Myth Trivia: Put a feather in his cap and call him Marconi

Today as you drive around in the cocoon of your car or listen to soft sounds at your bedside at night, remember the name Marconi, for it was he who envisioned the radio.

Guglielmo Marconi posing with some of his early radio equipment. Out of copyright image from the Smithsonian collection, via Wikimedia commons.

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 26, 2017 – Thanks to the efforts of Irish-Italian inventor and entrepreneur Guglielmo Marconi, we can all enjoy the magic of radio and our favorite music and talk shows today. Radio would have eventually been invented anyway. But Marconi was one of its pioneers and, since April 25 was his birthday, we dedicate our trivia column to him today.

Fortunately for Marconi, he was well connected and had the financial resources to develop and later expand his businesses thanks to his mother being the granddaughter of the founder of the Jameson’s Irish whiskey distillery.

Guglielmo Marconi became fascinated with electromagnetic wave experiments in the later part of the 19th century before founding his own wireless telegraph company in 1897. Within 5 years, Marconi was able to establish the fact that wireless communications could actually be achieved across the Atlantic Ocean. Although the inventor claimed to have sent signals from England to Newfoundland in 1901, the experiment could never be independently confirmed, forcing Marconi to wait until the following year to prove his claim.

During that era, Nikola Tesla was Marconi’s primary competition. Indeed, Tesla held the first radio patents in the early 1900s until the United States Patent Office reversed itself in 1904 and credited Marconi with the invention.

Over the next several years, Marconi patented other inventions which ultimately made him wealthy. By the end of the year in 1909, he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun.

Perhaps even more amazing was Marconi’s sense of timing, which allowed him the good fortune of avoiding almost certain death from two famous maritime disasters. Though we have told this story previously in our Myth Trivia writings, it seems appropriate to honor it again today on the cusp of Marconi’s birthday anniversary.

Though the precise names of the rich and famous celebrities who died on the maiden voyage of the Titanic may have slipped past our memory, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Straus are but a few of the notable people who went down with the ship.

As with Marconi, several other passengers including Milton Hershey, Henry Clay Frick and J.P. Morgan held tickets for passage but for one reason or another did not sail on that fateful voyage.

Guglielemo Marconi, however, was the only member of the Titanic’s original manifest who failed to depart on its shakedown cruise. The same thing occurred later on a very different crossing with equally disastrous results for those who did sail.

Marconi had been invited as a guest on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but chose, instead, to sail aboard the Lusitania three days earlier in order to catch up on some of his work in the States. His other key reason was a preference for the stenographer on the Lusitania, as a strong stenographer was a necessity in Marconi’s electronics businesses

Though he did not sail—and perish—on the Titanic, Marconi did play a significant role in absentia in that disaster. That’s because it was his radio system that had been installed aboard the Titanic, accompanied by two employees from the Marconi Company to man the operation.

Thanks to their ability to communicate with the outside world, there were survivors from the Titanic’s catastrophic sinking, and Marconi’s “radio” invention received much of the credit for making anyone’s survival possible at all.

Oddly enough, just three years later, Marconi had another close call when he again sailed the Lusitania across the Atlantic to testify in a patent lawsuit. Near the end of its return crossing in May, a German U-boat sank the Lusitania killing nearly 1,200 people including Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt, like Marconi, had also been scheduled to sail aboard the Titanic in 1912, but ultimately chose not to go, a last minute change eerily similar to that of Marconi.

As for Guglielemo Marconi, like all men and women, he could only cheat death for so long, all though his death, when it did occur in 1937, was relatively undramatic. He passed away Ts the result of a heart attack.

Today as you drive around in the cocoon of your car or listen to the soft sounds of music at your bedside tonight, remember the name Marconi, for it was he who envisioned the radio.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

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