the war on the allies side he was able to return to Britain where he served as a radio communications consultant. Initially he was given the rank of Lieutenant, later being promoted to Lieutenant-Commander in the navy.

Marriage break-up and a new start

In 1924 Marconi's marriage to Bea broke up. With Marconi's devotion to his business, life had never made his marriage easy.

Nevertheless a few years after the break-up Marconi married an Italian named Cristina Bezzi-Scali. It was not easy to arrange the marriage because Marconi was a divorcee and she was a Catholic. Also around this time, Marconi himself became a Catholic.

Then in 1930, a daughter was born to the couple. She was named "Elettra" and was their only child.

Microwaves and Papal links

Although at this stage of his life, Marconi was taking less of a day to day interest in the technology and business affairs of his company he never fully retired.

With new radio communications technology becoming available, he was able to investigate the use of very short wavelength signals. In particular he was interested in whether it was possible to establish two way radio communications links over paths that were beyond the line of sight.

As Cristina was the daughter of a Vatican official, Marconi established a radio communications link between the Vatican City and Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence for the Pope.

Marconi and radar

Marconi was by nature a practical engineer and a visionary who saw the applications for his radio communications technology. When addressing a meeting of American radio engineers in New York, in June 1922, Marconi foresaw a new type of radio technique that would emit radio signals, and then detect any reflections. This he described could be used to detect ships at sea.

Development was undertaken by Marconi's company in marine location and direction finding equipment. Later in Britain in 1935 Robert Watson-Watt of the UK government Radio Research Laboratory undertook the first successful ground-to-air test involving radio detection. This proved the concept of what would ultimately be termed radar in detecting aircraft.

Later developments of the technique involved the Marconi company and the British government asked the Marconi company to design and manufacture the transmitting antenna arrays used for the first five 'Chain Home' radar stations which were to protect the Thames Estuary and approaches to London in the event of war.

Marconi and television

Not only was Marconi involved with radar, but he also took an interest in the growing technology of television. He supported the EMI high definition (for the time) system.

The Marconi company became heavily involved in television during 1934. The company worked with EMI Ltd in a venture to develop a high definition television system based using electronic scanning with images displayed on a cathode ray tube.

This system was a rival to the mechanical system being developed by John Logie Baird, who had produced the first 30-line images nine years earlier using a rotating disc. Baird had undertaken many tests using the system and had even sent images across the Atlantic. However the EMI-Marconi system was far more flexible and could be developed to provide a much more effective system and it eventually won over the Baird one.

Marconi's death

In the last ten years of his life, Marconi suffered a number of heart attacks. Marconi was more also involved with politics and the interests of his native Italy. With the worsening political situation in Europe, this brought a considerable strain on Marconi.

In 1937 his health worsened. Sadly, the night before his daughter Elettra's seventh birthday his wife was away. Marconi had been due to meet with Mussolini, who he said never listened to him, and privately dislike. He did not trust the fascists, but out of loyalty to the King, served his country on the senate. Marconi had to cancel the meeting as he was not feeling well and he stayed in their Rome apartment.

Sadly Marconi died that during the night around 3.45am on 20 July 1937 at the age of just 63.

All transmitters around the globe were silenced for two minutes as a mark of respect on the day after Marconi died. Such was the stature of Marconi, he was often called the Father of Radio.

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