Saturday, July 21, 2018

Marconi #6

In my opinion Marconi's scientific achievement was more spectacular than John Galt's motor in Atlas Shrugged. Firstly, Marconi's was real and Galt's was fictional. One might say that's an example of "truth is stranger than fiction" (Mark Twain quote; Lord Byron quote). Galt's motor was designed to harness static electricity from the air for power generation. Secondly, unlike radio waves, static electricity can be seen, felt and heard. The electromagnetic waves -- originally called "Hertzian waves" -- used by Marconi for wireless telegraphy cannot be directly perceived. They can only be indirectly perceived via instruments -- radio, television, antenna, cell phone, computer. Thirdly, Marconi's achievement made possible Galt's hijacking a radio broadcast in order to make his speech. 😉

Marconi and John Galt (really Ayn Rand) did have very different ideas about politics. Marconi courted governments to commercialize his wireless telegraphy. They wanted it mainly for military use. Marconi also relied on government-backed patent protection. Conversely, Galt's motor was targeted for the private sector.

H. Cuthbert Hall was second in command to Marconi in Marconi's business from 1901 to 1908. Hall's political views were far closer to those of Ayn Rand than were Marconi's. Hall had led the company's fight against the Berlin Convention (see #5). Hall had an aggressive attitude toward the British government, Marconi's biggest client. "Hall was an ideological free enterpriser, to whom government interference of any kind was anathema. If dealing with the government could bring benefits to the company, then fine. But there was nothing intrinsically beneficial to the relationship. Marconi, though not at all ideological, felt intuitively close to political power of every stripe. In his mind, nothing could be more powerful than a partnership with government -- any government" (Marconi 285).

In 1907 Marconi became increasingly dissatisfied with Hall. Marconi thought his companies'  business dealing were impaired by Hall and depended upon its relation to governments. So Marconi, with the support of board members other than Hall, ousted Hall.

A future post will contain some more about Marconi's relationship to Mussolini and fascism many years later.

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