100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Radio
Year of Invention: 1895

What Is It? An electronic device that sends signals and information through
the air on radio-frequency waves.

Who Invented It? Guglielmo Marconi (in Bologna, Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Every car, boat, airplane and house has a radio. Police, fire, and all emergency communications funnel over radio. For all of the twentieth century, important news was always flashed over the radio. Telegraphs and telephones required wires to be strung from sender to receiver. Radio allowed the receiver to travel anywhere and for one transmitter to simultaneously reach millions of listeners.

Radio opened the door to mass communications and to instant worldwide communications. Radio redefined the way countries and governments communicate as well as the way people sought news, music, and entertainment.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

In 1834, Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But both systems only worked along wires that had to be strung across the countryside.

James Maxwell (in 1864) mathematically predicted that radio waves must exist—invisible waves that pulsed with electrical and magnetic properties and sped through the air. In 1887, German physicist Heinrich Hertz actually created radio waves in his Berlin classroom. But even Hertz said that he couldn’t see any useful purpose for radio waves.


How Was Radio Invented?

Twenty-year-old Guglielmo Marconi lived at the Marconi family compound in Bologna, Italy. By 1894 he had become fascinated—obsessed—with electronics and converted a small third-floor guestroom into a laboratory. He poured over scientific papers describing work by electrical geniuses Heinrich Hertz and American Michael Faraday. Both had shown that an electric current flowing through one wire could force an electric current to flow through a nearby wire even if the two wires never touched!

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