Who are the History Makers?
‘History Makers & DesignSpark’ is a brand new comedy podcast celebrating cutting-edge technology and the Makers from history who made it all possible, starring Head of the Guild of Makers Lucy Rogers and the award-winning comedians Bec Hill and Harriet Braine.
We take a quick peek at what defined the Makers in question in a short series of articles.
Marconi, the Father of Modern Communication
The radio was a dominant force of communication during the 20th century, made all the more accessible and usable by the pioneering work of one person, Marconi Giovanni Maria Marconi, an Italian inventor and electrical engineer.
Born into the Italian nobility, Marconi was the 2nd son of Giuseppe Marconi and his wife Annie Jamieson (who was the granddaughter of the founders of the whiskey distillers of the same name). When he was 18, whilst in Italy, he became friends with Augusto Righi who was a physicist at the University of Bologna, through him, Marconi attended lectures and was allowed to use the university laboratory.
The electric telegraph had been developed and used throughout the 19th century, but Marconi’s interest lay in wireless technology. This interest was further encouraged after the death of Heinrich Hertz when Augusto Righi wrote an article about Him. Hertz, a German Physicist, demonstrated that you could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation, known as ‘Hertzian Waves’ at the time.
Marconi was about 20 years old when he began building on Hertz’s original concepts, utilising a Coherer, which was an early primitive radio based on the findings of French physicists Edouard Branly. One of his early inventions was a storm alarm that sounded when it picked up radio waves generated by an electrical storm. During 1895 Marconi continued his experiments on his father’s estate, but could only obtain distances of around half a mile for his radio transmissions.
After many appeals for funding from the Italian governing powers, Marconi, despondent with the lack of interest in his designs and inventions from the Italians, upped sticks and moved to England, where his inventions had captured the interest of British Government officials. By March 1897, Marconi had demonstrated the broadcasting of Morse Code signals over a distance of 4 miles, and in May of the same year sent the first wireless communication over the sea, the message said simply ‘Are you ready?’
Extending the Transmission
By 1899 he successfully sent a radio transmission across the English Channel and in 1900 he established a base on Bass Point near Lizard Village in Cornwall. In 1902, to disprove detractors, he set about a carefully monitored experiment, sailing west from Great Britain on the SS Philadelphia, he captured signals sent from Poldhu Station in Cornwall, recording audio reception at 2100 miles. Handily, Marconi also discovered that radio signals travel greater distances at night than during daylight hours during this experiment.
Sending signals across the Atlantic proved difficult to sustain with the equipment being utilised so Marconi began building high powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic that could communicate and send news broadcasts to vessels at sea.
The First SOS
By 1909 Marconi had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in radio communications and included within that arena was assisting in the development of the SOS signal. Consequently, his coastal radio station was the first in the world to receive an actual SOS call in 1910 when the SS Minnehaha ran aground off the Isle of Scilly.
When WWI erupted, Marconi, who, by then was made a Senator of the Italian Senate, was placed in charge of the Italian military radio service, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant in the Italian army and Commander in the Italian navy during his service.
Marconi spent his later years involved with various political activities in Italy during that time period until July the 20th 1937 when at the age of 63 Marconi died in Rome after a heart attack. A state funeral followed shops were closed in his honour and the BBC in the UK turned off radio transmitters for two minutes of silence, a fitting tribute to the father of modern radio.
Hedy Lamarr, the Actress Inventor
Hedy Lamarr, or rather Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, is best known as a stunningly attractive actress who originally heralded from Austria, being born in 1914 to her parents Emil and Gertrud. She had a brief film career in Europe during her formative years, starring in a number of films including one called ‘Ecstasy’, which was subsequently banned in various European countries, but which served to gain her recognition. At the age of 18, she was married to the 3rd richest man in Austria, an arms dealer called Friedrich Mandl, who had wooed her as she acted in various theatres. Hedy would attend business meetings with her husband, conferring with scientists and military technologists and it’s thought that these early introductions to applied science stirred an interest in Hedy.
Friedrich, as it turned out, was very controlling, being displeased with his wife’s acting career, she claimed that she was kept as a virtual prisoner in their castle home. Hedy, a headstrong young lady, couldn’t comprehend living with Mandl anymore and ran away to Paris and then on to London to pursue her acting career. It’s here, she met Louis B. Mayer, the then head of MGM studios who was scouting for talent he offered her a movie contract in Hollywood which she snapped up.
