Thursday, January 23, 2020

Wireless: from Marconis Black-box to the Audion :: Wireless: from Marconis Black-box to the Audion

Wireless: from Marconi's Black-box to the Audion Wireless is a methodical account of the early development of wireless telegraphy and the inventors who made it possible. Sungook Hong examines several early significant inventions, including Hertzian waves and optics, the galvanometer, transatlantic signaling, Marconi's secret-box, Fleming's air-blast key and double transformation system, Lodge's syntonic transmitter and receiver, the Edison effect, the thermionic valve, and the audion and continuous wave. Wireless fills the gap created by Hugh Aitken, who described at length the early development of wireless communication, but who did not attempt "to probe the substance and context of scientific and engineering practice in the early years of wireless" (p. x). Sungook Hong seeks to fill this gap by offering an exhaustive analysis of the theoretical and experimental engineering and scientific practices of the early days of wireless; by examining the borderland between science and technology; depicting the transformation of scientific effects into technological artifacts; and showing how the race for scientific and engineering accomplishment fuels the politic of the corporate institution. While the author succeeds in fulfilling these goals, the thesis, it seems, is to affirm Guglielmo Marconi's place in history as the father of wireless telegraphy. Wireless begins with a brief discussion of the 1995 centennial of the invention of radio by Marconi and a rebuttal by the British historians who oppose this claim. Using underused or previously overlooked or perhaps ignored resources the author disproves the claims against the originality and ingenuity of Marconi's 1897 patent on wireless telegraphy. While credit is given to several British scientists and engineers and their scientific discoveries and inventions, it was Marconi, a practitioner, who made the first significant breakthrough in practical wireless telegraphy when he "connected one end of the plate of the receiver, and one end of the transmitter, to the earth" (p. 20). Marconi transformed these scientific effects into wireless technologies and then exploited them for commercial purposes. The focus of British scientists and engineers on optical analogies, scientific experimentation and demonstration, and the fear of British national interests becoming monopolized (particula rly by a foreigner) are the primary reasons for the dispute surrounding Marconi's patent. (By 1897 it was clear how wireless telegraphy would impact military interests.) The author shows in great detail how British scientists and engineers, namely physicist Oliver Lodge, J. J. Thomson, Minchin, Rollo Appleyard, and Campbell Swinton, deliberately constructed false scientific and social claims to discredit the originality of Marconi's patent.

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