The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, has acquired an archive of papers and correspondence to, from, and about wireless pioneer and Nobel laureate Guglielmo Marconi. Among the more than 200 pages of correspondence are 31 letters from Marconi to his chief engineer, Richard Vyvyan, written between 1902 and 1909, regarding the construction and successful implementation of a transatlantic telegraph system. The collection also includes Vyvyan’s extensive manuscript overview of wireless technology, “Notes on Long Distance Wireless Telegraphy and the Design and Construction and Working of High Power Wireless Stations,” written between 1900 and 1904.
“Marconi transformed the speed and effectiveness of telecommunication through wireless telegraphy,” said Daniel Lewis, who is responsible for the Huntington’s history of science and technology holdings from 1800 to the present.
Marconi was relentless in his attempts to improve on his radio work, as reflected in this archive. “Working very hard to try and find out what are the somewhat occult causes which make signals good one night and unobtainable the next,” he wrote to Vyvyan in 1907. “I believe I have found if not very clearly the cause of the effects noticed.”
Vyvyan was largely responsible for the construction and operation of the transmitting station at Poldhu in Cornwall, from where the first-ever transatlantic signal was sent to Newfoundland on December 12, 1901. He was also in charge of the Cape Breton station the following year, when the first signal was sent in the opposite direction, and a regular transatlantic telegraph service was established.
The Huntington collection of telegraph-related holdings is one of the most significant in the US. It began with a 2002 donation of several boxes of correspondence to and from Marconi.