Marconi and Salvan: Dawn of wireless telegraphy

4 May 2010
Marconi and Salvan: Dawn of wireless telegraphy

In 2009 a book by the Marconi Foundation, Salvan, Switzerland, was published to commemorate the centenary (1909-2009) of the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Guglielmo Marconi, shared with German physicist, Karl Ferdinand Braun, for important radio communications. ‘Marconi et Salvan: a l’aube de la télégraphie sans fil’, by Yves Fournier and Freddy Gardiol, (pp.104), adds to the worldwide collection of historic accounts, experiments and pioneering achievements of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937).

The book features a collection of family pictures and other archival photographs, with technical charts and maps. Its content provides a wealth of information about the life and work of Gugliemo Marconi. Annexes, Notes and Sources feature a wide selection of Marconi family material and related professional literature. The work of other internationally renowned physicists and scientists are documented in the book.

Prefaces to the book are written by Dr. Hamadan Touré, Secretary General, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Geneva, and Pascal Couchepin, Federal Councillor and President of the Swiss Confederation in 2003 and 2008. Its authors acknowledge the financial assistance received from Swiss and Valaisan sources.

Dawn of wireless telegraphy

Marconi Day is celebrated on 25 April, the date of his birth in 1874. He died in Rome on 20 July 1937. A two-minute silence was observed on radio waves worldwide to commemorate the inventor of the first practical wireless telegraphy who became known as “Father of Radio”.

Of Irish and Italian parentage, from an early age Marconi developed a passion for the sciences and studied physics at the technical institute of Livorno and the University of Bologna. In 1894 after reading an article describing Hertz’s experiments on electromagnetic waves, he became obsessed and while at Andorno near Sanctuario di Oropa in the Italian Alps, started to develop a system using these waves to communicate without wire.

In the summer of 1895 he travelled to the health resort of Salvan already famous beyond Swiss borders and, with the help of a local teenager Maurice Gay-Balmaz, Marconi worked for a month and a half progressing with his experiments to send a message at a distance of more than a kilometre. He succeeded and thus wireless was born. It took many years for the real significance of Marconi’s pioneering achievement to be recognised.

Situated above Martigny in the region of the Valais in the Swiss Alps, at Salvan the Marconi Museum with its equipment and a dedicated walking trail has attracted many visitors and dignitaries from around the world. In recent times the site has been honoured by the professional and international community with plaques and commemoration of the highest order, most recently by the International Telecommunications Union, in the presence of Dr. Hamadan Touré, Secretary General, ITU, in Geneva.

During a visit on 9 September 2007 with a delegation from the ITU, Dr. Hamadan Touré declared “Coming to Salvan is in fact a pilgrimage. As an engineer in satellite communications and ITU Secretary General, it is a privilege for me. Tomorrow’s world will be more and more placed under the sign of Hertzian communications and the great inventor Marconi will remain forever a guide for all of us”.

On 26 September 2008, in the presence of ITU representatives and dignitaries from the scientific and cultural spheres, a ceremony was held to place a French language plaque on the Pierre Bergère or Shepherdess Stone. It gives recognition to Salvan as … a ‘cradle of telecommunications’ and confers the first universal distinction of ‘Telecommunication Heritage’. The ITU plaque renders homage to the invaluable contribution of the site at Salvan as … telecommunications patrimony.

Visitors to Salvan are encouraged to visit a new exhibition and walk along the Marconi trail that begins at the museum and ends at the house in the village where he stayed. The Shepherdess Stone can be visited nearby.

Ita Marguet, April 2010

Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in preparation of this text. It follows published articles on Wireless telegraphy: Switzerland an Ireland (2004), Ireland and Wireless Telegraphy “Wavelengths of time” (2005), Salvan: Cradle of Wireless: Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) (2006), Guglielmo Marconi: ‘Telecommunications Heritage’ (2009), Nobel Prize Centenary: Guglielmo Marconi (2009) by Ita Marguet.