Marconi archive to get special museum

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A UNIQUE collection of archive materials and equipment from the life and work of Guglielmo Marconi is to go on display for the first time.

The material, including messages transmitted during the sinking of the Titanic and the inventor's diary from 1901, when he recorded the first signal across the Atlantic, has only been seen by academics requesting special permission from GEC, the parent company of Marconi.

Two years ago, GEC sparked an outcry when it said it planned to sell the collection but after Princess Elettra Marconi-Giovanelli, the inventor's daughter, intervened, it cancelled the sale. A charitable trust set up by the company will search for premises to display the archive in Chelmsford, Essex, home of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, and it should be open next year.

The material dates back to 1896, when Marconi, unable to find support in his native Italy, arrived in Britain determined to make radio work. In 1901, he made a transmission from Cornwall to Newfoundland and long- distance communication was born. Two years later wireless received official recognition as a world force when the Marconi system was adopted by the Royal Navy.

Among the highlights of the collection are approximately 2,000 wireless messages from the Titanic and other ships involved in the rescue, including the Carpathia.

Marconi had been invited to sail on the Titanic's maiden voyage with his wife, Beatrice, and their two young children but business commitments prevented it. Beatrice had still intended travelling but their baby fell ill on the morning they were due to sail and none of the family went on board.

Gordon Bussey, the GEC archivist, said that each time a telegram was sent it was written before transmission by the operator, who gave a copy to the captain. "We have all those messages, including the one received by the Virginia, which was the last ship in the world to receive a message from the Titanic. It is timed at 12.27 New York time and would have been 2.27am on the Titanic. "The operator on the Virginia was writing down the message, which stopped halfway through the distress signal and he wrote: 'Signal getting very blurred then suddenly stopped as if the power had been turned off'. That was the very moment that the Titanic went down."

By the end of the First World War it was possible to reproduce speech and music by wireless and radio became a form of entertainment. In 1919, journalists travelling on a bus from Chelmsford to Colchester were entertained with "wirelessly transmitted music".

From these beginnings the BBC was born in 1922 and television followed in 1936, the year before Marconi's death. In a fitting tribute, the announcement of his death was made on the wireless.

The following day, radio transmissions around the world were silenced for two minutes as a reminder of what it had been like before Marconi.