Cover image for Wireless : from Marconi's black-box to the audion
Wireless : from Marconi's black-box to the audion
Hong, Sungook.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 248 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
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TK6547 .H66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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By 1897 Guglielmo Marconi had transformed James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic waves into a workable wireless telegraphy system, and by 1907 Lee de Forest had invented the Audion, a feedback amplifier and oscillator that opened the way to practical radio transmission. Fifteen years after Marconi's invention, wireless had become an essential means of communication, as well as a hobby for many.

This book offers a new perspective on the early days of wireless communication. Drawing on previously untapped archival evidence and recent work in the history and sociology of science and technology, it examines the substance and context of both experimental and theoretical aspects of engineering and scientific practices in the first years of this technology. It offers new insights into the relationship between Marconi and his scientific advisor, the physicist John Ambrose Fleming (inventor of the vacuum tube). It includes the full story of the infamous 1903 incident in which Marconi's opponent Nevil Maskelyne interfered with Fleming's public demonstration of Marconi's syntonic (tuning) system at the Royal Institution by sending derogatory messages from his own transmitter. The analysis of the Maskelyne affair highlights the struggle between Marconi and his opponents, the efficacy of early syntonic devices, Fleming's role as a public witness to Marconi's private experiments, and the nature of Marconi's "shows." It also provides a rare case study of how the credibility of an engineer can be created, consumed, and suddenly destroyed. The book concludes with a discussion of de Forest's Audion and the shift from wireless telegraphy to radio.

Author Notes

Sungook Hong is Associate Professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Richly based on archival sources and written in an unusually clear style, this book presents a compelling rereading of scientific and technological developments from the discovery of electromagnetic radiation in the 1880s through Marconi's 1897 patent for wireless telegraphy, to the invention of the audion tube in the 1910s, which made radio broadcasting and the radio age possible. Although they could be treated more systematically, the author broaches many fascinating themes en passant: scientific and engineering styles, blinders imposed by research traditions, the impact of politics and personal rivalries on technology and its history, the making and breaking of the reputations of experts, the race for priority and the play of commercial interests, uncertainties inherent in the unfolding genealogy of a new technology, and the dangers of Whiggism in writing the history of technology. A main focus--and it is a deliberate one--is on technological artifacts and the precise details of invention, and the book reproduces many contemporary technical drawings to complement the discussion. Because the treatment is mathematical and highly technical in places, readers not already familiar with the science and technology involved are likely to get lost here and there along the way. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. McClellan III Stevens Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
1 Hertzian Optics and Wirless Telegraphyp. 1
2 Inventing the Invention of Wireless Telegraphy: Marconi versus Lodgep. 25
3 Grafting Power Technology onto Wireless Telegraphy: Marconi and Fleming on Transatlantic Signalingp. 53
4 Tuning, Jamming, and the Maskelyne Affairp. 89
5 Transforming an Effect into an Artifact: The Thermionic Valvep. 119
6 The Audion and the Continuous Wavep. 155
Epilogue: The Making of the Radio Agep. 191
Appendix Electron Theory and the "Good Earth" in Wireless Telegraphyp. 193
Notesp. 199
Bibliographyp. 229
Indexp. 245