Invention of Radio Celebrated in S.F. / 100th birthday exhibit this weekend
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Chronicle Front Page
The Gate

Saturday, November 4, 1995 · Page A18
© 1995 San Francisco Chronicle

Invention of Radio Celebrated in S.F.
100th birthday exhibit this weekend

J. L. Pimsleur, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco has celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, but now comes another remembrance: the 100th anniversary of the first radio signal beamed by inventor Guglielmo Marconi.

The radio transmission was one of the most significant inventions of the last century -- and the progenitor for the telecommunications revolution of this century.

In 1895, Marconi, an Italian electrical engineer and inventor, managed to successfully send a signal for a distance of more than a mile -- without the aid of a transmission wire.

His invention was called radiotelegraphy. The term was a combination of words stemming from radiant energy (proceeding in waves from a source, as in sound waves and light waves) and telegraphy (denoting transmission without wires).

Marconi's creation came to be known as ``wireless irradio'' and then simply ``radio.''

An extraordinary exhibit of early-days radio equipment will be on display this weekend only, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater on Lyon Street. It will be the only showing on the continent of the historic but seldom seen Cremona Collection -- featuring more than 100 rare and exquisite antique radio instruments and artifacts assembled by General Francesco Cremona, a retired veteran of the Italian Army Signal Corps and authority on the history of worldwide military communications.

San Francisco has been designated as the site for this prestigious collection because of Marconi's special relationship to the Bay Area and its role in the early development of radio technology.

Marconi conducted many of his pioneering experiments here, and so much of his important work was accomplished in the immediate Bay Area that the city of San Francisco granted him honorary citizenship in 1933 -- four years before his death.

Marconi first came to the Bay Area in 1899. He soon discovered that special atmospheric conditions made the Tomales Bay area in Marin county ideal for conducting experiments in long-distance radio signal transmission.

He set about building two transmitting stations, one in Bolinas, the other in Marshall. Completed in 1914, the stations, along with counterparts constructed in other key locations, successfully opened up instant communication among California and Hawaii, Japan, Europe and South America -- presaging the Bay Area as the heart of high-tech innovation more than half a century before the emergence of the Silicon Valley.

Hosted by the Italian Consulate General, the Italian National Research Council and the Amici Dell'Italia Foundation, the Marconi exhibit is the focal point of ``Settimana Italiana'' (Italian Week), and includes a special presentation to the mayor commemorating the unique relationship between Marconi and the city of San Francisco.

Other special events connected with Italian Week festivities are rare performances by the Teatro delle Briciole di Parma theater tonight at the Palace of Fine Arts and tomorrow afternoon and evening at the Zellerbach Theater in Berkeley.