Hedy went on to star in a multitude of movies from the 1930s to the 1950s, including titles such as; Come live with me, Boom Town and Samson and Delilah. Hedy Lamarr had an unusual hobby for a lady of the time, and that was inventing things, with no formal training and primarily self-taught and fuelled by her earlier interactions with members of the scientific community, she spent any spare time she had inventing. Creating such inventions such as a traffic stoplight and a dissolvable tablet that was supposed to create a carbonated drink, but ended up creating something that resembled Alka-Seltzer instead.
At one time Hedy was dating the aviation tycoon Howard Hughes who actively supported her tinkering nature by allowing his team of engineers and scientists to assist her with whatever she wanted. It was during World War II that Hedy learned that radio-controlled torpedoes could be jammed by the enemy and rendered useless. With her thinking cap on, she conceptualised a radio signal that could hop frequencies and thus prevent it from being jammed. Along with a composer friend and pianist, George Antheil, they developed a device that synchronised a miniature player-piano mechanism with radio signals. Their design was patented in 1942, but at the time the US Navy wasn’t overly receptive to accepting designs from outside their community, along with it being considered difficult to implement.
During the 1960’s an updated version of their creation began to appear within the US Navy’s Arsenal, and their work with Spread Spectrum Technology heavily contributed to the development of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi that we know and love today.
During the latter portion of the 1950’s Hedy’s acting career declined and very little was seen of her in public, she was offered scripts of varying quality but none proved to be of interest to her. Whether she continued to tinker with inventions is unknown as she retreated from the public gaze. Apart from a few lawsuits, one against Warner Brothers, and the other Corel Software and two incidents of being arrested for shop-lifting very little was seen or heard of from Hedy until her death in 2000. She may have ended up living a secluded life, but her legacy will live on in the very technology she helped create all those years ago and in the movies she starred in.
Mary Shelley, the author who invented Science Fiction
The mother of Frankenstein, so to speak, Mary Godwin was born in London on the 30th of August 1797, the daughter of William Godwin, a political writer, and Mary Wollstonecraft who was also a famed author. Mary was raised by her father after the untimely death of her mother shortly after she was born.
When her father remarried, Mary’s new stepmother saw no need for any formal education for the young girl, Mary, instead would often be found buried one of the books that could be found in her father’s extensive library. She was a daydreamer with an active imagination, which she used to escape the challenges she faced from her stepfamily, eventually turning her imaginings into stories. At the age of 10, she had published her first poem, ‘Mounseer Nongtongpaw’, through a company established by her father.
The Story Unfolds
During 1814 Mary began a relationship with a married man called Percy Shelley, who was a poet and also a student of her father, together they fled England that same year, which obviously caused a rift between Mary and her father that would last for years. Percy and Mary travelled around Europe for a while, struggling financially as most young couples do and sadly losing their first child who died shortly after her birth in 1815. One rainy afternoon when they were visiting friends in Switzerland during 1816 they entertained themselves by reading ghost stories to each other, this gave Mary the idea to begin writing a horror story that would eventually become her most famous, ‘Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus.’
After the suicide of Percy’s estranged wife, Mary and Percy were finally able to marry in December of 1816, which brought some happiness to the couple as, sadly, Mary’s half-sister had also committed suicide the same year. 1818 was the year that ‘Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus’ was finally published, but under the name of an anonymous author, many thought that Percy had written it as he authored the introduction to the book. The horror novel proved to be a big success critically and financially, and, that same year Mary and Percy moved to Italy for a fresh start.
Their marriage, to the outsider, appeared to be a happy one, but they didn’t have the easiest of relationships. They suffered the loss of two more children and rumours of infidelity were rife, eventually, they had a child who would survive to adulthood, a son called Percy Florence. Tragedy struck yet again in 1822 when Mary’s husband drowned whilst sailing with a friend in the Gulf of Spezia, Mary and her son were distraught.
More Science Fiction
Mary worked tirelessly to support herself and her son Percy, writing several more novels including a science fiction book entitled ‘The Last Man’ and the novel ‘Valperga’. For the next few years, Mary was kept busy as an editor and writer for various ladies magazines whilst dealing with two blackmail attempts and the attention of various suitors. From around 1839 she began to suffer from terrible headaches and bouts of paralysis and sadly Mary died of brain cancer in 1851 at the age of 53 whilst in London. She was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth, spookily enough, along with the cremated remains of her late husband’s heart.
Mary Shelley’s gothic horror story continues to inspire storytellers and scare readers to this day, being replicated in countless movies and television shows around the world and it serves as a wonderful and enduring legacy to this talented author that is sure to continue for generations to come.
Keep your eyes peeled in September when the History Makers Podcasts will be available to download from DesignSpark.