As a boy I made little wireless sets out of tin cigarette boxes with a receiving coil wound in such a way that it was on the right wavelength for Radio Luxembourg. The ethereal sound of 1950s pop music in the earpiece was spellbinding. How that signal got to me, I did not bother to ask: the thrill of receiving it was enough. Today, as millions chatter away on their mobile phones, I fear that thrill is gone; the astonishing achievement of harnessing invisible, inaudible electromagnetic waves to send messages of all kinds is taken for granted. And the once-famous man who first showed how it could be done is now all but forgotten.
Guglielmo Marconi was born in 1874 in Bologna, the son of a moderately wealthy landowner and an Anglo-Irish mother whose family owned the Jameson whisky distillery. An unlikely couple, the widower Giuseppe Marconi and Annie Jameson met when she visited Italy to study bel canto singing. When her