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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Timeline: Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi broadcasts to the US from Rome in 1934
Marconi has a distinguished history
Telecoms equipment firm Marconi is selling most of its assets and its name to Swedish firm Ericsson in a deal worth about 1.2bn ($2.1bn).

This marks the end of an era for the iconic British company.

Once a respected member of the FTSE 100 index with a market value of 35bn, Marconi has endured a humiliating fall from grace.

BBC News looks back at the history of one of the best known industrial names in the UK.


Guglielmo Marconi, the son of a wealthy Italian landowner and an Irish mother, sent the first wireless message over a short distance at his family's home in Pentecchio Bologna, Italy.

After sending messages across a room, he managed the length of a corridor. Eventually he sent one over a distance of about 2km.


The following year the young Marconi began applying for a patent for his invention and travelled to Britain where he eventually filed the world's first patent for a system of telegraphy using Hertzian waves.

Shortly afterwards, Marconi sent a message over a distance of seven miles (11.2km) at Salisbury Plain and later managed to make a connection across the Bristol Channel measured at 8.7 miles (14km).

One of the Morse messages sent was "let it be so".


Marconi registered his company as the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company.

Chelmsford became the company's headquarters, where the first wireless factory in the world was set up in an former silk factory.

As the business expanded new premises were built and the world's first purpose-built radio factory was created in Chelmsford's New Street. This eventually became Marconi's headquarters until only two years ago.

To this day Chelmsford Borough Council promotes the town on street signs as the "Birthplace of Radio".

1899-1912 - SAVING SOULS

One of Marconi's great early achievements was saving people in distress at sea.

When the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, it was Marconi equipment sending the distress messages.

"Those who had been saved, had been saved through one man, Mr Marconi and.....his marvellous invention," MP Herbert Samuel said at the time.


In 1932, having returned to the study of very short wavelengths (microwaves), Marconi supervised the installation of the first microwave telephone line which was created to connect the Vatican with the Pope's summer hideaway Castel Gandolfo.

Having moved back to Rome, Marconi passed away aged 63 on 20 July 1937.

As a tribute, wireless stations across the world fell silent for two minutes.

In the same year, Marconi's company created transmitter aerials for the UK's first air defence radar network.


The company created by Marconi was taken over by English Electric and years later, in 1968, it became part of the General Electric Company (GEC) industrial conglomerate.

With Arnold Weinstock at the helm, GEC outlasted nine governments and survived six recessions.

GEC had interests in defence, telecoms and medicine. Hotpoint washing machines and Yarrow shipbuilders were part of its empire.

In 1987 the Marconi Company, as it was then called, changed its name to GEC-Marconi.

1990 TO 2005 - DOWNFALL

Lord Weinstock stepped down as chief executive in 1996, under pressure from investors who wanted a more adventurous strategy for the firm.

His replacement was George Simpson, an accountant and veteran of the car industry.

Mr Simpson turned the group's strategy on its head, spent its cash pile and made huge investments in the telecoms sector and internet world, while selling off its traditional industrial and defence arms.

During the rest of the decade GEC's spending spree plunged it into debt, forcing it to cut thousands of jobs.


In 1999, Marconi Electronic Systems split from GEC and merged with British Aerospace to form BAE Systems.

Meanwhile, the internet bubble burst and so did GEC's hopes.

GEC was renamed Marconi Corporation in May 2003 after a 4.7bn financial restructuring needed to keep it afloat.

The final blow came in May 2005 when Marconi missed out on a contract with its biggest customer, BT, worth a life-saving 10bn. Challengers Ericsson and Siemens were flexing their muscles and squeezing out smaller rivals.

Following months of speculation, in which Chinese telecoms group Huawei was tipped to make a bid, the firm sold off the bulk of its assets to Ericsson, finally laying an icon of the airwaves to rest.

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