Cover image for Signor Marconi's magic box : the most remarkable invention of the 19th century & the amateur inventor whose genius sparked a revolution
Signor Marconi's magic box : the most remarkable invention of the 19th century & the amateur inventor whose genius sparked a revolution
Weightman, Gavin.
Personal Author:
First Da Capo Press edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Da Capo, 2003.
Physical Description:
xvii, 312 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London: HarperCollins.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TK5739.M3 W419 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
TK5739.M3 W419 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The world at the turn of the twentieth century was in the throes of "Marconi-mania"-brought on by an incredible invention that no one could quite explain, and by a dapper and eccentric figure (who would one day win the newly minted Nobel Prize) at the center of it all. At a time when the telephone, telegraph, and electricity made the whole world wonder just what science would think of next, the startling answer had come in 1896 in the form of two mysterious wooden boxes containing a device one Guglielmo Marconi had rigged up to transmit messages "through the ether." It was the birth of the radio, and no scientist in Europe or America, not even Marconi himself, could at first explain how it just did. And no one knew how far these radio waves could travel, until 1903, when a message from President Theodore Roosevelt to the king of England flashed from Cape Cod to Cornwall clear across the Atlantic.Here is a rich portrait of the man and his era-and a captivating tale of science and scientists, business and businessmen. There are stories of British blowhards, American con artists-and Marconi himself: a character par excellence, who eventually winds up a virtual prisoner of his worldwide fame and fortune.

Author Notes

Gavin Weightman is a documentary filmmaker, a journalist, and author. He lives in London

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Guglielmo Marconi invented the best radio equipment in the technology's infancy a century ago. He made a fortune, cruised among queens of England and kings of Italy, and died an acolyte of Mussolini. Weightman ably chronicles Marconi's life in the context of his urgency to perfect radio transmission and reception before rivals did. Marconi was born into comfortable circumstances, and his youthful passion for crafting devices to generate Hertzian waves was supported by his Irish mother and Italian father. Weightman delivers the technical information about Marconi's sending radio waves further than anyone else could at the time--he was the first to send signals across the Atlantic--then settles into the narrative of Marconi's patent battles and business operations, as well as his two marriages. Taciturn and careful, Marconi does not make for an effervescent biography; rather, the author's study is as stolid as its subject and does justice to Marconi's central place in the origination of wireless communication. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dapper, aristocratic Guglielmo Marconi doesn't fit the typical inventor stereotype: he lacked wild hair, wasn't absentminded, wore debonair-looking hats and frequently wooed women when traveling by ship. Yet Marconi's aptitude for technology led him to become the father of wireless telegraphy and radio. Born in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Marconi was always fascinated by the nascent technology of electricity and, as a young man, was struck by the idea that he could transmit telegraph messages-then carried by cables-through the air. At a crowded London meeting hall in 1896, he made a dramatic public demonstration of his idea by sending a current from one innocuous-looking box to a receiver he carried around the hall with him, causing it to ring: "No messages were being sent at all-just an invisible electronic signal. But in 1896 that was sensational enough," writes documentary filmmaker and journalist Weightman. Like many other great inventions, wireless was being pursued at the same time by a number of different inventors, including some shameless charlatans-some of whom, like the delightfully crooked Abraham White, give Weightman's dry book some desperately needed spark-and a great deal of Weightman's text is about the juggling for position among the inventors and their respective companies around the turn of the century. Although Weightman has his hands on an extremely exciting subject, there is precious little life to his writing, and even exciting episodes, like the sending of an early type of wireless distress signal from the sinking Titanic, fail to engage. Photos. Agent, Charles Walker. (Sept. 1) Forecast: Weightman's previous work, The Frozen-Water Trade, was a Book Sense pick. That distinction, along with a print ad campaign, could stir up sales for Marconi. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A documentary filmmaker and journalist, Weightman (The Frozen-Water Trade) uses the fascinating story of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) and his amazing "magic box" to recount the early days of wireless technology, beginning with the first public demonstration of Marconi's wireless telegraph in 1896 and ending with his death, which coincided with the first television broadcasts. In 44 succinct chapters, Weightman follows Marconi's invention from the early days through numerous other firsts, including the all-important first transatlantic wireless signal (the Morse letter "S") from Poldhu, England, to Newfoundland. The author incorporates just enough of Marconi's personal life to add further interest to an already intriguing era. The Marconi method, using electromagnetic waves generated by a spark, was based on James Clark Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism and the layers of Earth's atmosphere-ironically something Marconi never completely understood. Less a fully developed biography than a history of wireless technology heavily focused on the critical role of Marconi, Weightman's tale nicely updates biographies by W.P. Jolly and Orrin Dunlap. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Weightman's wonderful book is about the amazing invention of wireless and the man who invented it. No, this is not about Bill Gates and wireless networks, but about Marconi and the wireless telegraph. It is difficult in this age to comprehend the world at the turn of the 20th century. It was an era of great change with the development of electricity, telegraph, and telephone. Marconi's "Magic Boxes," unlike everything else, did not require a physical connection to work. Wireless was so revolutionary at the time that most people thought it a fantasy or some con man's trick. The fact that Marconi was an unknown with no scientific credentials did not help. Fortunate family connections allowed him access to prominent scientists who quickly became supporters, even though the means by which wireless devices worked were unknown. Perhaps most unfortunate is the failure to realize the importance of wireless until after the Titanic disaster. Weightman, author of several other books, is also a documentary filmmaker. His experience shows in this very readable account of Marconi's life and his invention. The book is well researched but lacks a bibliography. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels. J. Olson Northeastern Illinois University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Introductionp. xv
Map: Marconi's Early Wireless Telegraph Stationsp. xviii
1 In Darkest Londonp. 1
2 Silkworms and Whiskeyp. 10
3 Sparks in the Atticp. 16
4 In the Heart of the Empirep. 21
5 Dancing on the Etherp. 25
6 Beside the Seasidep. 35
7 Texting Queen Victoriap. 39
8 An American Investigatesp. 44
9 The Romance of Morse Codep. 49
10 A New York Welcomep. 58
11 Atlantic Romancep. 66
12 Adventure at Mullion Covep. 71
13 An American Forecastp. 82
14 Kite-Flying in Newfoundlandp. 88
15 The Spirits of the Etherp. 93
16 Fishing in the Etherp. 100
17 The End of the Affairp. 108
18 Farewell the Pigeon Postp. 115
19 The Power of Darknessp. 121
20 The Hermit of Paigntonp. 128
21 The King's Appendixp. 132
22 The Thundering Professorp. 142
23 A Real Colonel Sellersp. 151
24 Defeat in the Yellow Seap. 161
25 A Wireless Ratp. 167
26 Dazzling the Millionsp. 172
27 'Marky' and his Motorp. 178
28 On the American Frontierp. 186
29 Marconi gets Marriedp. 191
30 Wireless at Warp. 198
31 America's Whispering Galleryp. 202
32 A Voice on the Airp. 206
33 The Bells of Budapestp. 211
34 Wireless to the Rescuep. 219
35 Dynamite for Marconip. 225
36 Le Match Dew-Crippenp. 230
37 A Marriage on the Rocksp. 236
38 Ice and the Etherp. 242
39 'It's a CQD, Old Man'p. 247
40 After the Titanicp. 253
41 The Crashp. 260
42 The Suspect Italianp. 268
43 Eclipse of Marconi on the Eiffel Towerp. 277
44 In Bed with Mussolinip. 281
Epiloguep. 289
Indexp. 293